The Table Podcast

A New Vision for Sharing Faith

In this episode, Bill Hendricks, David Kinnaman and Nika Spaulding discuss sharing Christ with millennials.

Timecodes
00:49
Kinnaman’s and Spaulding’s experience
02:10
Discussion of different generational ideas about evangelism
07:27
Barna’s study on evangelism
10:12
Pastoral perspective on evangelism and millennials
12:22
The historical and present day understanding of evangelicals
22:53
Discussion of various strategies used in evangelism
25:19
Reasons for a different approach in evangelizing millennials
34:46
Casting a new vision for evangelizing millennials
40:26
Importance of hospitality to millennials
Resources Barna Research
Transcript
Bill Hendricks
Hi. My name is Bill Hendricks. I’m the Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Hendricks Center. And I want to welcome you to The Table Podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. And today, the issue that we want to take a look at is what we call a new vision for sharing Christ. And we’ve got two people that are eminently qualified to help us with this. First of all, I’d like to David Kinnaman who is the President of the Barna Group. And he is coming to us online from sunny Southern California. David, welcome to the podcast.
David Kinnaman
Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s actually a little foggy out this morning, but it’ll probably burn off after awhile.
Bill Hendricks
Well, when I think of Barna, the picture that comes to my mind, we talk about the body of Christ, and I imagine people go into, say, a hospital and an ICU, or some place where they get hooked up to all these electrodes and monitors and there’s guys running around in white lab coats that have got all these readouts and all this data, and they’re now interpreting what’s going on in this body. And that’s what I envision Barna being. Is that anywhere close to what you do every day?
David Kinnaman
All that’s true, except for there’s no lab coats.
Bill Hendricks
Okay.
Nika Spaulding
You should look into that.
Bill Hendricks
And then back here at the ranch in Dallas, I’ve got Nika Spaulding with me today. Nika, welcome. Nika is the Resident Theologian at a local church here called St. Jude Oak Cliff. And a church plant. How long y’all been going?
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, we’re a toddler. So we’re coming up on two years in October. So learning to walk,
Bill Hendricks
Well, great. Excellent.
Nika Spaulding
So very exciting, yeah.
Bill Hendricks
So you’re paid to sit around and think about theology?
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. It’s a cozy, ivory tower they’ve built for me … No. The title means I do all the midweek theology, Bible studies, and then participate in Sunday worship, as well.
Bill Hendricks
Gotcha. And one of the reasons we asked you, specifically, to be with us today, Nika, is because you identify as a Millennial. Now you’re at the upper end of that, as I understand it.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. I might get kicked out at some point. Born in ’85. And so feel like I still have a little bit of that anti establishment, Gen X in me, but yeah, at the top end of that Millennial, and quickly realized people love talking about me and my people. And so I figured I should probably learn about myself as well.
Bill Hendricks
There you go. And David, I can’t remember. Did you tell, at a conference recently, you’re a Gen X guy? Are you … ?
David Kinnaman
Yeah. I be a Gen Xer. So I’m 45. And I think the whole idea of generations is such an interesting one. Of course even scripture includes this notion of generation and generation, but so yeah, I’m a Gen Xer. Boomers, the first really named generation got it started, got the party started, the generational party. And then Gen X, then Millennials, then Gen Z. Of course, sociologists, we make this up. It’s a helpful frame of reference.

I think the interesting little note is that the reason that generations really emerged was after World War II, of course, they were the named generation born between ’46 and ’64. There was peace in the land and people could procreate. But it was actually driven by marketing that basically markets couldn’t spend enough money to reach everyone, so they decided to carve out a group of people. It was obviously a sociological and birth rate phenomenon, but also something of a business driven decision, that we would try to market to certain kinds of people, based on their age group. And that’s actually, I think, important for our discussion today, too, because there is a real marketing sensibility. I’m sort of a generational expert, but I’m also, I get a little nauseated by it when we think about it just explicitly for the purposes of marketing to a generation for the purposes of packaging Jesus to them, based on their sensibilities. So it’s a great conversation I think we’re about to have.

Bill Hendricks
Well, and so, I’m obviously the old guy in the room. I’m 64, so that qualifies me right in the middle of of being a Boomer. And I want all of our listeners to know that none of us pretends to speak definitively for the generation in which we were born. Nobody gets to choose when they’re gonna be born in this world. Obviously, we become familiar with how our own generation thinks, and that can speak into things. But yes, why don’t we start with this whole generational thing, as David alluded to?

