People have problems. No matter what ethnicity or what socioeconomic group, people are going through hard times. Divorce is a defining change in our culture – affecting those who lose their marriage as well as the children who have to redefine their sense of family. In 1900 the divorce rate was 7%; in 1965 it was 25%; by 1975, when no fault divorce laws were being passed, it grew to 49%. Today it is 34%, with less people getting married (partially because they don’t want to go through the pain of divorce). Anxiety and depression disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 18% of the adult population. The suicide rate for Americans aged 35 to 54 increased nearly 30% between 1999 and 2010; for men in their 50’s rose nearly 50%. More Americans die of suicide than car accidents; there are nearly twice as many gun suicides as gun homicides. People are struggling at home, at work, and at school. They are having problems with parents, friends, spouses, co-workers, God, and themselves. People struggle with insecurity and self-worth. Many people are using technology to create connections, but sense that it is not enough to meet their need to truly connect. People need HOPE.
Our culture has become experts at avoiding the deeper issues. We use technology and diversions to distract us from our deep needs and longings. Media consumption continues to rise, especially gaming. Meanwhile people struggle with how to have healthy and needed conflict, having rarely seen a good example at home or in the media – so conflict is avoided completely or blown out of proportion. And yet people usually are willing to talk about their pain and struggles. They are looking for empathy and support. They do not want someone to judge them or put them down in their pain. People don’t want a lecture; though many are open to advice from close friends they trust.
The next generation – those aged 18-34 – have left and are leaving the church in huge numbers, with no plans on returning. This age group was raised as children of divorce and is getting married much later. This age group is especially connected through technology and social media. Among 18-35 year olds, here are some statistics: living with parent: 20% in 1980, 30% in 2013 (38% in Modesto); never married 41.5% in 1980, 65.9% in 2013; employed 69% 1980, 65% in 2013 (58.1% in Modesto); language other than English spoken at home 10.9% in 1980; 24.6% in 2013 (Modesto changed from 19.4% to 46.5%), This generation views God in terms of moralistic, therapeutic deism – “God is distant and only needed for problems; God wants people to be good; God wants people to be happy.” Most of them have visited a church or youth group when they were younger, and many believe in God or a higher being, but they don’t see how the church is relevant to their lives.
There are needs in the city, country, and suburbs. Too often, though, the hidden needs of those who live in the suburbs (the basic context of Covenant Grove Church) are ignored or brushed off as not real. Those in the suburbs also tend to pretend that they don’t have deep needs, or they hide their pain behind a façade of a perfectly manicured lawn. Churches in the suburbs need to serve in the city and serve globally, but they need to serve the needs of their communities first. In the suburbs this may not be service events, but it will be ongoing and deep relationships, earning the right to be heard and speak into people’s lives about work, finances, faith, and relationships.
Evangelism as it has typically been presented – accept Jesus (“I already have”), ask for forgiveness (“I don’t feel guilty”), come to church (“it is not relevant”) – seems either unnecessary or downright rude and judgmental. Evangelism often comes off as trying to convince people how bad they are so that they understand how they need Jesus. I believe this is the wrong approach. The best approach is to start with the common ground of our culture, and to be honest with our own pain. Even moralistic, therapeutic deism is where we can start the conversation about God, and seek to grow people to a biblical understanding. Covenant Grove Church was started to be a multi-generational church that focuses on reaching 18-34 year olds. We want to dive in and deal with the struggles and selfishness of our world.We want to listen and pray and invite people to experience the life changing power of God’s HOPE.
Pain is a door for people to talk, be listened to, and be invited into community to experience the power of God’s hope as they experience Jesus – the One who endured pain and death, and conquered. Be filled up with God’s hope and let Him bring healing – so that you can listen and pray with those who are hurting – and point them to the Healer. God is calling His people to be filled with His life, and to share that life with those who are hurting and lonely. This is how we reach the next generation – and everybody.
 http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005044.html, accessed March 16, 2015.http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/marriage_divorce_tables.htm, accessed March 16, 2015
 http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics, accessed March 11, 2015.
 From <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/opinion/sunday/douthat-loneliness-and-suicide.html?_r=0> . March 10, 2015
 After the Baby Boomers, Robert Wuthnow (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ Press, 2007), Kindle loc.875). Wuthnow’s studies show that married people go to church at the same rate now as in the 70’s, but there are less married people among young adults now.
 From http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer-youngadults.html, Accessed March 17, 2015.
 The term was coined by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Eyes of American Teenagers (Oxford, Oxford Univ: 2009). Their findings are summarized as 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”
 In Finding Faith, the Spiritual Quest of the Post-Boomer Generation (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rudgers Univ Press, 2008), Richard Flory and Donald Miller believe that there is a new form of spirituality emerging, which they are calling “Expressive Communalism”, especially embraced by the Post-Boomers. This spirituality is lived out in community, and has the need to be expressive artistically, personally, and in mission and justice.