Research from a number of angles says the same thing: 20 somethings are not attending church. There is nothing less than a crisis in the church, a crisis that is far greater than most church folk know about and care to confront with the energies and focus that are needed. Here are the two facts:
1. The elderly people are exiting the church’s back door.
2. The younger people are not entering the front door.
This means the numbers are declining. If something isn’t done about it soon, the church will be facing a crisis in the next twenty years unlike anything the American church has ever seen. At a pragmatic level, it will mean a dramatic reduction in budgets … I could go on. The more pressing issue is speaking the gospel to a new generation.
What will we do about it? Call for a conference. What are we doing about it? Here’s what I think we need to do:
Before I say a thing: What do you think we should do?
Here’s my suggestion: Increase the budget for, and focus our attention on, youth ministry [and young adults]. From the cradle to 35 years old. Not just the cradle to high school. We need a focus on youth and I’m using “youth” here for anyone who isn’t yet “married with children of four or five years old.” [There is no intention to ignore single folks either. What we’re getting at is that from about 18-35 we’re seeing precipitous declines.] If the numbers I’m hearing are right, that means from the cradle until about 35.
Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting ignoring the 50 or 60+. I’m suggesting we begin to focus on the future (survival) of the church.
That is why I’m keen right now on reading what is going on with youth ministry. I just read Mike King’s new IVP book called Presence-centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation
and I like it.
This book won’t tell you everything, and it won’t give you a new-fangled “program” that will solve all your problems. It aims to get to the heart of what youth ministry is all about: leading the youth (I still mean 35 and under) into a spiritually formative relationship with God, into following Jesus, into spiritual practices, into centering life where God would have us center it. It aims at authenticity. Instead of looking to the immediate fix — invite some special speaker or a hot band — Mike King looks to the long haul. “This takes commitment,” Mike says, “to a lifelong journey of faithfully seeking the face of God and living in the way of Jesus.”
Mike King is old enough to have washed ashore with all the trends in the last 40 years or so in evagelicalism; he’s been there and he’s already done that. He’s tired of the programs and the catchy theories. He calls us back to the center, to knowing God, to being known by God, and living — and ministering to youth — out of that knowing and being known. And because he’s washed ashore with all the trends, his analysis of evangelicalism is deadly serious and alarmingly insightful.
With pastors like Mike King we’ve got glimpses of changes that will speak the gospel into the next generation.