We want to talk about this concept of sharing Christ, and the technical term has always been evangelism. And evangelism, much ink has been spilt by theologians down through the centuries to understand what the gospel really is. And I do think that it’s relevant that, at least in my lifetime, the concept of sharing the gospel has come much more to the forefront of how Christians, and particularly evangelicals, and you can see a tie between evangelical and evangelism. That’s a very important activity for Christians to do. And yet, traditionally, there was what we might call proclamation evangelism. There’s a set of propositions about who God is, and who humans are, and the condition spiritually that humans are in, they they’re lost, they need a savior. And then what God has done to provide that savior in Jesus. And then to put one’s faith in what Christ did there on the cross to atone for our sins, and thereby begin to experience this new life that Christ has brought us, this new relationship with God as a result of that. And that somebody needs to ascent to that, and believe in that, and put their faith and trust in that, and then begin to follow this Jesus.

And that was something that drove what we might call the international foreign missions empire, if I can call it that, for countless generations. Many, many people went from certainly the United States, and the West to other parts of the world to take that message. And they did it sometimes well, many times not so well. Many times they had unintended consequences. But the point was, they were driven by this sense that humans are lost apart from Christ, and we’ve gotta let them know that there’s a savior.

And then we come to life as it’s lived now, and as our culture’s changed. And there seems to be some shift in that approach to evangelism, and how it’s done. And David, I’m gonna go ahead and turn to you first, because you’ve got a bunch of research that Barna has done on this that I think would be very helpful for all of us to hear to set the table for this conversation.

David Kinnaman
Great. I’d be happy to. We’ve done a big study … we’ve done multiple studies through the years. The company, for those that don’t know, started by George Barna in 1984, so we’ve got 35 years of tracking sociologically through research, what Americans believe, and how they practice their faith. And increasingly we’re doing now more and more global stuff, as well. In the last few years we’ve worked on a couple different projects. One with a partner called Lutheran Hour Ministries, called Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age. And then most recently, here in early 2019, with Alpha, a study called Reviving Evangelism. And so this is the report that came from that. And we’ve really been able, I think, to map the landscape of spiritual conversations today, and some of the different generational ideas about evangelism.

We are increasingly seeing a kind of antibody develop in younger generations towards the concept of evangelism. They actually talk about their faith as … they report talking about their faith more than older generations. They’re very spiritually oriented. They’re very faith oriented, even in their conversations. But they don’t like the idea, even practicing Christian young people don’t like the idea of trying to convince somebody else to change their faith, or to become a convert to Christ.

So, it’s a lot about … the hesitance, I think, is a lot about this … we can think about what that is … but 47 percent of practicing Christian Millennials say it’s wrong to try to evangelize someone to have them become a Christian, even though 94 percent say they believe that one of the best things in life a person could do is to become a Christian, and to follow Jesus.

So the interesting paradox is that I think this generation is living in, and I’d actually love to learn from you guys more about that today, too. I’m an analyst, so I can report the number. But the how and the why and what that means, I always think that research is best served as a point of discussion starting. But that was the real shocking statistic was the 47 percent of practicing Christian Millennials who at the same time they believe that it’s one of the best things a person could do to become a Christian, say that it’s actually wrong to try to convert someone. So, I think there’s all sorts of interesting pressures and cross currents today that is making the perception of evangelism different. And it’s, I think, obviously … it’s a point of disequilibrium, I think, within the church. It’s like, “Well, who’s going to be the effective evangelists of the future?

Nika Spaulding
Yeah. That’s really good. I spend a lot of my time studying Millennials, one being one of them, but also I’m planting a church that heavily skews towards Millennials. And we were probably over 50 percent Millennials in our church. And you guys put out a report in 2013 that says, “Is evangelism going out of style?” And it was more of just a broad conversation about evangelism. But in that report, it was interesting, Millennials reported higher levels of talking and sharing about their faith. So here was this one data point that I was like, “Alright. We’re doing some things right here. We’re sharing our faith.”

So truly, I was floored when 2019 rolled around and said 47 percent are now saying it’s not just, not that I don’t evangelize, it’s wrong to evangelize. And I began asking myself, and started talking with folks when this study came out, what happened between 2013 and 2019? And interesting enough, I think the election in 2016 played a big part in that. What’s interesting is so many of the young people in our church today, they do want their friends to know Jesus Christ. But the fear of being lumped in with some folks who maybe are more aggressive in their evangelism tactics, or maybe more transactional in their conversations about Jesus has caused them to want to separate from that group.

So many young people today are like, “I’m not an evangelical. I still hold to all the values, but I’m not an evangelical.” And I’m going, “Okay. Maybe we need to start defining these terms a little bit more clearly,” because I think maybe we shouldn’t give up on the term. I’m not sure. But you are still sharing your faith with your coworkers. You’re bringing them … Our young people are bringing folks to church every weekend at our new church, and yet they also want to distance themselves from maybe some of the older models of evangelism. And so it’s been a really interesting paradigm shift for me as a pastor, trying to encourage people to share their faith. This is an important part of who we are as believers, and what we’ve been commissioned to do. And yet, they don’t want to do it like their grandparent did. They don’t want to do it like their parents did. And I’m like, “Okay. How do you want to do it, then?” And that was such a staggering statistic, when that study came out. And I don’t know that I have all the right answers, but it does seem like a new way of evangelism is gonna be coming in the new wave of young people coming in.

