Surrounded by the soaring walls of a Sephardic- style synagogue and the Israeli-accented melodies of the Friday night Sabbath services, hundreds of Jewish people crowd into the one-hour service on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Half of them are below the age of 30. Many are students and young professionals. They are the group we have come to call “Millennials” – and they are a demographic Chosen People Ministries is committed to reaching.
Not all Jewish Millennials are religious. Many channel their impulse to gather in other directions. They are fond of going out with friends, joining special interest groups, dating whomever they please, or advocating for special causes regardless of the religious, ethnic or racial affiliations of the others involved. They often reject organized religion, except perhaps for a few holidays to please their parents, because it may not suit their philosophies or interests.
There is a world of difference between the poles of religious and non-religious Millennials. Many fall somewhere in between. This Jewish Millennial population is diverse, but there is a commonality. They investigate whatever interests they may have, but all the while they keep their Jewish heritage somewhere in their minds, often toward the back.
We as believers who have been blessed by the Lord and changed by Jesus need to be effective witnesses to this needy and largely uninterested age group of Jewish people. God has given us the gift and privilege to be able to proclaim the Good News of His kingdom. The question is, “How do we reach the Jewish Millennials with the truth that Jesus is the Messiah for whom their people have been waiting?”
We must find up-to-date, creative and innovative ways to communicate our message. But we must not forget that there is one tried and true method of reaching anyone – and especially Jewish Millennials. It requires commitment, time and prayer, but by devoting yourself to a relationship with a young person, you communicate more than the Internet ever could. When a mature believer exudes what the Spirit of God has done in his or her life, Millennials will take notice.
In the next two decades, the Millennials will be running Fortune 500 companies, raising families, making public policy, and conducting international affairs. The challenge before us is this—what will you and I do to reach these young Jewish people who desperately need the hope of the Gospel in a world that continues to walk away from God?
A Jewish musician and I sat down for lunch and conversation. My young Jewish friend has come to believe that Judaism and Christianity find too much “flaw” in humanity. Also, after praying in a synagogue for months after his father’s death, he found only a void that was unable to be filled. Adam* desires peace, but the emptiness he felt in repeating prayers in a language he doesn’t even speak has left him searching. He seems to think that Eastern religion is the only other option for him—although the sad irony is that Eastern religion finds even more “flaw” in humanity than Judaism/Christianity.
Adam knows he is Jewish, period – but exploring Jewish identity is irrelevant for many Jewish young people today. Instead, he is more focused on satisfying his desire to be comforted and also to be in harmony with humanity and the earth. Yet by God’s grace, Adam is asking searching questions, like many Jewish young people around the world! The answer awaits them, and as long as Adam searches, I believe God is faithful to satisfy Adam’s desire for comfort and peace through our Prince of Peace.
I met Moishe,* a young Israeli photographer, at a Hanukkah party in Manhattan. We spoke for over an hour as we bonded over photography (I used to be a photographer), Israel, and latkes (traditional potato pancakes for Hanukkah). The next week, a friend invited Moishe to a concert by a Jewish believing artist. Moishe loved the music, but wasn’t happy that the musician spoke about Jesus. As he was leaving, he saw me and asked about the “Jesus stuff,” leading to a good conversation. From there, our friendship grew. He avoided spiritual matters; he had grown up in an Orthodox house and didn’t want much to do with God. I simply prayed that his heart would be opened—and after a month, he suddenly began asking questions about God and Jesus. I gave him a Bible and we studied it together for hours in his basement apartment.
He then called me to tell me about a fight he had with his mother, who was not happy that he was friends with me and that he had been studying about Jesus. When he defended me and Jesus out loud to his mother, it made all the difference – he realized that he believed. He professed faith in Jesus, and I started discipling him. What was the key? In hindsight, I would have to say that there were three things: I had become his friend, I trusted God to speak to his heart, and I followed up with him consistently.
While working with Jewish young people over the last few years, I have come to realize that many of them – regardless of their level of religious observance or knowledge of the Bible – are motivated by issues of social justice. They often have a real desire to participate actively in working towards achieving fairness, justice, and equality in society. This has also become a popular trend among young Christians, who see a great need for us to do our part in ministering God’s love through social action.
In light of this, a group of us in Brooklyn recently sought to bridge the gap between ourselves and the Jewish youth on a local college campus by partnering with another ministry to raise awareness about human trafficking, a horrendous form of modern-day slavery. With this as our platform, we set up book tables and held an event on campus about the horrors of human trafficking, as well as how to get actively involved in stopping it. We were able to befriend many Jewish students through our shared desire to fight this social injustice. Through these ongoing relationships, we have been able to share the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus, who is the ultimate Redeemer for the enslaved.
* names have been changed