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What will we do about it?

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

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.



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Jeff Hyatt

posted November 26, 2008 at 2:55 am


Scot,
As a pastor I agree with your observation about the need to really focus in our reaching the ‘youth.’ However, a big part of the challenge in doing this is to hold on to the middle and older generations. What I have been observing is that when the focus shifts off of their preferences in programming and style they head for the door to find another church that “meet their needs.” As you’ve observed, this has a serious impact on the financial foundation of the church since they are in their prime working/earning years. I have yet to see a workable approach to holding the generations together in this regard.
Jeff



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Henry Zonio

posted November 26, 2008 at 3:21 am


As a someone’s who’s been involved in children’s ministry over the past 17 years (the past 9 being on a church staff), I can only say YES!
Jeff, while I do sympathize with what you are worried about, the issue isn’t about people who will simply migrate to another church… the issue is capturing the imaginations of children, youth and young adults in a way that leads them into a transformational relationship with Christ that moves them towards mission so they don’t drop out of church completely. The financial impact worry isn’t so much that people will move to other churches but that people won’t be going to church at all.
I can’t speak to youth and young adult ministry, but I think that in children’s ministry, we’ve gotten so focused on pumping kids full of verses and rules and behaviours that we’ve not really translated what all of that means into actual life change and being part of God’s story for them and the world.
So, what should we do? Well, first of all, we need to stop being so programmatic in children’s and youth ministries. We think that if we have the right curriculum or the right paradigm, then children will magically become full devoted followers of Christ. We need to help families decompartmentalize their “spiritual” lives. Spiritual formation must happen across multiple contexts within a family. We need to let children know that there is an overarching God story about redemption of individuals, communities and the world that is revealed throughout Scripture and we can be a part of that. We need to help families learn how to talk to God and hear Him and worship Him in vibrant ways. We need to be aware of cultural trends and build bridges across those trends that point to God without co-opting those trends or being overly afraid of those trends.
We need to grasp a holistic view of the church as family. When I hear leaders talk about the church as community and being a missional community, I think they subconsciously are only thinking of adult community. Thought and prayer needs to go into how to translate all the theology around an evangelical, missional approach to living out gospel so that it can be communicated to children, youth, and young adults in age-appropriate and culturally relevant ways. I think more needs to happen on this front. And more “press” needs to happen on this front, otherwise we will end up with a movement full of missional adults who are missing “it” when it comes to passing that on to their children.
Sorry for the long comment, but this is something that has been on my mind for a while :)



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Henry Zonio

posted November 26, 2008 at 3:24 am


BTW, I have a blog for the purpose of discussing that very same question when it comes to children’s ministry. Elemental Children’s Ministry (http://www.elementalcm.com)



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Kyle

posted November 26, 2008 at 4:07 am


Scot,
Let me be clear that I think there is a problem. It breaks my heart that many of my former youth are simply not going to church. With that said, I’ve got two questions:
First, is this primarily an evangelical issue? Are mainline, Catholic and Orthodox seeing the same lack of 20-somethings?
Second, I’ve been asking this question for awhile, but hasn’t this basically always been the case, where students drop church in college and come back later in life, with one variable?
Here’s what I mean on the second question. Most of my friends quit church during college and are starting to return, or have already returned (late 20s, early 30s). Many are now in a different denomination than what they grew up in, with most of my friends now attending either a house church (usually the friends without kids), a megachurch or have converted to Catholicism. What was the catalyst in moving them back to church? I think it was getting married and having kids. They weren’t sure that they needed church personally, not that they have lost their faith or anything, but were simply unsure if their evangelical style of doing church was necessary. But now they attend, and I think it is because they think their kids need to attend. Most seem pretty happy with their new church situation as well. My parents said it was the same in their generation. Everyone stopped going to church in their early twenties and returned in their early thirties.
So could the change causing an apparent shift in statistics actually be that people are getting married and having kids later, and thus the “return” to church for that reason is somewhat delayed? I know this seems like a pretty shallow reason to go back to church, but I think its a realistic one.