Bill Hendricks
You put your finger on a very, I think, critical point that David also had referenced in what he had to say. And that is, let’s take the term evangelical. Where that actually came from, historically, there was a split between what was called the modernists and the fundamentalists back in roughly the 1920s. And the fundamentalists believed in five fundamentals of the faith, and we won’t go into all of those. But the fundamentalists tended to create what might be called culture wars. It was Christ against culture. The view was that the culture’s retreating from God, and we’re going to fight against that.

And the evangelicals grew up at about the ’40s and ’50s as somewhat of a reaction to that to say, “Let’s not fight culture wars. Let’s engage culture meaningfully, and let’s actually have civil conversation about important things.” Which is fine. And evangelism was a big part of that.

But then, as David referenced, in about the 1980s, marketing and demographics cropped up, and the generational thing, just as he said. And suddenly, with political research and analytics going on, there was a new category created, which was not a theological term, it was a marketing term, or a demographics term for political research of evangelicals. And once you do that, you start to figure out what are the traits of these people, and next thing you know, you have a profile that was very different in many ways, certainly in spirit, from what was originally envisioned by evangelicals. So now we have this big problem today. “Oh, you’re one of those evangelicals.” And that creates a host of assumptions about the person that may be mis … stereotypes.

David Kinnaman
Yeah. I think the idea of the overlay of political and sociological categories. You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of research that’s done around elections today, asks people, “Are you a born again or even evangelical Christian? Yes or no.” And that’s a … it’s actually … it offends me, not only as a Christian, but as a survey researcher, because it’s a double barreled question. This cracks me up. “Are you a born again or evangelical? Yes or no.” And so a lot of, or even just the fact that you lump white evangelicals into one group, and analyze them differently.

Now, there’s a lot of evidence, obviously, in our culture today that white evangelicals are different in a lot of critical areas. And white Christianity has a lot of explaining to do. At its worse, what it encourages, the wrong mindedness of our times. But what’s interesting is a lot of the political analysis, really looks at white evangelicals as distinct from black Christians, because they do vote very differently. But they happen to believe the same things, theologically. So they’re different political animals, but they’re not different theological animals.

And so, a lot of those categories, I think … there’s this … we live in a kind of a blender society where you push the smoothie button, and everything just gets swirled up. And I actually think this is one of the critical challenges for today’s next generation of Christians, is we find that they’re really interested in understanding why Catholics and Protestants are considered to be different. They don’t really have a good sense of their own denominational history, or why denominations split off from one another, or why different groups have different interpretations.

I actually think that one of the key things we should be teaching in our youth groups is a history class, a theological history because we just don’t … No person can know who they are without understanding the family from which they come, just biologically, on some level. Obviously, people that are adopted, or who have … even some friends of my kids are literal test tube babies. So we live in a very different world than we ever had before. And so … But no person can really understand who they are without understanding their biological roots, or their family roots. And I think we have a real crisis in this generation of not knowing … it’s not because they haven’t been willing to learn, it’s because we haven’t had the patience to teach them and explain this to them. We have a real crisis of them not knowing from whence they come, and from what theological traditions have contributed to who they are.

Why evangelism is important is really a story going back, obviously to the Book of Acts, but it also has a very specific connection to what’s happened in the last few decades. And I think a lot of the reasons that young Christians reject modern forms of evangelism as Nika saying that there’ll be a whole new kind of thinking about evangelism, because I think there’s been a real collateral damage, perhaps, when we go through this process of, the mass production of evangelism, big events, and mailers, and movies that are probably not that great movies, but they’re meant to be evangelistic pieces.

Nika Spaulding
It’s kind of you to say it that way.
David Kinnaman
So anyhow, I think that’s part of what’s the challenge is we don’t … people then react. They glom onto these words, like evangelism and evangelicals. And there’s a much more political … they’re much more understood in the political and sociological frame than they are in a theological or what is my history? What is my responsibility as a Christian to go out and share this good news, in a way that isn’t about a cultural imperialism, right? That’s actually one of the things we see in a lot of our research is a lot of people, they associate conversion efforts with a type of cultural imperialism. So, those are some of the things we’re seeing in the data.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. You are so … I can … Every data point you’re offering, I can give you anecdotal stories, even in … we were nine months into our church plant. We belong to a specific denomination. There were some things that we were doing locally that our denomination didn’t love. And so we, more or less, were asked to leave. And so we left the denomination. Now in nine months into a church plant, that could be devastating for a lot of church plants. None of our young people cared. They didn’t even realize we were part of a denomination for the most part when we began. And so when we explained to them, we’re now gonna be non-denominational, they were like, “We weren’t the whole time?” They were just such a …

And so some of our older folks, of course, that was a much different conversation over coffee. “Okay. Explain to me why we’re leaving. What are gonna be the tenets of our faith? Where do we stand on infant baptism? Where …” All these questions that you would anticipate. And yet, none of our young people … I don’t even know if today most of our young people could tell you the history of even our church, ’cause they just seem disinterested.

