PENTECOSTALS buck the trend when it comes to falling numbers amongst churches in Australia.
Their congregations are growing strongly particularly amongst the young.
When Brisbane’s Karolina Gunsser, a community leader with Citipointe Church, Redcliffe, took to the stage at the recent Proclaim 2018 Conference, she had a powerful message for Catholics about how to engage young people and fuel their passion for the local Church.
“I’ve seen it in my ministry experience in the church; God is doing a resurgence in the next generation. He wants to do the same thing in the Catholic Church,” she said.
“He wants to see Catholic churches filled with young people who are on fire for Jesus.”
Demographics of American Pentecostal churches show that on any given Sunday church attendances are made up of 25 per cent Baby Boomers, 20 per cent Generation X and only 15 per cent Millennial and Gen Y, but 40 per cent are Gen Z.
Based on her own Citipointe ministry working alongside husband Sam, and her many years as youth pastor, Mrs Gunsser sees the same trends in Australia.
“The majority of people in church are 23 years old and younger, and I have to tell you that is the experience of the conversions that I see … of the ones who are taking the call and the mandate of the church with both hands and running at full speed, they are youth and young adults,” she said.
“The next generation are passionate, they’re hungry, they’re willing, they’re wanting to understand this Jesus and meet this Jesus that we carry.”
Mrs Gunsser willingly shared the framework used in the Citipointe Church ministry – engage (evangelise), connect, serve and disciple.
“We teach our young people, to get into school and engage your friends; see them where they are at – not high and mighty on some high horse – but seeing them where they are at and find a way in,” she said.
“And we encourage them to own their faith and take it to their friends – to engage and to invite.”
While running a youth ministry for 10 years in Carindale, Mrs Gunsser said youth nights called Amplified proved successful because of the invitations young people already in the church were able to offer to schoolmates and friends.
She said Amplified would attract between 1000 and 1500 young people.
Hundreds of “un-churched” young people would make a decision to follow Christ, she said.
Mrs Gunsser also described how a student – from a non-church background – had attended a series of Life Group meetings, become “hungry” for Jesus, then had decided to start a lunchtime prayer meeting at her state school.
The Year 9 student was told it was not permissible, but petitioned her principal to allow the prayer meetings to go ahead.
“What I love about people like this young girl is once they make a decision they are all in,” Mrs Gunsser said.
“She went on to become the school captain.
“She went on to do volunteer ministry in our youth group, and just this year I stood at her wedding and watched her marry an amazing Christian man … I just saw the transformational power of God on a person’s life.
“So, we encourage our young people and our older people to engage and invite.
“We provide opportunities and events … we equip them with resources to be able to spread the Word.”
Mrs Gunsser said that after engaging with young people her Church “takes on the massive task of taking them on a discipleship journey”.
“It’s not about a system, it’s not about a process it’s about a person … and we nurture them and we nourish what God is doing in their lives,” she said.
“I remember my own personal conversion, the moment when I realised that faith was not about religion but relationship – when I realised there was a Father in heaven who loved me so much that he pulled out all stops to open a way that I could come back to him.
“When I realised there was a Saviour, named Jesus, who gave up his very life – the first Son given up so there would be many more sons and daughters.
“In our services, in our small groups, in our encounters with young people we try to create atmospheres where they can encounter God.
“And we are strong in our pursuit of the Word of God.”
Mrs Gunsser said young people wanted to belong.
She acknowledged the success of the Church’s World Youth Day that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants from across the globe.
“It’s a mark of a young person … a desire to belong,” she said.
“Can I ask you, outside of Sunday, what are your young people being invited to belong to? They want community.
“Church becomes family for many young people – because we live in a generation where the family unit is so fractured.
“Connection in families is severely bruised if not absent altogether.
“I could tell you story after story of young people who would literally say church rescued me and became my family – a sense of belonging.
“And the Kingdom of God is generational – you have so much to offer this generation.
“Will you see them, will you reach out to them, will you give them something to belong to?”
Mrs Gunsser said her church taught young people to serve.
Quoting from the Gospel of St Matthew, she said “if you hang on to your life, you’ll lose it. But if you lose your life for kingdom purposes, that’s when you’ll find it.”
“Too many people are trying to find satisfaction by holding on to their own ideas and plans and career paths if only they realise that God’s really smart and he designed them with a purpose … if they just release control they’d actually find their life,” she said.
“You call it mission, we call it cause.
“Whatever you call it, get your young people on mission.”
At the end of her 45-minute presentation at Proclaim 2018, Mrs Gunsser prayed for the mission of the Catholic Church and its young people “to reach them, disciple them and make them belong”.
“Father, I thank that you have empowered this Church with great strategy, with a great heart, a great mission,” she prayed.
“I thank you, Lord God, for strategies of the spirit that will be birthed in this movement to reach young people more and more … but also to disciple them and help them belong.”