God Still Transforming Lives of Young People

A group of young people pray together after a Christian City Church service in Toronto last month. Christopher Katsarove, The Globe and Mail

“Until recently, Aimee Burke was a cartoon of her generation,” begins the news article in The Globe and Mail, one of the largest newspapers in Canada. “She partied a lot and was partial to coke. Her hookups comprised partners both male and female. She was unhappy.”

Aimee is a millennial hair stylist in Toronto. “Her life began to change,” Eric Andrew-Gee reports, “with the appearance of an unusual tattoo. … About two years ago, a client at her salon flashed a wrist inked with an image of Christ. When Ms. Burke asked about it, the tattooed client said she belonged to a new Toronto church.”

After having confirmed that she could attend in ripped jeans, Aimee visited the church. “I’m pretty sure I went to the service hungover from the night before,” she recalled. But as the service wore on, she found herself weeping. “I just felt less empty.”

“Everyone was within about 10 years of my age and I was 24 years old at the time. They were talking about God, but they looked like people I could party with,” Ms. Burke said. “I felt like I could be myself right away.”

This is the kind of faith-inspiring story that you love to read about — especially in a secular newspaper in Canada, a country where less than 25 percent attend church on a monthly basis.  

“As the Christians would say, I’ve surrendered over my life,” Burke said. “I do everything. I pray in the morning, I pray at night, I read my Bible every day… Now I’m waiting for marriage. I’ve been sober for almost two years.”

The church attendance numbers are not on the upswing for young men and women in Aimee’s age demographic — neither in Canada nor the United States. Nevertheless, testimonies like Ms. Burke’s appearing in the newspaper should remind us that God is always at work. The Holy Spirit is transforming lives — even among young people!

“I think people are looking for something to believe in,” Ms. Burke offered, “even if it’s just themselves.”

The church’s upbeat, easy going style attracted many of the parishioners at its west end campus.

“The big thing here is people come and they don’t feel pressured to be anything other than who they are,” said Jonathan Li, 30. “It’s more about having people to do life together.

“I think people are a lot lonelier these days, even with social media. … I think there’s a false sense of connectedness there.”

Aimee Burke is glad the church met her where she was. At the church, she felt like she could be herself, without feeling “self-condemned,” she said. All the jokes about saying Hail Marys when she swears at work are worth it, Ms. Burke insists. “This is going to sound really Christian-y,” she said, “but it felt like the chains came off of me.”

Further good news comes from Britain, where recent surveys have shown

Churches inspire young people to become Christian, a study suggests. Photo by David Davies.

that 13 percent of people between the ages of 11 and 18 are practicing Christians who attend church, and that 21 percent of this age group consider themselves active followers of Jesus. This is more than double the result of a 2006 survey, which found that only six percent of teens attended church.

Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results. “What is really exciting for us is that there is this warmth and openness that we are seeing among young people — they are really open to faith,” he said.Further good news comes from Britain, where recent surveys have shown that 13 percent of people between the ages of 11 and 18 are practicing Christians who attend church, and that 21 percent of this age group consider themselves active followers of Jesus. This is more than double the result of a 2006 survey, which found that only six percent of teens attended church.

Surprisingly, one of the most influential factors in the conversion of young people in the survey was visits to churches or cathedrals, identified by 13 percent of the respondents. The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, who is the lead bishop for churches and church buildings, said: “This shows the power of church buildings — they are powerful for all sorts of reasons. They give a sense of stability, and also the sense that the Christian faith has inspired people to build these extraordinary buildings.” (Of course, Britain has the advantage over us there, with 42 cathedrals, many of which are as much as 1,000 years old.)

In addition, one in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 percent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 percent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity. A further 13 percent identified prayer as a key factor. “Things which we would class as old hat methods are some of the more effective ways,” added Mr. Dale.

In the midst of sometimes discouraging cultural news, it is heartening to note that in places with much lower Christian discipleship than the United States, God is still actively working to transform lives and call people to follow him. As the song says, “God is on the move!” Will we join him in his mission?

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