One of the things that I’ve noticed so much from evangelistic efforts, too, and I even had a hard conversation with a local author because they’re trying to put out gospel material and they’re trying to reach Millennials and Gen Zers. And they’re asking me to consult on it, and the part one is, you’re broken. And I’m like, “Ooh. That’s not actually our story.”

Bill Hendricks
Maybe not a card to lead with.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. And I’m like, “Well, that’s not our story. Our story began really with a triune God, and then creation, and then the beauty that is humanity made in God’s image, and we belong to something bigger than ourselves. And this idea of using story as part of evangelism is gaining a lot of traction in our church where people want to know what they belong to, because … I have so many young folks that go, “I think maybe I know where I stand on abortion, but I gotta be honest with you, everybody that I know that’s anti abortion, I don’t agree with them, so I’m not sure I care anymore.” And I’m going, “Okay. This is not a political issue. This is a theological and moral issue, and God has something to say to this. Would you like to know what God has to say about it?” And doing that divestment away from politics has been really healing for some of our young folks, because they tend to see so many of these issues as political issues, rather than moral and theological, and they don’t …

I was shocked, David, when your research said that 51 percent of people in the church didn’t know there was a great commission. And I’m like, “What are we doing? If you don’t know that, of course they don’t know that evangelism’s important.” And so I think we have some theological deficits within our church is that is then being filled, because the vacuum is gonna be filled with something. And I think so much political rhetoric and so much vitriol online is filling that space, and it’s causing people to form and shape opinions about deeply moral issues that God should have the first and final say in, that young people today are going, “I’m not hearing these things from the pulpit, but I am hearing it from Twitter. And if that’s what I have to sound like to be pro life, then I don’t know if I’m pro life.”

Bill Hendricks
I don’t want that.
Nika Spaulding
Right. And I’m going, “No, I think you probably are pro life, honestly.” And then you have the conversation about who you are as a people, where you belong, how you’ve been grafted into this family. And I think we’re missing some things if we’re not gonna start having those conversations and evangelistic effort rather than, “Here’s it …” I couldn’t believe people still use [Inaudible comment] _____ [0:22:27] I couldn’t believe that when I saw that in y’all’s data. And I always … my friends joke. If there is a massive group of people and I’m in it, I will be the one singled out for street evangelism. So, I must look like a sinner. I’m not sure what that look is. But I think about that, even as a believer, as a pastor, as someone who is in full time ministry, I’m sometimes like, “Whoa. That would not work on me if I did not … Hey, I love you guys. Calm down.”
Bill Hendricks
So one of the distinctions that there’s a thread here that I think’s interesting that I’m hearing. We use the term evangelism. And there’s theology involved in evangelism, but then there’s also what we might call strategy or approach involved in evangelism. Evangelism is both a message and then there’s a method. And, again, if we go back historically, and I’ll say to the Boomers, and really before, the what we might call mass evangelism … we think of Billy Graham in stadiums, we think of television, films, stuff on TV. And then, of course, the all time classic, Bill Bright and The Four Spiritual Laws. And at the time … And Bill Bright had a background in marketing. And you stand there in the ’50s and the ’60s and you go, “Wow, we got millions of kids going to college. They need the gospel. We gotta give them something that’s simple, something they can understand quickly, and most importantly, something that could spread virally … they didn’t have that term then … overnight. And so let’s take all this theological stuff and boil it down to the essence and then a simple method to, ‘Have you read The Four Spiritual Laws?'” And similar things have come. The EvangeCube, and the Wordless Book, and the Jesus Film, and listen, we’re not knocking any of that.
Nika Spaulding
Sure.
David Kinnaman
Right.
Bill Hendricks
But what I’m hearing, though, is the times have changed, and it’s fascinating that if we look at the great marketers in our culture, Johnson & Johnson, Apple, others that could be mentioned, they’ve shifted in how they market, because they know that the old mass approaches don’t work. You’ve gotta, in a sense, mass customize everything. You’ve gotta go as far down to the individual level as possible.

And once again, the church finds itself having to catch up with the culture and not too change the gospel, not to change the theology, but a different approach or methodology, perhaps a new approach, or a timely approach, if I can call it that way, and therefore an effective approach in bringing this truth to people. Is that …

Nika Spaulding
Yeah, 100 percent. So much is interesting even looking at the trends of moving from a guilt/innocence culture into an honor/shame culture. And really the advent of social media I think is just pushing us in that direction. And so some of those method … And again, heaven’s gonna be full of people who are grateful for Bill Bright, and tracks and things like that.
Bill Hendricks
Absolutely. And Billy Graham.
Nika Spaulding
That’s right. But now, when you talk about sin, it used to be this external thing that you did. And now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame is one of the most widely viewed. Shame is the conversation I’m having with Millennials over and over again. “I am a mess up.” “I am broken.” And a really quick, mass marketing is not gonna convince somebody in five minutes that what Jesus did on the cross is sufficient to transform them into a new person, into the righteousness of Christ is imputed to you. And so these quick, “Hey. We’re gonna talk about atonement, we’re gonna talk about justification, and we’re gonna talk about … You good? You good? You Good? You’re in, you’re in, you’re in,” when people are coming and going, “No, I’m deeply broken, and I’m not sure a five minute conversation is gonna convince me that Jesus has a solution for what I’m feeling.”
Bill Hendricks
Well actually, that sounds like progress to me. Because if people start out believing, “I’m a mess. I need help.” We can dispense with … I may not dispense with the concept of sin, but we’re already past the bad news there. They already know the good news of the bad news.
Nika Spaulding
I agree. And I think people know that. I think … The young people I’m talking to today, they might … there’s even a phenomenon going on with Instagram that you have your curated Instagram, where everything’s nice. And then you have your real Instagram where you’re not looking so great after a Friday night. And things are broken. And you have literally these both worlds that people are curating. And I think these conversations that I’m having, the difference is not that now I’m convincing them of their sin. The difference is the length of time I need to spend with them to pastorally care for them to understand that Jesus is deeply concerned about these things that they’re going through. That’s gonna take time. And the mass marketing is not working. It’s …

And, as a pastor who … I went from a megachurch to what I call my mini church. And I understand the … when you’ve got thousands of women you’re trying to teach the Bible, I understand programming. I don’t know of a different way of doing it in a megachurch, in terms of getting the Bible into people’s hands and education. But when I’m spending time with these young folks, it is laborsome. It is multiple conversations.

Bill Hendricks
It’s relationally driven, too.
Nika Spaulding
That’s exactly right. And I really know what they’re going through. And, I’m so grateful for my education here at DTS, and I don’t mean that just because I’m sitting here in this building. But there are concepts in our theology, like union with Christ and the trinity that I don’t hear getting enough play time, that to say that you’re united to Christ and ushered into the trinity is a profound idea that you can’t do in five minutes. That is deeply comforting to people to understand they belong, and they should walk in their belonging-ness.

And, David, I’m gonna pitch to you. I would love for y’all to do a huge, global study with Ligonier people who keep doing state of theology, because I laughed at when they … their 2018 study says that 51 percent of people believe that God accepts the worship of any religious group. And I’m like, “Well no wonder we’re not evangelizing people of different faiths. We think God’s already good with it.”

And so I’m sitting here going, “Oh, my gosh.” We have a theological depth of about an inch when it comes to evangelism at times. And I think that’s gonna have to change, that pastors are gonna have to pull deeply from their theological toolboxes and say, “This idea of a quick justification conversation, I think that day’s gone.” And I think instead we’re gonna have to spend time really unpacking these … being stewards of the mysteries of God, as Paul would say, and really leaning into to some of these profound concepts, ’cause I think that’s what people are gonna need moving forward.

Bill Hendricks
David, is your research showing what Nika has affirmed here, that, by and large, Millennials assert from the get go, “Look. I’m a broken person. I really need help. I’m a mess.”
David Kinnaman
It’s an interesting mix. They do. I think part of what I hear and Nika’s saying is that they are more realistic about the language that they use, and about the problems of the human condition. So for example, one just readily apparent example for me is as a researcher, when I first started, you couldn’t ask about sexuality, about pornography, about really … it was like 25 years ago, 24 years ago when I stared here at Barna. There’s some topics that were very taboo. And now we ask, we did a study called The Porn Phenomenon. And I think 90 … we asked … it was an online survey. That’s part of the reason why you can ask about more anonymous oriented things like that as opposed to just through a telephone interview.

But the culture has shifted, so we’re in a much more radically transparent era. And so people, it’s like 93 percent of people who we said, “Hey. We’re gonna ask you about things like pornography. Do you agree to continue to take the survey?” 93 percent of the respondents went through those questions around a whole range of things about sexual arousal, and when they watch pornography. It is really remarkable, the representativeness of that. And I think that’s a good example of what Nika’s saying, that this generation is like, “Okay. Well, let’s just have the conversation, ’cause we … there’s no topics that’s off limits.” And they see the systemic challenges that … I call our current context digital Babylon, that we’re in a new screen age.

And so they are seeing on their smart phones, not only sexuality and pornography, Google is their sex educator and their relationship coach, and got friends who are telling me that their kids are using Google to say … signs that I’m depressed. And so they’re more aware. The idea of mental health and anxiety, they’re more aware of the challenges that people go through.

