Young people are not very interested in the church. What else is new. The New York Times recently ran an article about this trend. Here’s a section from the abstract:
Evangelical Christian leaders warn one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves, and some are organizing youth extravaganzas and rock concerts to bolster teenagers’ commitment to conservative lifestyle; at unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of biggest names in conservative evangelical movement; their alarm has been stoked by highly suspect claim that if current trends continue only 4 percent of teenagers will be ‘Bible-believing Christians’ as adults, compared with 35 percent of current generation of baby-boomers.
I like Ron Luce and Teen Mania. I like some Christian music. I even like some of the conferences out there for kids.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is that younger generations are not connecting with the church. I sure don’t and I can say the same for plenty other young adults and teens.
If someone wants to argue about this trend. Fine. Then there is nothing more to say. For those who have seen this trend first hand, the next question becomes, “What should we do about it?”
Perhaps one place to start is the motivation behind church attendance. Spiritual teaching, alleviation of guilt, tradition, Christian relationships, public worship of God: all of these are most likely mixed together as factors.
The next question I have is, “Are these motivations and expectations realistic and healthy?” A companion question to that emerges as well, “What should the church expect of itself?”
There are all kinds of answers that I have often batted around on this blog. And after four years of wrestling with these questions, here is where I’m at on November 5th, 2006 at 12:30 pm.
Church is revelatory. It is a gathering of believers where the Father, Son, and Spirit connect with them.
It could be a simple Bible study, megachurch, or a weekly prayer meeting. And that brings me around to these concerts where young people are urged to commit. Is this really going to work?
My thought right now is a flat “no.” I’ve seen the Teen Mania interns first-hand and I know they receive an intense year of all-or-nothing discipleship. They have a supportive community of Spirit-led believers and that makes all of the difference.
Now take a concert. There is a lot of emotion. The music is loud, the speakers are passionate, and there is a momentum and surge in the crowd to obey their beck and call. Sex, lying, theft, greed, selfishness, and any other sin on the list seems so unappealing, so illogical, so far away.
After signing the commitment card, filling in the workbook, and purchasing a sweet new student Bible, these young people go home and meet all of the evil sins they heard about. The trouble is those sins don’t seem so bad. They return to the same old ho-hum churches, troubled friends, and who knows what else. Without the support of a Christian community and a cultivated relationship with God, do we really expect them to stand a chance?
What has been gained by these conferences and concerts? Very little I would say. Maybe they picked up a few phone numbers, but ultimately Christian growth is a communal endeavor entailing an encounter with the risen Lord through the power of the Spirit.
Send youth to Teen Mania headquarters for discipleship? Certainly. Send them to a high-pressure, high emotion concert? I doubt it. Perhaps there is some value in these venues, but my money is with the local church. This is a tall order.
Youth cannot be subcontracted out to parachurch youth organizations. The churches need to figure out ways to create space for young people to meet with God. If anything, I think that churches need to get better at creating community in greater variety. There are all kinds of cheap and simple ways to create space for people to connect with God.
Pray, think a little (not too much though), and experiment. What else can we do?