Article by Adrian Blenkinsop.
Is the Bible relevant to Australian young people anymore?
Gen Z is the generation born since the mid-1990s, often called ‘the Net’ generation. According to social researcher Mark McCrindle, Gen Z is “the most digitally supplied, globally connected, and formally educated generation in history.” Adrian Blenkinsop, author of ‘The Bible According to Gen Z’ writes about his resource for youth leaders that aims to connect Gen Z with God’s story.
Once upon a time in a large church hall, located in a small country town, I sat doing a Bible study. It was a regular Friday night youth group occurrence that I still remember clearly, mainly because I don’t ever recall ‘passing’ the Bible study.
I failed it mainly because it involved either memorising Bible verses, or reading chunks of scripture then answering a series of questions about that passage. Those of us in the youth group had our ‘Bible study’ marked at the end of each Friday night, and mine –not surprisingly – never found its way onto that prestigious position on the fridge door at home, where various sporting and art awards were placed for all to see. No, I ensured my failed attempts at Bible study met a quick and ignominious end in a bin long before I was picked up by my parents at the end of youth group.
Those Bible study experiences in my early teenage years shaped a view of the Bible as being old, hard to understand and impossible to engage with at any level. Especially for a young guy who loved being active, had the memory of a gnat, and hated anything resembling study!
Fast-forward a number of years.
What many of us have long suspected is true: That is, young people (and often those who lead them) that identify themselves as Christians are saying that the Bible is not on their radar. It’s not something they even consider. For many of them, their view of the Bible is exactly the same as mine was all those years ago. Little has changed.
It’s fair to say that this is a crisis.
As with any issue as important as this, you can only run around waving your arms in the air crying ‘it’s a crisis, it’s a crisis’ for so long until you need to stop and begin to address the issue. We need to acknowledge the nature of the crisis, and then begin to explore how together we can respond.
The Bible according to Gen Z aims to do just this. It is a great resource designed to equip leaders with a framework and understanding of youth culture, as well as giving practical and proven methods for engaging them with the Bible.
There are stories from ministry leaders working in diverse contexts across Australia that explore their challenges, and their ‘wins’ in engaging their young people with the Bible. For instance, at a forum I ran in NSW a youth leader wrote: ‘I’m finding it tough trying to engage the diverse cultures. You have to almost ‘tailor’ a Bible engagement method for different cultural groups in your youth ministry. That takes time, and it takes real thinking and an understanding of those different cultures!’
A youth pastor in a church with a high percentage of ‘at-risk’ young people in a really rough neighbourhood wrote ‘every Friday night at youth I don’t preach – I just tell Jesus stories. My kids mostly can’t read, but they love hearing good stories – so that’s what I do. You can see the light come on for them as they hear the story and God starts to speak to them. They often go home that night and re-tell the story there as well.’’
At another forum I ran, we discussed creative ways of engaging young people with the Bible, and one leader wrote ‘When we involve our whole body in the process of Bible engagement, many more young people ‘get it’ than when we use just auditory or visual methods. It can be as simple as going for a run before reading a New Testament passage about seeing life as running a race (for example, 1 Corinthians 9, Hebrews 12) or standing on a shore reading any of the stories of Jesus and his disciples and boats. (John 21, Mark 6). With the breeze in their faces and waves lapping at their feet, the stories can surprise and engage our young people in new ways. ‘
We also asked a number of youth influencers from across Australia to respond to the research findings, and outline their own suggested responses to this issue.
‘One young person in a hundred will pick up the Bible out of curiosity or interest. The majority who read the Bible frequently are part of Evangelical or Charismatic Churches and youth groups’
‘Many young people believe much of the Bible is based on ‘myths and legends’ and ‘fables’ that are ‘exaggerated’. They have doubts that the miracles in the Bible actually occurred.’
‘Young people struggle with the language of the Bible. Often their unanswered questions about genocide, strange rituals and miracles, and bizarre laws causes them to simply give up on it’
‘Pentecostals read the Bible most often, followed by Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians. These groups tend to emphasise the importance of God speaking to the individual directly through the Scriptures.
What’s the state of Bible engagement among young people?
How can we get our young people engaged with the Bible more?
What’s working, and why?
Getting young people interested in the Bible is hard work. Why is it so hard, and is anything working? Now for the first time there is a resource which not only presents a clear picture of the state of youth Bible engagement, but gives practical ways of engaging young people with the Bible that you can adapt and use in your own ministry, whether in a school, home or church setting.
As well as the edited and easy-to-read research findings, there are stories and reflections from a wide range of youth practitioners and comprehensive case studies of approaches that are working. It’s a ‘must have’ for those involved in ministry to young people, and a resource for anyone with a desire to see young people connect deeply with God’s story, the Bible.
The Bible According to Gen Z is published by the Bible Society Australia
For more information, please contact Adrian at adrian.blenkinsop@Biblesociety.org.au.
To purchase the hardcopy version go to: www.biblesociety.org.au. Go to the SHOP and search for ‘essays’ in Advanced Search.
To purchase the eBook go to: www.amazon.com and type the book title into the search field.
This article was first published in the March 2014 glossy edition of RISE magazine. See back issues here.