I’m on the board at a university, and the level of tracking of students, in terms of their mental health, and their capabilities of just making it through college. When I was in school just 25 years ago, if you can find your way to the cafeteria, you’re gonna be fine.

Nika Spaulding
Food, yeah.
David Kinnaman
So, I think there’s a lot of really good stuff that has emerged in this generation, their awareness of human suffering and mental health, and lots of those challenges. One of the interesting things is, at the same time that that is true, there is this interesting resistance to the notion that they’re, themselves, flawed. And Chris Pratt, who’s a famous actor, Jurassic World, I’m sure he did, and Guardians of the Galaxy, he did a speech accepting, I think it was like an MTV audience choice award. It’s really a great little video, because he goes through ten points, and it’s this little mini sermon that he gives. Like, “You have a soul. You have to care for your soul.” It’s this really interesting thing. I really commend your listeners to go check it out. Because he also says, “Everyone’s gonna tell you you’re perfect. But I’m here to tell you you’re not perfect, and it’s okay not to be perfect.”

So there’s this … Nika, you were talking about it … there’s this awareness of presenting ourselves, the pretension of social media. There’s the sense in this Millennial and Gen Z culture like, “You deserve the trophy just for showing up.” But who gave the trophy? Who raised them.

Nika Spaulding
Yeah, that’s right. I’m still blaming our parents for that one.
David Kinnaman
So, it’s so funny, the kinds of people that … when I’m asking an audience of mostly older pastors or whatever, that blurt out their ideas about Generation Z or Millennials, it’s all these negative words. But then, after they get that all out of their system, I’m like, “Alright. Well, who raised this generation?”
Nika Spaulding
That’s what I’m saying. Yeah. I’m just grateful Gen Z is being studied, so I finally have someone to dump on, ’cause I didn’t have that. And so it’s good.

Yeah, I think you’re so right. And there’s this sense of depression, anxiety. Those are always on limits, it feels like, to talk with Millennials. Human sexuality and things like that, sometimes it’s like, “Whoa. I’m … I don’t think that’s wrong.” And so that’s really interesting, the inroads, in terms of talking about. And what’s interesting is I think the prevalence of anxiety and depression is so common that it’s just like, “Well yeah, everybody’s got that.”

And I saw this meme the other day where it was talking about my grandparents, they lean in, they look around, they’re like, “So-and-so’s in counseling.” Millennials are like, “Girl, my counselor told me …” And I’m like, that is … most of my friends are in counseling. And we talk about it openly. And when I talk to my mom about it, my mom’s like, “You guys are … you share too much.” And so I think about that. I’m like, what is on limits. And so I think there are inroads to talk about human brokenness, but I do think there are times, though, that depending on the way you go about it, there might be some push back of, “Yeah, I’m depressed. I’m anxious. Yes, I’m having one night stands over and over again, but I don’t think those are correlated.” And it’s like, “Well, okay.” They might not be correlated, but I think all of that should be fair game to talk about. But it is interesting what Millennials will be willing to talk about, and then what are things that, “Eh, that might be off limits.” It’s really fascinating.

David Kinnaman
Yeah, right. Good.
Bill Hendricks
Well, it’s interesting, Nika, because I was gonna ask you, okay, strategy, approach, evangelism, in your perfect world, how would you set it up? How would you have an evangelistic conversation? You basically said you were more inclined to start with this personal God who exists in triune form, and you’re invited into this perfect circle of love, as it were. The thing that strikes me about that is how it’s 180 degrees in the opposite direction from perhaps the most dominant narrative … it’s by no means the only narrative … but the dominant narrative that really Millennials in particular have grown up with. It’s just in the water that you’re here by random chance. Just something crawled out of the primordial ooze back there, and morphed into you. And you’re only real contribution, if you want to look at it that way, is to contribute to the gene pool so that whatever survives us in two million years is …
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. And hopefully make a viral video at one point, and that’s your … that’s it.
Bill Hendricks
That’s it. And I don’t know how you build a life of meaning and purpose out of that.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, you don’t. And I think that’s where … My head pastor is a guy twice my age, and he is still a Millennial whisperer. And one of the things that he … one of the sermons that he did one time was he talked about we have done a disservice to Millennials by not tethering them to a story, to a place, to a people. And we have to do that. And that is the number one sermon that they … And I think I do a pretty job teaching other things mid week. I think I’ve razzle dazzled them. And it’s interesting. We start every service the same way. We say, “If nobody’s told you that they love you, we do. But more importantly, God does.” And people love that. And it’s the simplest thing to just say, “God loves you.” And yet, people go, “I don’t hear that enough.” And I’m going, “Okay. That should be basic Christianity 101.”

