I’ve been noticing a lot of articles and blog posts lately on the topic of young people leaving the church. The church definitely has a problem, but the biggest issue here isn’t a generational one. This is about power. You may not hear it in so many words, but the ultimate question on a lot minds is, “Does Christianity work?”
What do I mean by that? Well, pick your poison. Everyone’s not on the same page when it comes to the benefits of a belief system. The question takes a lot of forms.
- Will Christianity get me to heaven?
- Will it make me feel better?
- Will it make me a good person?
- Will it make my life matter?
- Will it get me life after death?
- Will it make my life more exciting?
- Will it set me free from x?
- Will it bring my family together?
- Will it help me get rid of guilt?
- Will it help me deal with y?
- Will it save me?
- Is it superior to other belief systems and religions?
You can probably think of other variations, but it all comes down to “Does Christianity make a unique difference?” Whether your church is into rock worship bands or smells and bells (or both!) that’s the question you’ve got to answer. And if you aren’t convinced that Christianity does make a difference, nonbelievers won’t be convinced either. Not for long anyway.
Part of my job is watching church trends. Marketing. Social networking. Provocative sermon series. Church plants. The missional movement. Leadership. Blah blah blah. You’d think I’d be blown away, but when I look at the big picture, I find that it’s actually pretty boring. We’re always looking for the next big thing, but by the time enough of us get on the same page, it’s yesterday’s news.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating rigid traditionalism with no innovation. The fact is, tradition can be as spiritually powerless as chasing the latest church trends. Christians have spent a lot of time figuring out how to get people to church, but we haven’t always done a lot to establish them in the faith once they’re there. That's partly because we’ve largely reduced faith to activities and programs or to creeds and doctrinal statements. And many of us are chasing a Christianity that’s a figment of our imaginations. We’re looking for the faith of the church fathers, the faith of Luther, of Calvin, of Wesley... sadly some of us would actually settle for a Christianity that’s a snapshot from somewhere in time rather than explore the infinite God of the now!
What do you do when a growing part of Christianity is afraid of absolutes while another part is terrified of any kind of spiritual advancement or theological experimentation?
Make no mistake. Young people aren’t leaving church because of the liberals or the conservatives or church views on sexuality or even because of hypocrisy.
They’re leaving because they think it’s boring.
And since the power and presence and person of God are anything but boring, that tells me we have a disconnect between experiencing God and experiencing church. Sure, marketing, methods, music, style, and doctrine are important, but without ever-deepening, boundary-stretching experiences of God, a significant portion of Christianity will continue to relegate itself to jumping from one trend or gimmick to the next. And that kind of faith is a real yawner.
So what can we do to change things?