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Leya

posted November 26, 2008 at 4:15 am


I suppose I am one of those 20 somethings that has left the church. By church I mean the building and the more institutionalized aspects of religion. I didn’t take my exit lightly, in fact it was, and still is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my spiritual life. However, it is also one of the most freeing and challenging paths I’ve taken.
With that said, I take my faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit seriously. I participate in Christian community, and I try my best to grow and wrestle with the joys and pains of life. Not only that, but I do my best to share my faith with the teens I work with (in a secular setting).
Several months ago, I would have read this post and agreed with almost everything you wrote, but now I’m wondering, do I? I’m not so sure if church is absolutely necessary for youth to grow into a deep relationship with Jesus.



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phil_style

posted November 26, 2008 at 4:40 am


This has already happened in much of the rest-of-the-west (UK, NZ, Aus, Western Europe). It does mean that the people who are in the church really want to be there though, which is a massive benefit.
Quality v Quantity and all that.



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Ed Chinn

posted November 26, 2008 at 5:27 am


I’m 62 and agree completely with “20 something” Leya.
I think we’re energized and worried about something which, frankly, God isn’t. Is it possible that the convulsions in the market-driven, program and facility-heavy contemporary church are, perhaps, taking us back to the organic nature of the church?
I mean, why do we assume that the cultural institution we call “church” is synonymous with the biblical “Body of Christ?”
The fact that we seem to feel such a burden of responsibility for it is, I believe, part of the problem. Jesus died for the church. He also said He would build it. It is His Body. But, we are no longer gathered at His feet, waiting for Him to do, to speak, to initiate. How can He be the leader if our sophistication and training already assumes that the responsibility is ours and that we are adequate for the job? Are we perhaps a little too impressed with ourselves?
Perhaps as our invented structures begin collapsing in the dust, we will once again find Him in the very natural settings which characterized His interaction with His church in the Bible.



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don bryant

posted November 26, 2008 at 6:10 am


I would suggest everyone read Family Based Youth Ministry published by InterVarsity Press. He makes clear that the research demonstrates that the two most obvious answers aren’t: youth pastors and growing youth programs. There is no direct line drawn between children and youth Christ-following and adult Christ-following based on these two factors. The most critical factors are: 1)parents who go to church and nurture faith; 2) multigenerational immersion of the youth so that their role models are not the kids barely out of college who though excited can’t act as adult role models; 3) the involvement of adolescents in the fuller church. The man who wrote the book is a youth pastor at a megachurch, so he is not down on programs and youth pastors. But the research is the research – he has changed his approach significantly as a facilitator of relationship building between youth and the larger world of adult Christ-followers. In my experience I affirm this as true. We create hot-house conditions for Christ-following by isolating our kids and keeping their attention with bigger and better programming. We take them out of the sermons, create youth worship during the regular worship time. The group grows and grows. The parents are excited. And then when the props are taken away when kids go to college (or after college if they have an IVCF or CCC program), they find out they can’t do church as usual. I have seen this scenario so often that it is a truism for me. But parents ignore the evidence. And church boards throw money at the problem like the federal government during a bail out. But the bill comes due anyway.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 6:39 am


Jeff (#1)
I think you’ve hit on something big here – we do not preach or model or believe in Christian community and the church. This includes the adults (i.e. 35-65 year olds). Why should youth (20-35 year olds) be in church if church is only something intended to meet “my needs”? Leaving is a learned behavior.
Our problem isn’t youth leaving but an entire church with an inherently flawed view of the purpose of church as the body of Christ in the first place.
It isn’t about you (or me).
It is about worshiping God in community in communion with the saints, past, present, and future. (And community Sunday worship is attested from the very origin of the church.)
It is about accountability and discipleship and growth.
It is about serving and receiving.
It is about identifying visibly as the Body of Christ.
I don’t think that it is possible to be Christian in the NT sense without commitment to the Church manifest in a local body of believers. But we neither teach nor model this, and every middle-aged or elderly person who leaves a church for reason of style and preference and selfish desire to have “my needs met” is part of the problem.



