I caught up with the Lead Pastor of Gwinnett Church as he arrived for the recent Defying Gravity Tour in the UK & Ireland
The arrivals hall at Heathrow T3 was packed with both people and emotion as I waited for Reed to clear immigration and find his luggage. It felt like most of America was arriving that morning. Some rushing into the arms of family they’d obviously not seen for a long while. Others trying to pick out their names from those written on mini signs held by the local taxi drivers.
His majesty’s Boarder Force officers eventually let this surprisingly young American Pastor into the country. Reed is the Lead Pastor of Gwinnett Church. One of North Point’s eight Atlanta area churches.
From Arrivals, we quickly descended down endless escalators and found a seat opposite each other on the Elizabeth Line heading west into the heart of the London.
And loudly. (Mainly due to the rest of the carriage sitting in total silence)
We talked about Church & Leadership but primarily, we talked about Jesus. Eventually the lady sat next to me introduced herself to us.
“I hope you don’t mind me joining your conversation,” She said, “But Jesus… He is amazing, isn’t he?” The rest of the journey we shared Jesus stories together. (Turns out she goes to a church in South London.)
I’ve regularly had deeply spiritual conversions with strangers in grocery stores in Atlanta but I had to remind Reed that this kind of conversation rarely, if ever, happens on tube trains in London.
Atlanta is the buckle on America’s Bible belt. London is a distant, post-christian city that seems worlds apart from the deep south of the USA.
But the belt is slipping.
Like us, the American church is grappling with declining attendance and spiritual apathy.
And like us, its especially true among the next generation…
So what is North Point doing to reach the next Generation?
Reed: It used to be that what people were looking for in church was cultural relevance delivered with excellence, now its emotional relevance delivered with authenticity. People are no longer impressed with ‘the show’. We are discovering that authenticity always trumps cool with this generation.
Duncan: Does that mean our churches don’t have to chase excellence anymore?
Reed: Far from it. This is not an excuse to be lazy, unprepared, or to lower the standards. We want our churches to be irresistible environments that people enjoy and want to come back to. So certainly, Be excellent. Just remember that excellence is not just more lasers, hazers, and lights. Excellence isn’t perfection and it isn’t plastic. It’s prayerfully, authentically, and intentionally doing your best with what you’ve been given in order to help people connect with Jesus and with one another.
Duncan: What could that kind of approach actually look like in a Sunday service?
Reed: When you plan services and review your teaching content consider thinking through these kinds of questions…
Were you real?
Were you honest?
Were you willing to address real issues and concerns?
Were you willing & able to appropriately share your own struggles or tensions?
Did you create moments where people can experience something transcendent? Where they feel something?
Is there space in your service for response, reflection and prayer?
Duncan: What does authenticity actually look like in practice at Gwinnett?
Reed: At our church we are thinking about adding some Q&A time at the end of each message. Tim Keller did this when he first planted Redeemer in Manhattan and found that most of the people who stayed on to ask questions were the under 25’s. We are finding that authenticity is currency with this generation. Even if they don’t believe what we believe, there should be no doubt that we believe it! We want to live our faith in such a way that people say about us: “I am not sure I believe what they do, but they are sincere. They’re not hypocrites!”
I couldn’t sleep that night. My mind was fizzing as I reflected on our train conversations that day…
I came to the conclusion that if church leaders in the UK & Ireland genuinely want to reach the next generation then they will have to do some things a little differently and maybe even little dangerously.
And it all starts with recapturing the language of ‘following Jesus’ over just believing in Jesus…
Because faith is more than subscribing to a set of beliefs, its walking in a way of life.
Because the next generation doesn’t want a faith that just informs, they want a faith that moves and acts and makes a difference in their lives and in their world.
Because they care about social justice, activism, politics and making a difference in their communities.
It turns out they want us to do ministry WITH them not just FOR them by involving them in our churches as early & consistently as possible.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t making a difference in the community you’ll never be a destination for the next generation.
Thank you Reed…