It has been interesting to see the statistics that have come out recently regarding those churches that have taken the liberal stance on issues of sexuality. According to John Hayward (a Christian mathematician) over the last 10 years, all those with a liberal stance have seen a decline in membership in their denominations. However, while some who have stuck to a more biblically orthodox view of marriage have declined or maintained their numbers, only denominations or streams that hold to the orthodox view of marriage are seeing growth. Hayward summarises his observations:
‘To date, no growing church has adopted same-sex marriage. All of these denominations hold firm to historic Christianity. Indeed, they are all evangelical in doctrine. Additionally, they have statements that affirm marriage as between a man and woman only – the historical and Biblical position. I propose that their confidence in the authority of Scripture enables them to stand against progressive ideology and drives their efforts in making disciples. They know what God requires of them in both behaviour and mission.”’¹
While we can’t prove truth by the numbers attracted to our churches, I do believe that God wants to break into people’s lives with the power of His gospel, and when that happens many start to respond. I believe there is a power in Scripture that causes faith to rise in people and satisfies their spiritual hunger. People will flock to churches that are preaching the power of God to transform lives. After all, the gospel is the power of God for salvation/deliverance/healing (NT Greek word Sozo) to all who believe (Romans 1: 16).
We have experienced this recently at London Network Church. Over the past four years we have seen a growth in those between the ages of 20 to 35 coming to the Lord. We have also seen a number of men coming to the Lord and getting baptised. My church secretary and I had a rough look at the churches demographics recently and worked out that we were about 44% men and 56% women. We also worked out that about a third of the congregation are young adults between the ages of 20 to 35.
It has made our church a very exciting and vibrant place over the past few years. The young adults are active and involve themselves in live streaming, promoting the church on social media, sharing transformational testimonies on a Sunday morning, bringing friends along, getting involved in children’s work and youth work. It is also a place where our men share authentically and deeply as well as the women.
We realised as a leadership, that this was bucking the trend. So, we asked the question as to why these young adults were coming and their responses were very interesting. I have summarised their answers under three headings:
Many of the young adults explained that they had missed connecting with people during the lockdown and they felt the church was a real place of family. They could express themselves in the church and people would listen and they felt genuinely cared for. We run events where people have had the opportunity to share deeply. One of those is life groups that meet twice a month. Here people fellowship over meals, share their issues, get prayer and advice, and work out how to apply the Word that has been preached on a Sunday to their everyday lives.
Another event has been ‘Food For Thought’, where issues of the day are discussed such as LGBTQ, Abortion, Racism, Feminism, Poverty, Poli,cal Polarisation, why does evil exist, etc. Discussing these subjects was requested by various of our millennials. During these times there has been honest disclosure of things people have struggled with, tears and exclamations of ‘it’s so good to be able to share honestly together’ and ‘this has really helped me to be able to explain things to my non-Christian friends’. Along with studying the biblical foundations, I believe this has greatly helped with the process of discipleship of those who have no Christian background and have recently come to Christ as young adults.
Another thing that was clearly expressed by the young adults as to why they were coming to church was ‘truth’. They felt that there was such confusion in the world now when it came to things such as sexuality and gender, especially on social media. They felt that there was clarity in the church, and they were finding answers in the preached word and discussion sessions.
Included in our values as a church are ‘The Lordship of Christ’ and being ‘Bible Based and Spirit Led’. One of the aims of ‘Food For Thought’ is to be able to discuss contemporary topics in the light of the Bible and work out how to ‘speak the truth in love’ to the world (Ephesians 4: 15).
It seems as though young people are looking for clarity and truth, rather than a watering down of what the Bible says. After all, the Bible does say ‘the truth will set you free’ (John 8: 31 – 32) and young people are looking for authenticity in a world that is offering answers that don’t work. They are looking for inner healing and transforma,on. We are trying to keep a balance between Grace and Truth as we believe this reveals the fullness of Jesus’ glory. I do believe that God wants to break into people’s lives with the power of His gospel that transforms lives (John 1: 12 – 14) and that despite the cost of discipleship, this will prove attractive.
A Sense of Purpose
A third answer the young adults gave as to why they were coming to the church was that they felt ‘a sense of purpose’ in the church community. They genuinely felt they were here for a reason; that God had created them for something. The ‘lack of identity’ in society is very strong and the young adults felt that they knew they were children of God and could reach their potential being a part of the Kingdom of God. We try to preach that we are all unique and all have different gi^s and personali,es that God wants to use for His purposes. We try to cultivate in them a Kingdom mindset. If they are submitted to God and led by the Spirit they can bring goodness into the world and express the Kingdom of God.
I was speaking recently with Ken Benjamin, Director of Church Relationships at LICC (London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) who confirmed that their research had discovered similar reasons for young adults attending churches.
I believe that if we can remain confident in the gospel in the face of a turbulent culture; if we can keep preaching truth in love, then we will see people coming to Christ regularly. If we create an environment in our churches that is a loving Kingdom family, with a discipleship process that puts in the key foundations of repentance, the Lordship of Christ, assurance of salvation, baptism and the importance of being Bible-based and Spirit-led; and we do this in a creative way that allows young adults to discuss contemporary issues in the light of the bible, providing inner healing and transformation opportunities, then our churches will flourish and grow.
You can read John Haywards full articles Church Decline and Progressive Ideology on his Church Growth Modelling website.
1. Quoted by Dr Ian Paul in Premier Christianity, htpps://www.premierchristianity.com/opinion/does-allowing-same-sexmarriage-result-in-church-decline-heres-what-the-numbersshow/13282.article
Rev Alex Afriyie is the senior pastor of London Network Church in West London, He is currently moderator of London Baptists and on the leadership of Evangelical Baptists.