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Rick

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:16 am


What Jeff and Leya mentioned certainly contribute to this situation.
Also, parents and churches need to take a more active role in encouraging and coaching in the faith throughout the week. Dumping all spiritual matters on the church and youth pastor to handle 1 (or 2) days a week gives a wrong description of the Christian walk and of the purpose of church.
Finally, parents and churches need to be more active in encouaging and assisting students in finding Christian community in their new settings. For example, the Youth Transition Network is ministry designed to help new college students connect to ministries in or near the school. If students and/or young adults can quickly connect to a Christian community when they enter that new phase of life, they will be more apt to stay connected.
http://www.youthtransitionnetwork.org/



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:25 am


Actually I have a question for Leya (#5), or others in a similar position.
How do we “participate in Christian community” without being part of church?
And – is the purpose of church and the Christian life “to grow into a deep relationship with Jesus?”



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Scot McKnight

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:29 am


Kyle,
Yes, I think Wuthnow’s numbers show that this is not just an evangelical problem.
Perhaps the most significant number in all this is, yes, the delay from the time youth leave for college and begin having children. That number, if my memory serves me right, has shifted from about 27 to 35, leaving about 8 more years of non-faith-based formation. In other words, 8 more years of not going to church. (This isn’t about “going to church” for me but about the gospel and transformation.)



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Scot McKnight

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:31 am


don,
I like your observations. I do believe that the intensification of the youth ministry can prepare the youth for anything but the adult ministries of the church.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:50 am


Scot,
It isn’t about “going” to church – it is about “being” part of the church. And “being” part of the church is more than “growing into a deep relationship with Jesus.”
And – if I may be bold and contrary – the answer is not “increase the budget for, and focus our attention on, youth ministry.” This will simply perpetuate the problem to the next generation.
We need to break the mindset that church is “to meet my needs” and that faith is in essence an individual response to God.



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Diane

posted November 26, 2008 at 8:59 am


I agree that there needs to be a different mindset than church existing to “meet my needs.” Perhaps the question should be: does my church allow me to serve? And if not, why not?
What I see, overall, is youth leaving as a symptom of a wider dysfunction. Pastors are burned out and dissatisfied, junior pastors are in conflict with senior pastors, older people are leaving, young people are not attending … perhaps we need to start all over and reinvent church… hhmm … sounds like the emerging church. I also don’t see putting more money in youth programs as the answer. Money is not the kingdom answer, it’s the worldly answer and hence part of the problem.



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Derek Leman

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:04 am


Scot:
I went last night to hear Peter Rollins speak here in Atlanta (author of How (Not) to Speak of God and The Fidelity of Betrayal).
I found plenty to disagree with. But I liked his idea of Christian communities that always die out and restart in new incarnations. He made a point that Christian community has a self-undermining quality. We are always to reach out to the excluded and so every time we draw a circle of who is included, we exclude ourselves. In other words, as soon as we become insiders, we lose missional thrust because we excluding people.
He planted a seed of an idea: small groups that meet for a while, do something great, and disappear. Those involved then start new groups based on new ideas.
I don’t think at all this is some universal model for how things should be done. I simply point out that small groups and networks will be one way to speak to people who have no loyalty to any creed or denomination. I also see a role for stable communities that keep on representing Messiah to the world, which is what I am doing in the Messianic synagogue I lead. But there are people out there, and some of them lead congregations, who could be starting small groups to reach out to the excluded and who can avoid the trap of institutionalization and fossilization.
Derek Leman



