Two years after the release of Faith for Exiles, co-authors Mark Matlock and David Kinnaman sit down on ChurchPulse Weekly to discuss how Digital Babylon and the cultural landscape of resilient discipleship has continued to shift.
Together, they reflect on the ways in which the pandemic has revealed new insights on resilient disciples as well as how leaders can move forward, reaching a younger generation with the help of this faithful group.
Reflecting on the Impacts of the Pandemic
Matlock and Kinnaman discovered many of their original findings have held true through the pandemic. Matlock notes, “A lot of people were saying, ‘Wow if we’d only been following these insights earlier, we’d have been better set up for the pandemic.’” He continues, “The pandemic proved the veracity of the research and the insights. It doesn’t make those things outdated or irrelevant, but rather, it’s something we can use to lead out of it.”
One quote from Faith for Exiles that took on new meaning during the pandemic was: If you can do it by yourself, it may not be the church. Matlock says, “Church has to be more than a sermon, worship and what happens on the stage; that’s where people were seeing the discipleship deficit.”
Matlock continues, “I think the pandemic has definitely made everyone think about discipleship (or the lack of it) differently. It is creating a hotbed of opportunity for youth ministry to nail down what disciple making and discipleship looks like.”
Leading Differently Moving Forward
In many ways, the pandemic built a stronger case than ever for the need to strive towards disciple-making that produces individuals resistant to difficulties, turmoil and chaos.
Recent data from Gen Z Volume 2 also suggests the holistic benefits of resilient discipleship. Of the individuals who qualify as resilient disciples, more than four out of five feel their perspective on life is positive overall, and they are more likely to report feelings of acceptance, confidence, safety and satisfaction when compared to their peers.
In order to continue to foster these individuals moving forward, Matlock emphasizes the importance of remembering the skills learned through the pandemic. “Everyone has figured out how to connect online in some way, so that’s an asset we can leverage,” he shares, continuing, “If one person’s joining the meeting on virtual, it’s a virtual meeting. That means we have to think about it differently than an in-person meeting. We still have to be giving a lot of attention to that because there’s still great potential to reach an audience.”
Discovering a Hopeful Story
To close their time together, Kinnaman and Matlock reflect on the encouragement they found through the story of hope present in this research.
Kinnaman notes, “We keep encouraging church leaders, ‘Don’t just focus on what you can do to win everyone over. What can you do to equip and empower these resilient disciples? Because you don’t have to super power them; they’re already revving and ready to go.” Matlock adds, “They’re going to be the ones who will lead their generation to Christ, so leaning into them is really important.”
Kinnaman wraps up with a story from their time working on the project. He says, “One of the researchers who was working with us literally jumped out of the chair and said, ‘Dave, do you see that we’ve found that the Gospel is actually working in the lives of these young people? […] Her enthusiasm for what we were discovering was such a cool moment, and it reminded me of not only the work we do, but the power of the Gospel in changing and affecting people’s life and trajectory.”
About the Research
Interviews for this study were conducted using an online consumer panel of 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21 between June 15 and July 17, 2020. Quotas and minimal weighting were used to ensure data are representative of known U.S. Census ethnicity, gender, age and region. Margin of error is ±2.53 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021