Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly. Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church. Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains. -WSJ
What is the problem, precisely? Why is it kids are leaving our churches in droves? There are two primary reactions I see in the press. The first is that kids are just too busy to bother any longer; that social media and popular culture are so busy now that kids don’t have time —and neither do their parents. USA Today, for instance, has a story of just this sort.
The second is that church just isn’t cool any longer. This is the attitude taken by the church leaders who are trying to build their churches into “big church.”
I suspect neither of these solutions is right. Instead, I suspect the problem is much simpler, and yet much harder to cure. The problem is that, in our modern culture, emotions are running the show. Let me quote a little bit of an article about Turkey, and see if any of it sounds familiar.
From the Turkish point of view, there is a good feeling, and that’s good enough. Moreover, the Turks are furious over the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, and furious here is reason sufficient unto itself. No one in the Turkish press is asking why a boat with civilian women and children on board was sent to break a military blockade, or why that blockade was imposed in the first place, or how Turkey might have reacted had Israel sent a similar flotilla to deliver uninspected cargo to strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK). … Emotions are running the show. The Turks have a good feeling about their recent encounters with Iran and a bad feeling about their recent encounters with Israel. Long-term, rational economic and geostrategic interests? To hell with those. The patient, subtle advancement of an Islamist agenda? To hell with that, too. This is a logic-free zone. -World Affairs
When we allow emotions to run the show, this is where we end up, in a world where two plus two can equal anything we want, just because we feel like it. In a culture that places emotion above thinking the Church’s message is: Me too!
We try to woo kids with emotions and experiences, and we even teach an emotion centered, almost anti-rational, Gospel. “Faith isn’t about learning the truth,” we say, “it’s about believing what you can’t see, believing things that contradict what we think is true.” Hand in hand with this response is the proof verse; we spit them out like the balls of shot from a shotgun. Maybe if there’s enough of them spread widely enough apart, we can convince. It doesn’t take in depth thought, it just takes the right soundbite.
The truth is that while America is failing, the Christian church is failing America. Have we forgotten this verse?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. John 14:6
One theme running throughout the entire Scriptures is that God does not lie; that God is truth. Another truth running through the Scriptures is that it’s not just our emotions that are wrong, but our thinking; that we need to adjust our thinking to the truth, because, by nature, we constantly turn away from the truth. This doesn’t mean that 2+2==4 in our world, and 2+2==5 in God’s. This means that we reject even the notion that 2+2==4; God’s truth is the truth of the logic that we already know (with our mistakes factored in).
But teaching this takes work, and seems too radical. It’s counter cultural, and it doesn’t build big churches. It decidedly does not lead down the path of influence in either the political or cultural sphere. But when have these ever been the goal of the Church?
When the world is overly analytical, the Church needs to remind that emotions count; that while they must be controlled, they must not be eviscerated. When the world is overly emotional, the Church needs to stand against, this, too, and tell the world that while emotions count, they must be controlled. That our thinking must be aligned with reality, not against it; that wishes don’t control reality, that an emotional outburst will not produce a horse, a car, a plane, a ship, or even a single meal.
We are losing our youth, I think, for the same reason we are losing our culture. We are losing because we refuse to stand against the world. We are losing because we prefer to run with the world in order to be “hip” and “cool,” rather than against it.