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dopderbeck

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:05 am


I don’t see this dynamic so much in my home church. We have an intentional focus on youth and some really amazing youth programs. I’m not sure of this because I’m relatively new to this congregation, but it seems to me that there are significant numbers of young just-post-college and newly married people as well, some who started attending as youth.
What I’d be very interested to know, though, is how many people come for a while as youth but then drop out. I think lots of churches have energetic youth programs with good numbers, but people drop out around college age. Here, I don’t think the problem is primarily programmatic. I think it’s substantive: we don’t often engage the mind or the more “subtle” aspects of spirituality.
This is part of the complex of issues discussed in many of RJS’ posts, I think. We’re good at getting high school aged kids all emotionally revved up and “sold out for Jesus.” But we’re not good at all when it comes to the notion that being “sold out for Jesus” involves patient, often very difficult, life-long study; that spiritual “victories” often happen in quiet spaces when no one is looking; that the Christian spiritual life is sometimes a plodding and determined pilgrimage amid questions and difficulties. It’s like we feed them spiritual Red Bull and never get to the subtleties of a complex cabernet.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:08 am


RJS and Diane,
I don’t see how we can possibly figure out what is going on with the 20-35s and speak into that situation if we don’t focus our attention on the issues here. And if we do that, we have to allocate funds for that.
Isn’t starting all over again another way of saying that we need to refocus our attention on those sorts of issues.
RJS … I agree on the gospel and individualism. I suspect that the gospel of individualism is at the heart of this problem. The gospel of individualism is deconstructing the church.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:15 am


Scot,
I guess what I was trying to say is that 50-60 somethings leaving a church because the leadership is trying to engage 20-30 somethings is a much a symptom of the problem as 20-30 somethings finding church unnecessary at their stage of life.
What do you mean by allocating funds? If you mean this should be a major part of the job description of someone on staff (in a sufficiently large church) I agree. And most college pastors are in their 20’s themselves – we really need more experienced persons deeply concerned with discipleship of the next generation.



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Your Name

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:16 am


As a twenty something, who grew up in the church, went to youth group, and now in college, I still attend and purposely involve myself in Church. And I do not plan on leaving. Though at times I don’t agree with everything at my congregation, there is one undeniable thing I do agree with – the community which the people at my church are intentional about creating, and the coming together of the body of believers.
I draw upon Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (granted, given the context, we are not in the same situation as the audience of Hebrews, but I believe the same principle applies).
I attribute this to faithful parents, a strong youth group for a couple of years anyway (another issue — the average longevity of a youth pastor at a church), and to my own commitment to be faithful. My youth pastor for the first couple years of high school really heavily concentrated on forming the Christian community, and was very big on teaching the Early Church, its convictions, principles, spirit and action. We spent a lot of time together as a group, whether eating together, doing activities, or often serving in the community/with a large focus on missions as well.
And that is what I searched for in a church when coming to a new city for college. (though it can be found, it is surprising that it is difficult to do so within many churches)
Instead of a large budgetary focus on the youth – I would propose a new focus of ministry – rather than on being ‘hip’ and contemporary throughout the church – to stress the coming together of believers in the Gospel in all ages, that together, we may work for the furthering of the kingdom, spurring one another on in good works, and not give up the habit of meeting together.



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Phil Niemi

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:17 am


Diane (15)
The LOVE of money cause many of the problems, however, money as a tool is necessary and beneficial. We need to be wise stewards of both money and time. These two used unwisely have caused many problems and I believe contributed to the present situation. Not having time or money will not help the situation.



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Mary

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:20 am


I’m sorry – I’m #20’s post. I had my name entered but had to refresh the page and forgot to re-enter it.



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Your Name

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:31 am


Perhaps part of the problem is the attitude that persons who aren’t married with kids are “youth” — i.e., are something other than mature adults whose lives, loves and call as members of the Body of Christ is somehow not as developed or “real” as Ozzie-and-Harriet families. Just sayin’.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:42 am


I wasn’t as perhaps as clear as I meant to be: I meant the elderly were exiting in the sense of dying not leaving for another church.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:47 am


Scot,
I knew that was your meaning – but Jeff (#1) hits on the other problem – which is a very real “survival today” practical concern for churches.



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Rick

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:53 am


Mary in #20, speaking of Christian community, said:
“…though it can be found, it is surprising that it is difficult to do so within many churches.”
That is a interesting observation, and a troubling one.
If it is too difficult to find, and a college student can easily find community outside Christian churches and circles, they may just go that route.
And for those still deep in the faith, some Christian books and an ipod with sermons and Christian songs can provide a sense of church. With many churches in mind, what else are they missing?



