Sean McDowell | May 24, 2018

How Do We Best Reach LGBTQ Young People?

How Do We Best Reach LGBTQ Young People?

We live in a world where only 4.1% of the total population identify themselves as LGBTQ. That’s the total population. When you ask young people… the percentages change.

If you ask today’s Millennials (18-34-year-olds), anywhere from 7.3% to 20% identify as LGBTQ (depending on who’s asking). And if you ask today’s teenagers how they identify themselves, only 48% describe themselves as “exclusively heterosexual.” (But who wants to be exclusive?)

This raises two huge questions: why are these numbers rising, and what can the church do to actually reach these young people in grace and truth?

To answer these questions I "picked the brain" of my friend Jonathan McKee. Jonathan is the author of over 20 books and speaks to parent and leaders worldwide about today’s culture and trends. He and I are speaking together at the upcoming Anchored Leadership Conference this Fall. I know you’ll enjoy his insight about this generation of young people.

SEAN: What big trends are you noticing in youth culture today?

JONATHAN: We live in an interesting time of experimentation. I say “experimentation” because our culture has invested literally zero forethought into the ramifications of the decisions that we are making at warp speed.

For example. We’ve had a smartphone in our pocket for only 6 years now… I say 6-years because America didn’t cross the 50% mark for smartphone ownership until 2012. So now we have Internet, social media, messaging, gaming and our entire entertainment library within reach 24/7… yes even at night, despite the warnings of our family pediatrician to turn it off at night. And some experts are beginning to ask the famous Dr. Phil question, “How is that working out for you?”

Sadly, the answer is, “Not good.”

Anxiety, suicide, depression are at an unprecedented high and every expert is pointing to that device in our pocket. STDs are at an all time high several years in a row, and everyone is scratching their heads asking, “Why?”

Meanwhile, kids are absorbing entertainment media more than ever before, following celebrities and being inundated with messages of, live for the moment, lose control, don’t stop, let go, and do what feels right at the moment.

In 1971 John Lennon sang, “Imagine all the people living for today.” You don’t have to imagine that in 2018, because that’s exactly what everyone’s doing. They’re living for today as if there is no ramifications for tomorrow. Sadly, what John Lennon didn’t tell us was that there are consequences to living this way.

SEAN: Sex and relationships have always been issues of concern with teens. How is it different today?

JONATHAN: Probably the biggest change in a world where kids are being encouraged to just “be yourself” has been the emergence of “fluid” sexuality (feeling like a guy or girl at different times) and the “agender” kid (neither gender). As kids are being encouraged to embrace every feeling they experience, many don’t want to be bothered with constraints like biology.

And this isn’t a small group who thinks like this… it’s the majority of young America. A recent survey of 1,000 18-34-year-olds revealed that only 46% agreed that “there are only two genders, male and female.”

Sadly, the more kids embrace this “everything’s okay” mentality, the greater the health risks. We’ve seen this in a number of studies. The CDC revealed that LGBTQ students were far more likely to smoke cigarettes, try alcohol, or use marijuana… by large percentages (37.5% of heterosexual students had used marijuana compared to 52.9% of LGBTQ students). Even more concerning was their mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics discovered that transgender youth specifically experienced poor mental health compared to kids who identified with their birth gender. In fact, over half of transgender youth (59.3%) experienced long-term mental health problems compared to 17.4% of youth who identify with their birth gender. And almost three times the amount of LGBTQ students considered suicide.

This is a huge open door for ministry. Jesus provides hope to the hopeless.

SEAN: How well do you think the church is doing in training Christian kids to think biblically about LGBTQ issues?

JONATHAN: I think the church is waking up to the reality that reaching LGBTQ kids is a huge need, but I think they lack the training and resources to know what that actually looks like in a church or youth group setting.

Many youth workers have the desire to love kids and point them toward Jesus, but they don’t want to embrace the “everything’s okay” mindset of our culture. There lies the struggle. Jesus loved sinners like me, in fact he came to save me from my sins (Matthew 1:21). The one requirement from me is to give up and put my trust in him to save me. That begins with my realization that I’m a sinner.

How do you tell someone we’re all sinners in an “everything’s okay” world?

SEAN: What can youth influencers do better?

JONATHAN: We need to go to scripture for guidance. This generation is growing up citing their own feelings as authority. “Well I think that that a loving God probably…”

Scripture provides us insight into how to love sinners like Jesus did, the hope and identity Jesus provides, and the process of sanctification Jesus can do in our lives that makes us more like he designed us to be.

SEAN: Why have you decided to launch the Anchored conference for church leaders? What’s your hope for this upcoming event?

JONATHAN: God’s people want to know how to reach young people who identify as LGBTQ… they just don’t know what that actually looks like. The Anchored Leadership Conference is a place where pastors, youth pastors and church leaders can be equipped to do that.

One of the aspects I’m really excited about is the panel we’re doing on Saturday. I’m in the process of collecting a group of leaders who are reaching young people right now so they can share what they’ve learned on the front lines… what works… what doesn’t work.

I’m excited for the event!

SEAN: Thanks for your time and your passion to reach young people!

JONATHAN: Thanks for being a huge part of this event! I can’t wait to take notes during your session!


Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices, If I Had a Parenting Do Over, and The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: