I’m getting ready to record several short video presentations for Leadership Network’s The Nines. I always cringe when preparing, since I’m convinced that my low-tech twinkle-in-the-eye videos get glossed over by people who’d rather listen to the stars.

But I do what I can, which is mostly beg the question.

This year’s questions revolve around strategies for reaching millennials, the next generation, and the nones—meaning people of no religious preference.

In true David McDonald fashion, I’m already wondering why these are important questions at all. I mean, isn’t this always the issue for churches—How do we reach the generations who come after us? How do we reach people not like us?

And, really, isn’t the subtext “How do we compel them to enjoy what we already do?” Or—and this is only nominally better—”How can we do things they like (that we can still endure)?”

At the root, these questions betray the Christian suspicion that we are heading off the cliff of Western European secularism. We’re afraid that we’re losing cultural ground so we push harder and harder, hiding our anxiety behind a litany of faithful-sounding terms like

  • Disciple
  • Christian
  • Gospel
  • Transformation

But even these terms are misleading. They are all derivative. We use these terms to talk about what we want people to do (and be, or become, etc.), forgetting that all of these things find their only worth in Jesus.

But Jesus doesn’t need to be updated. He doesn’t need a rebrand. He doesn’t need a fresh perspective. He doesn’t need us to do the work for him. What we should do is actually begin talking about him. Because the new world of nones and next gens has never met Jesus. They’ve met “Christians” and “Evangelicals”, focus groups and political powerhouses, lobbyists and megachurches.

But they haven’t met Jesus.

We’ve got to stop convincing people to do things, or to believe propositions, or to attend our functions. We’ve got to introduce them to Jesus—the stories, the teachings, the significance, the power. Until they get Jesus, none of our stuff matters.

We waste our time trying to get them to love our stuff, forgetting that we don’t like it half the time, either.

Jesus is the one who makes our faith worthwhile. Take him out of the picture, and I don’t have a religious preference, either. I’d rather be a Kung Fu hedonist-agnostic than a Christian without Christ.