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John L

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:06 am


I?m noticing the trend in my own church, as well, and I am actually quite alarmed by it. I was glad to see this post. I think there may be two related problems.
First, when kids go to college, they join campus groups who take the place of a church. In itself, I find this OK. However, when they leave college, most of the kids are unable to find a church that looks like their college group. Thus, they drop out because they don?t find a community which measures up to their college experience (part of Rick’s point, #27, I think).
Second, while kids are at college, their core beliefs are challenged. This is a natural part of growth, but too often it?s discouraged by their parents and older church members. Instead of being discouraged by it, parents and pastors should expect this time and be ready for it. The problem is, they are encountering this time of growth when they are furthest away from their community.
To remedy these things, campus ministries need to be more intentional in not just being the church for college kids, but partnering with local churches so that college kids can grow in a multi-generational environment. College kids need to be a part of a multi-generational community of believers even when they are away at school. Then, older believers can speak into the lives of the college kids (I don?t mean just seniors ? rather, young professionals on up to seniors).



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Erik Leafblad

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:17 am


As someone intimately involved in youth ministry (I work for a youth ministry organization) this issue is at the core of my calling. Yet, I sometimes wonder if there is a false sense of entitlement involved. Here’s what I mean.
I want to be clear, students and young adults simply walking away from faith, which is most concretely demonstrated by walking away from the church, is something to lament and address, for sure. But, at times, I feel like we as local churches have a sense of entitlement about our young people, so that so much of our programming is aimed at “keeping” them in the church because they are ours. We are not, as Scot rightly points out (and rightly points to Mike on), equipping them for God’s mission by inviting them to know and love God, but we are enculturing them into our church’s sub-culture. So, we devise strategical programs that shift them from one level to the next, much like school, but then there is no graduation, really. At what point do they get their degree, so to speak, and do we commence them into God’s mission in the world?
I’ve not thought this out all the way, so it might be a bit disjointed, but what if in our youth ministries we focused on the things Mike King talks about, and Scot alludes to, all the while giving them the real hope and possibility that precisely because they belong to Christ, and not us, they are being prepared to be church planters, innovators, etc.? What if the panic to retain these students is one of the very things that’s pushing them away? So many students I’ve talked to and know have such brilliant and creative ideas on how to participate in the missio Dei, but it’s precisely when the church gets involved that it becomes programmatic, and they say screw it. Maybe our panic to retain students is killing the dreams that God is placing in their hearts, so they look elsewhere for the freedom to do that.
I could be way off track, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about from the inside, if you will. Sorry for the length Scot.



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Julie Clawson

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:18 am


So it’s always fun to be lumped in with the “youth”…
so why would 20-somethings want to be part of a community which tells them that their worldview, philosophy, and culture is wrong but which wants to use them to fill the pews on Sunday mornings? If no one at the church is really willing to engage them – be a mentor that actually understands instead of just condemns the postmodern mindset – why would they bother to attend (until of course they pop out a couple of kids and enter the consumer dulled by mommy brain stage anyway…)? (and yes I’m being sarcastic there)



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MattR

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:27 am


Great conversation!
And good comments so far.
As one who is in this age range, and having spent most of my ministry years trying to address this issue…
I think the problem includes:
Individualism/Consumerism- We helped get the older crowd back into church in the 80s & 90s by saying ‘it’s all about you, and your individual needs.’ Now we’re seeing the consequences. This older generation should be part of the SOLUTION… a more missional church reaches out to those not yet included.
And we’ve used programs and bells and whistles to try and solve this… only for it to keep haunting us.
Really, as many have already said, we need to get back to basics:
Help them connect with a relational discipleship network. Whatever that looks like… and it may be different than most current programs… that’s church.
Go to them. As many in the emerging church world have done.
Send them. We don’t need church programs/maintenance to fill our time, we want to see our faith as active and making a difference in our everyday world.
But we also need to re-think some core issues, and what it means to be church, so the cycle doesn’t just continue in the next generation.