And then for Martin to stand up on stage and say, “We have not done you a favor by allowing you to believe in this idea that you’ve come from nothing, and you’ll go to nothing instead of tethering you to something.” And so many young people have latched onto that idea, and have come and said, “Who do I belong to? Where do I belong to?” And this idea of belonging, we are seeing an epidemic of loneliness in this generation, even though they’re the most connected generation. And it is unreal the amount of just … even like, it’s interesting when you see that insurance companies are even starting to look into this idea of loneliness, because it’s costing them money, ’cause of depression and all that comes with depression and loneliness.

And I’m telling people, “If you can not tap into this sense of belonging with Millennials, you may lose them. And they need to know they belong somewhere, because of broken families and all of that.”

Bill Hendricks
So this opens up the door to a whole new angle that is both theological as well as strategic, I guess you’d say. And that is hospitality.
Nika Spaulding
That’s right. Yeah.
Bill Hendricks
Because what I’m hearing in your experience with the Millennials you’re working with, there is a deep desire … and this is true of, I think, all humans … but we particularly say with Millennials right now. “Someone, would you please attend to me? Would you see me as a person, not just as a number, as a statistic, as an employee, a worker, that guy? Would somebody see me for me, good, bad, or ugly, and love me?” And what you’re saying is, if we could get to that point with people … And hospitality is all about that.
Nika Spaulding
And it’s so subversive. It’s amazing how … God has blessed me with a beautiful home in Oak Cliff, and I’m so grateful for that. And it was very apparent to me the reason for that, and that was to open my doors a lot to the young people in our church. And we … Martin and I spend a lot of money on food. And that’s what we do. And we host people, and we spend time with them. And it is … I’m an introvert. It is tiresome. It is … There are times when like, “I have to clean my house, again?” I have a meeting tonight, in my home, with all of our home group leaders, and we’re gonna feed them, and we’re gonna love on them, and they’re gonna stay late. They are.
Bill Hendricks
I believe the Italians have a slogan, a saying, I cannot know you unless I’ve dined with you. And I love that. And by the same token, I cannot know you unless I know your story. And what food seems to do is provide a space where we can get into story. And if I hear your story, you suddenly become a person to me, and not just … if I could use this expression … not just a notch on my gun that I won another convert to the faith. No. This is a relational thing, which is very important.
Nika Spaulding
And I’ll love you even if you don’t become a believer. And I’ll love you if you never jump in full time at St. Jude. And we say that a lot. When we pitch even volunteering opportunities, we remind the young people who are too busy anyways, our love for you is not predicated on you saying yes to this. And you see them and they go, “Oh.” “And we love you. And so, if you choose to jump in with us, wonderful. We’ll celebrate that. And if you don’t, we’re gonna tell you we love you the next time we see you.” And it’s so unnerving for them to hear that, and disarming in a good way. And so, that’s … And it takes time. Look, I understand the struggles of the pastors who are busy, which is why I think we have to give ministry away to our Boomers and our elders and our Gen Xers to say, “Guys. You have to open your home. You need to love on these Millennials. I know they’re a little weird. I know they bring their funky views into play.
Bill Hendricks
They think the same about you.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah. They totally do. But you may just find that over dinner you have more in common than you realize and a longing to belong to each other in a way that you can satisfy.
Bill Hendricks
David, I’m just curious, do you have any research on hospitality?
David Kinnaman
We actually have quite a bit. A big study we did called The Households of Faith where we looked at spiritually vibrant households and the conditions in which faith is really growing, and we expected that it would be a lot about devotional activities, and it was. But it was also around hospitality. So the most vibrant households were both spiritually devotional, they read the Bible, they talked about God, they did spiritual things, but they were also opening up their homes, they were very hospitable in a lot of the ways that they oriented themselves. And they also had a lot of fun together. It wasn’t just about doing spiritual things. And so that was one instance.

In a lot of different places we’ve seen the role of hospitality, even as reviving evangelism report that I was telling about earlier, we asked non-Christians the kinds of things that they would want to have, the qualities of a good person to talk about faith with. And the number one quality was listening without judgment. And that’s … it sounds like it’s counter intuitive to evangelism, ’cause evangelism is like, “I’m going to tell you what I believe so that you can become a Christian.” But listening without judgment, not forcing a conclusion, allowing others to draw their own conclusions, demonstrating interest in the other person’s story or their life, even being confident in sharing their own faith perspective is ranked as one of the top five. But it’s within the context of hospitality.

So people really do feel when they have been listened to or heard. And actually, this is something I actually heard one of my college professors say early on, that I’ve … it’s one of the truest things I’ve ever experienced, was that when you go to dinner or have time with a friend or a person you’re getting to know, he said, “The one thing you’ll really notice is that if you enjoy yourself, that person asked you a lot of questions about your life and experience.” And there’s a real hospitable approach to saying I’m not just here to talk about what I’m doing, what I’m experiencing, what I think.

