American Christianity stands at the edge, ready to either soar into a vibrant reformation or plunge into an irrelevant abyss. To avoid the latter, the church in America must transfer healthy spiritual DNA to the next generation.
But are we doing this successfully? Are we connecting the Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs of our time? A recent Pew study indicates we aren't. According to the report, one-fourth of all adults abandoned their childhood faith, while 44 percent changed religious affiliation. Although evangelicals have seen some transfer growth, those in the fastest-growing segment of the American religious family identify themselves as nonaffiliated. This raises the question: How can we reach out to these people to ensure next-generation relevancy?
First, we must recognize that although we tend to measure inheritance in America within the rubric of materialism, the greatest gift we leave to our children flows from the vitality of our faith. Our most precious posthumous asset is not a trust fund, but rather the powerful example of a life lived in service to God.
In addition, successful churches and ministries must build a platform where Abraham's faith converges with Isaac's passion and Jacob's tenacity. Leaders must implement strategies that connect the generations with a common purpose rather than focusing on differences.
Craig Anderson, an elder of an Assemblies of God congregation in California, fears we may be neglecting the older generation "The music and sermons focus exclusively on topics for 20- and 30-year-olds, but what about the elderly in the church? Is there any way to address all three generations at one time?"
These are common questions among today's ministers. Many struggle with how to effectively reach out to each generation according to its unique needs. The dramatic growth of contemporary and niche worship services, illustrated sermons and digital Christianity speaks to the reality of Christian customization.
"This format of creating services for each generation was unheard of 10 or 20 years ago," says Ramiro Quiroz, a Next Generation specialist and denominational youth leader. "I don't see it as a negative but rather as a positive sign that the church is adopting business-model thinking and incorporating it within the framework of God's business."
The generational gap isn't the only potential obstacle to continuity. "Not only does there exist a generational disconnect but a biblical disconnect," explains Nick Garza, a doctoral candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary. "We connected the previous generations with the Word. The current deficiency in biblical literacy stands poised to impede viable transference of our Christian heritage."
If the Abrahams of our lifetime stood on the Word, and the Isaacs thrived on worship, then the Jacobs of our lifetime are crying out for justice. Can we be a nexus of biblical orthodoxy, holiness, worship and justice? Can we stand on the Nicene Creed, worship in spirit and truth, and contextualize a narrative of justice?
Kingdom-culture Christians who value generational connectivity will cry out for help to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Then, the God who provided the ram, the wells and the ladder will once again intervene for our generation and for generations to come.
Award-winning writer Sam Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Hispanic NAE, serving 15 million Latino believers and 18,000 churches.