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Joey

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:28 am


Last night was pretty rough, regarding this issue. I’m the associate/youth pastor at my church. Recently I also became the interim Worship Pastor until we can find somebody to fill the role. I wasn’t raised in the church and have a very shallow pocket of hymns at my disposal. I like hymns, I just don’t know many. Last night at our board meeting some of the more aged folks accosted me, and not in any gentle dialogical way, about how many hymns we do. I am at this church to serve the congregation and it is not my heart to flip off the oldies and dishonor their service for the past 60+ years. I have taken my cues from the senior pastor in what way to take the church musically. There were even subtle threats last night to leave the church if the style of music doesn’t start looking more like the way they want it.
I’ve never been fooled into believing that a change in music style is any way to grow a church. Frankly, I don’t really want tons of people who are only there because the music is the way they want it. I want people who have a heart for serving in a local church. I’ve worshiped at no less than two churches where the music style wasn’t my preference. Even now, as the worship leader, the music style isn’t my preference but my best attempt at what has been asked of me by the congregation and pastor.
Why does music matter that much? Do we have such a shallow theology of worship that music matters that much? I love music but in now way has playing or singing music ever been offering my body as a living sacrifice to God. It’s just a tool used to speak to my heart and prepare me for God’s work in my life. How do you address this issue in a church in a way that is respectful and constructive? I have only had one person, ONE PERSON, out of the most vocal group of elderly folks talk to me as if I were human. What does one do?
I have a few other questions on this issue:
1. Are church services for Christians or to attract not-yet Christians?
2. Does the attractional approach mean sacrificing genuine Eucharist seeking worship? Can we truly take part in sacramental worship if our goal is to attract young people?
3. If there is sinful tension in a church over how to bring younger people to Christ how does one handle it?
Sorry to put such a long story and list of questions I’m just writing with a heavy heart today.
By-the-by, I’m 25 so I fit into that “youth” category.



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Travis Greene

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:33 am


John@28, you’re absolutely right about the need for multi-generational community (which will benefit the older believers as much as the younger ones).
Money isn’t the cure-all answer, but Scot is right that what we spend money on shows what we think is important. When I was in the youth group at the church I grew up in, the church had budget issues and laid off our youth minister (or at least that was the official reason). It didn’t consider paying the senior pastor less (the difference between his pay and the rest of the staff was considerable). Or cutting back on other jobs (what does a minister of education do?), or various secretaries, or what have you. They cut the youth guy.
Now obviously hard times come and decisions have to be made, and I have no idea what went on in the decision-making process (I was in 7th grade), but the signal I got was that we just weren’t very important. We were the “church of tomorrow”, which meant we could wait our turn.
That’s bunk. Young people aren’t the “church of tomorrow”. They’re an essential part of the church of today, meant to live in counter-cultural community with all the people they shouldn’t like; their parents and single adults and infants and old people. This is a theological as much as organizational problem. People my age (I’m 24) don’t go to church because the evangelical church taught us we don’t need to. I walked down the aisle and accepted Christ into my heart. Isn’t that the point?



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MattR

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:42 am


Joey,
Been there too…
1. I don’t think worship services attract that many not-yet Christians… but this depends on your context. Really our reaching out in love and relationship is what does it.
2. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
3. This is a teaching/discipleship moment. Part of the issue is we’ve told the older crowd (maybe subconsciously) that church is for just them. Your pastor should be taking the lead on this… and you as well can help start the conversation; ‘what does it mean to be church?’ ‘why are we here?’
Blessings!



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Erik Leafblad

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:43 am


Travis (#33) is spot on, especially in his last statement. Our gospel has been so reduced, that church is an ancillary to the real point of Jesus (i.e. heaven when I die). I think that’s changing (at least I hope it is), but another root cause of this, I believe, is the lack of a credible ecclesiology. I don’t know how many students have asked me over my 4-5 years in small groups with them, “Why should I go to church?” The church and the gospel just aren’t connected for them, because, largely, it isn’t connected for our churches. Instead, church issues like music-style become the predominant discussions (and I use the term loosely, more like fights) at congregational meetings, and we’re surprised when students opt out?