And conversely, if you’re with a person and you’re like, “Man. That was a draining time.” They just spent a lot of time talking about themselves. I’ve been with people that are super interesting and they have interesting stories, they … But they’re also super interested in who you are. And I think that’s part of the posture that this generation is really looking for. They’re not looking for one-sided rigid conversations that are formulas about how you might lead someone to Christ. That may be the ultimate end, and they would love to see that happen in most cases, but they want to see that come out of this hospitable, conversational, respectful place.

And it’s just a really cool little rule of thumb. If you want to be a good friend to people, if you want to have people enjoy your company, you have to work really hard at asking questions. And I just … Sometimes, when I’m traveling for work or different things, I find myself like, “I’m so tired. I don’t actually … I don’t even really want to ask you any questions about yourself, ’cause I know that I have to listen and respond.” And the words of my professor just … they echo back. It’s like, “Well, it depends on what you’re hoping that person might think of you at the end.” And so it’s a very true principle, I’ve found.

Bill Hendricks
So what we’re seeing here is that, while Francis Schaeffer was absolutely correct that our faith is propositional, that it has some reason behind it, and as Norm Geisler said, “We have a reasonable faith, but it does go beyond reason into a mystery.” Having said all that, our gospel is not only propositional, it’s also incarnational. And so there’s a relationship between you and this other person. And if that relationship is not going anywhere, if I don’t … if the person doesn’t have a feeling or an experience that I actually care about them as a person, you really don’t get very far.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, that’s right. I was at a coffee shop yesterday and I decided to test this theory, David, of what you guys were in your research. And so I started up a conversation with a gal, and she was … I had a book out on my table that was about evangelism, of all things. And she’s like, “Evangelism. Not my cup of tea.” And so we began chatting, and she said, “Hey, I’m an atheist,” and told me a little bit of her story. And I said, “Hey. Can I ask you something? I’m a pastor here in town.” She goes, “I don’t want to come to your church.” I said, “No, no, no, no, no.” I said, “If you were to get all the evangelical pastors in Dallas together in one room, and you could give them one piece of advice, what would you give them?” And she thought about it, and she really was being thoughtful, and she goes, “Huh. Listen to people’s stories, and don’t give unsolicited advice.” And I was like, well, there you go. David’s research might be spot on.

So I gave her my business card. I said, “Hey, I’d love to get to know you better.” And she goes, “Okay. I’ll call you.” And it was just this really … it was a sweet moment for me of just going, “Okay. The investment in this gal is clearly gonna be more than a five minute interaction at a local Starbucks.” But I say all that to say, David, the research you guys are putting out is so helpful, that people can be confident that, to take the time, and to say, “Okay. I’ll have a follow up, and then a follow up, and then a follow up.” And who knows where it’ll go, and who knows if she’ll call. But the willingness to do that, hopefully will demystify some of this for folks and go, do you have time to grab a cup of coffee? Then I think you can engage in evangelism for this new wave of folks that we’re seeing coming through.

Bill Hendricks
Well, our time is about shot, but David, if people do want to get ahold of that research, very quickly, what’s the web address for Barna?
David Kinnaman
Yeah barna.com. And you can get … we’ve mentioned two or three different studies today called Reviving Evangelism, Spiritual Conversations in the Digital Age. We did one with a seed company, like I mentioned earlier. That was the one where 51 percent of church goers don’t know what the meaning of the phrase great commission is. That one’s called Translating the Great Commission. And we’ve just got a lot of different resources I think would be very helpful for people as to try to understand culture. That’s our job is to be Issachar, understand the times, know what to do, give leaders insights into the changing demographic, so you can minister and lead and think more effectively.
Bill Hendricks
Well, and that’s why we asked you to be on this podcast today, David. You guys do an incredible job, and thank you for the work that you do. So that’s barna.com.

Nika, thank you for joining us today and bringing your insights from your day-to-day work with this topic.

Nika Spaulding
My pleasure.
Bill Hendricks
A new vision for sharing Christ. Again, Bill Hendricks, Executive Director for Christian Leadership, from The Table podcast. If you have a topic you’d like us to consider for a future episode, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. We’ll see you again.
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Bill Hendricks
Bill Hendricks is Executive Director for Christian Leadership at the Center and President of The Giftedness Center, where he serves individuals making key life and career decisions. A graduate of Harvard, Boston University, and DTS, Bill has authored or co-authored twenty-two books, including “The Person Called YOU: Why You’re Here, Why You Matter & What You Should Do With Your Life.” He sits on the Steering Committee for The Theology of Work Project.
Nika Spaulding
Nika Spaulding is a dynamic force with boundless energy. As the Director of Women’s Equipping and Curriculum at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Nika produces the curriculum for her Bible studies for women of all ages. She successfully balances her love of shepherding women with her love of theology. Her classes of more than 500 women are centered around God’s Word, which is sure to transform and inspire those in her care.
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