Over the past year as I’ve worked at Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH), I’ve often heard the expression “heart language.” It refers to the language that you most identify with―the language your mom spoke to you, the one you think in and the one you best understand. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a home with a German-speaking mother that I’ve pondered the concept of “heart language” more than most people would. For children raised in bilingual homes, there is a question of which language they most identify with.
I would imagine that language lines are being blurred at a rapid pace, with the exponential rise in access to and reliance upon technology. When I was in high school, my peers and I almost never considered what was happening outside of our community, much less what was transpiring in other countries . Through online education, Google Translate, social network platforms that are used on multiple continents, and influencers with international appeal, today’s youth are connected globally, with seemingly no language barriers.
Their instant access to friends, information and platforms makes the appeal of slower times and of listening to stories (or wisdom) from their parents seem a thing that should stay in the past. Is it possible that hyper-connectivity is also driving an increasing number of youth to reject the faith and values of their parents? Barna’s article “5 Trends Shaping the Next Season of Next Gen Discipleship” states, “Historically, Gen Z and Millennials are less likely than older generations to be connected to a church. In Faith for Exiles, Kinnaman and Matlock share that the church dropout rate among 18–25-year-olds has increased from 59 percent to 64 percent in the past decade. Data featured in Gen Z also sheds light on the fact that the emerging generation is less likely to see church as important, with those who hold this perspective admitting ‘Church is not relevant to me personally’ (59%), ‘I find God elsewhere’ (48%) and ‘I can teach myself what I need to know’ (28%).”
This information got me wondering if reaching Millennials and Gen Z (and younger) people with the Gospel is less about identifying their heart languages and more about learning the languages of their hearts. Don’t misunderstand me: providing Scripture in a language that everyone can understand is still of utmost importance. But for people of younger generations, who seem to be able to access any information they want in any language they need, should some of our attention be shifted to a very purposeful examination of what their hearts are most yearning for and how we might reach them?
I’ve read many of the articles about seeker-friendly church services and the strong arguments both for and against using smoke machines, laser lights and rocking worship bands to stay relevant and appeal to a younger demographic. That isn’t really what I’m talking about. I’m asking you to consider how we might learn and understand what is most important to these generations looking for God outside of the Church. This isn’t really an assignment for FCBH or translation organizations; rather, it’s a topic that needs to be pondered by established Christians who care about reaching younger people who are increasingly rejecting faith in Jesus and the truth of the Bible.
We can have a corporate influence, but chances are much higher that we will exert influence through relationship. We can’t blame churches for not reaching “them” with the use (or lack) of smoke and lights. COVID-era conditions have driven many churches online, and biblical teaching and content are more accessible than ever; but screen time will never replace the human connection that God designed us for. If anything, technology is increasing our isolation. There are millions of people who are desperate for meaningful connection. More and more, I’m seeing the critical importance of community and seeing how God uses a variety of people to be seed planters, waterers, weed pullers, etc.
Consider who God has placed in your path so that you can learn the languages of their hearts. Are you willing to take the time to learn about these people and what passions they have and what stirs them up? Can you really listen and not be prepared with a quick generic answer? Let’s not be fooled into thinking that only Millennials and the people of Gen Z are addicted to technology. It’s become a very real part of all of our lives, and it fuels impatience and greatly influences our stances.
Learning a new language takes time. Learning the language of someone’s heart is no different. Be a willing student so that when the time is right, you can lovingly provide translation and correct interpretation of the questions and confusion they face. Chances are, you won’t be able to influence millions of followers, but your investment in the lives of the few you reach personally will be invaluable.