Growing Disciples for all generations
Written by Rev Charissa Suli, Assembly National Consultant
Over the last six months, with the impact of COVID-19 on the way we gather together, I have noticed a decline in youth and young adults attending worship in their local congregations. This has inspired me to think about new ways to reach out and build community in the places where young people can always be found – on their phones.
Since the beginning of Lent I have hosted a time of worship and prayer on Instagram every Wednesday evening. It has been an amazing opportunity to connect meaningfully with people who wouldn’t normally walk inside a Church building and to grow discipleship in a new way.
I first noticed this drop off in young people coming to Sunday worship while working alongside a congregation in the NSW/ACT Synod. In my time with this local congregation, I noticed that COVID-19 had impacted the commitment of the young people to attend Sunday worship. I discovered that the young people were carrying multiple commitments outside of the Church - such as working multiple jobs, studying double degrees, looking after elderly parents, some were working on renovation projects building their own house, some were helping parents start up a new business and others were faced with anxiety, mental health and identity issues.
With so much going on for our young people, I wondered, ‘how can I connect with them so that they can hear the good news of Jesus Christ that speaks life, peace and hope into the challenges they are facing?’. I also realised another thing - despite their busy lives, there is one place young people will always find time for - their social media platforms. They are always on TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat. So this gave me the idea - take the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to where the young people hang out.
So I began Lets Lent with Rev. Each Wednesday evening I go live on Instagram and simply pause, reflect, pray and sing, in the hope that as our young people are swiping through their feeds they’ll take a risk and tune in. It is my hope they might catch a glimpse of God’s love, that they’ll hear a message of hope and some beautiful Gospel music to encourage them for the wilderness journey we continue to embark on in this season.
It has become part of my own Lenten journey this year. In addition to giving up bread and supporting the Lent Event project, I am taking on the spiritual discipline of sharing the Gospel beyond my familiar and comfortable pulpit and reaching out to a community who is online 24/7.
So far, it’s been challenging unfamiliar territory but I’m embracing this time of wilderness. I’ve connected with young adults, young couples and individuals, nationally and internationally. Participants have commented with messages of thanks for creating a platform for people to engage and talanoa.
There’s also a lot of learning in how we as a Church shift from recruiting or mentoring emerging leaders to growing disciples for all generations. In the digital world the Gospel comes to life right in the living room or on the train or from wherever the individual will tune in using their device.
As a Church we need to be innovative in how we build conversations and interaction with people outside the Church building. Millennials are more interested in authentic, engaging conversations than sitting and listening to a full-length sermon.
There is an amazing opportunity for the Church to meet people right where they are. Grounded in the Spirit of Jesus and stirred by the call to go and make disciples, we are freed to renegotiate established cultural norms in order to connect meaningfully in all generations and with diverse neighbours. Every purpose will vary for each congregation and or leader.
Although I originally sought to engage young adults of the congregation, I soon realised that the love of Christ matters to all people and my challenge has been to articulate the Gospel in ways and using language that is relevant to people’s daily lives. It’s been a blessing and a challenge to take up this spiritual discipline as it deepens my trust in God even more.
“Let’s Lent with Rev” takes place every Wednesday night during the season of Lent at 8.30pm AEDT on Instagram @Charissa Suli. If you miss the live worship time you can always go back and watch it at a time that suits you.