I don’t think there has been a more analyzed, studied, and scrutinized generation than Millennials. One of the many things this generation has been criticized for is their lack of church attendance. In fact, by many accounts, this is the most churchless generation. But why?
There are numerous blogs, articles, and books trying to answer this question along with suggestions about how to bring the Millennials back to church. I personally don’t believe their suggestions will work. To reach this generation we need to be like Jesus, become incarnational—go to them rather than expecting them to come to us or our churches. And this should be done through storytelling, the most powerful tool to compel a human mind.
Humanity evolved with storytelling according to renowned anthropologist, Chris Anderson. For millennia, we have been telling each other stories to connect emotionally, to build bonds, and to develop relationships. Stories get people’s attention and give hope and meaning to their experiences. This is something that I’ve known and experienced for decades.
I have always been a storyteller at heart. I don’t know if that’s because of all those childhood years sitting at my mom’s feet listening to her stories as she prepared the traditional nazri, a Muslim offering, or it was because of my dad, whom through his ability to tell jokes and stories, invariably, was the center and the light of all our gatherings in Iran.
In elementary school, when a teacher was late to class, I was asked to entertain the class by my made-up stories until the teacher would show up. I could relay a movie I’d seen almost scene by scene and word by word to my friends as they gathered around me. And once I became a follower of Christ, I have used my God given gift of storytelling to tell the Greatest Story ever told.
The latest opportunity to do just that occurred a couple weeks ago. Here’s what happened.
I’m the only one on our block that mows his own lawn. The rest of the neighbors have either turned their yards into draught-resistant yards or have a gardener do it for them. Because of my bad back, I don’t like manual work. But I enjoy mowing the lawn. I like the instant gratification I get after the work is done. It also gives me a chance to connect with my neighbors.
On this day, as I’m mowing the lawn, I watched a group of teenagers skateboard right by me. Our quiet street is on an incline, which makes it a skateboarding heaven. They go by my house 3-4 times, skating down and walking back up. I’m thinking, “Dang! Wouldn’t it be great if I knew how to skateboard with them up and down the street?”
By the time I’m almost done with edging the lawn, the kids are just about to make their fourth run. This time, two of them skate side by side while one videotapes the other. For a split second, paying too much attention to the camera, the second kid loses his concentration and wipes-out. He lands on the back of his head.
I run over there asking if he is OK! He gets up and looks around while his other friends, being typical teenagers, are making fun of him. He tells me he’s OK, but his head is hurting. Hey, with the way his head bounced off our newly paved street, I’m surprised he’s still conscious.
“Do you want an ice bag?” I ask
“Yes, please!” He answers.
I run in and get him a bag of ice out of the freezer. My wife ices her knees often, so we have those bags handy. I give it to him and to my amazement he’s quite appreciative.
“My head hurts,” He tells me
“Do you want some Tylenol?”
I don’t wait for his reply. I run back in and get him a couple capsules and water. He takes the pills and that’s when the rest of the gang joins us. Their wounded warrior has a big bleeding bump on the back of his head that he keeps icing. That’s when I start engaging these eight kids in a conversation.
“What are your names?” I ask. They tell me
I look at Billy and said, “You’re Filipino, aren’t you?”
“Wow! How did you know?” He exclaims.
That’s another one of my gifts. I can usually tell people’s nationality, which contrary to the PC opinion is not offensive to most of us minorities. At times, it is even delightful when we are asked that question.
I then started to joke with them.
“Tell me, how does a Filipino end up with four Mexicans, a Honduran, a Samoan, and an El Salvadorian?” Only in America!
They all laugh and make fun of each other.
I ask about their parents. Several of them live with their moms. One tells me that he lives with his mom, but his dad lives close by, so he gets to see him often.
I ask if any of them had ever had a suicidal thought or knew of anyone who had committed suicide. They say they knew people who had committed suicide.
I find out that they are all 14 years old and go to the same school. What I found extremely interesting was that only one of them lived in the neighborhood. The rest had taken the bus from another city to be there.
Eventually, one of the moms calls to check on her son with the busted head. He assures her that he’s doing fine.
After about half an hour of asking questions about their lives, I ask them if I could tell them a story? They all agree. I begin to share my life story with them.
I tell them where I was from, how I was raised, my failures and heartaches in life, my depression and suicidal thoughts. I then tell them about my encounter with Jesus. I challenge them to seek God and ask Jesus into their lives.
They are all captivated. Not once did any of them say, “Enough of this old fart. Let’s go skating!” And they didn’t show any signs of being bored. They are hanging on to every word I’m saying, even the guy with the busted head and an icepack on top of it—He’s the one in the back of the photo holding the icepack over his head.
They are still standing there when I finally say, “Guys, I really need to finish mowing the lawn.”
Reluctantly, they go back to their business and I go back to mine. About an hour later, when I’m all done and inside the house, there’s a ring at the door. It’s them. They have come back to say thank you and goodbye. The street east of us is a lot steeper.
What did I learn from what my friend, Lynn Corey, calls a Kairos moment (a promising moment for decision or action)?
Young people will listen if,
1. You go to them rather than expecting them to come to you.
2. You’re a good neighbor—I could have written them all off as a bunch of knuckleheads who deserved to plant their faces in the pavement.
3. You listen to them first—by asking questions, I let them each express himself.
4. Win their trust by letting them know you’re one of them—by talking about my shortcomings and mistakes, I made myself vulnerable to them.
5. You compel their minds through the power of storytelling.