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ChrisB

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:55 am


When I read things like this, I can’t help but wonder if people like Voddie Bauchum (whose preaching I love on any topic but this) is right — if we let the world educate our kids, we can’t be surprised when they think we’re fools.
If we’re going to keep them in public schools, how do we counter the philosophies they’re taught — naturalism, secularism, pluralism, and humanism. (I don’t think most people are postmodern but modern when it comes to religion.)



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Travis Greene

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:00 am


Eric@35,
Exactly. Church becomes a social club. Or an obligation. Or, at best, a resource for personal spiritual growth. Which it should be, but if that’s all, it’s pretty anemic.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:06 am


MattR (#34)
We have told the older crowd (that would be me by the way) that church is for just them and the younger generation has learned the lesson well by example.
ChrisB (#36)
I don’t think our kids learn this individualism in the public schools – I think that they learn it from their elders in the church. Blame it on the outside isn’t the answer.
To quote Pogo (Walt Kelly – and now I’ve really dated myself) We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.



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Travis Greene

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:07 am


Chris,
I honestly doubt that has much to do with it. We aren’t giving young people a faith that matters; one that would, for instance, insist that they be agents of redemption in public schools, not retreat to the Christian subculture.



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Mary

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:14 am


I am in favor of public education (#36). Christians are often accused of not knowing what the world knows — ignorance on issues as evolution because of closed-mindedness, etc. The parents have throughout the bible been responsible for rearing their children in the way of the Lord, teaching them the Torah. There ought be a balance of both.
Here is my question: do we really need to retain everyone? Or is some seed spread on unfertile ground? – if they stay/leave because of music style/comfort? Would it perhaps be better to concentrate on true outreach in general, making disciples of all people – rather than catering to keep some?
I don’t know, just thinking.
Perhaps I’m being counter-productive to the discussion which is about the majority of “youth” not sticking around…
Though – I guess the same message: Return to the Gospel of Christ and the message of the Bible, and the Church of God will respond.



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Your Name

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:16 am


I guess I disagree a little, Scot. I think youth programs are important and that they should continue being a part of the church, but it seems to me that our emphasis on youth programs has already grown dramatically over the last generation, and this trend it still happening.
I think a key point that you made is that our youth ministry ends at highschool. most churches lack a good program for local college kids, and they don’t stay in touch with their kids that have left the area for college. After college some kids try church again, but most are struggling with their identity and will bounce around a bit, drawn to things like a good singles group or a young, charismatic church.
There is also a loss of place within the church family during this age. As kids they have programs to go to and they are given a certain amount of leadership. After college, most churches have no place for young adults in leadership except perhaps to lead worship. They are considered to young to preach, too young to be elders, too young even to teach. There is some truth to this, but I really wish that the older folks in churches would begin taking more intentional time to disciple and train up this age group AND hand them a certain amount of leadership. Leadership makes them take responsibility for their church and their part in it. When folks my age are segregated away from the rest of the church body in a special group, we loose touch with the family. We would love to be integrated into the rest of the family, despite our youth.



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Rick

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:26 am


From Ed Stetzer/Lifeway Research on this matter, which backs some of the comments today:
“Churchgoers or not, the study results indicate young adults are nonetheless longing for community and fellowship with peers, looking for ways to reach people in need and circling the church but not always finding a home in it.
Connection is key.
Seventy-three percent of church members and 47 percent of non-affiliated young adults indicated that community with other young adults is extremely important in their lives.
The lack of opportunity for connection within the church proves to be a frustration point for young adults. One study participant said, ?After graduation they give you a pat on the back and say, ?when you start a family, we?ll be here for you.??
http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/article_main_page/0%2C1703%2CA%25253D164481%252526M%25253D200906%2C00.html



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Taylor George

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:29 am


@Mary – As one who is feeling like unfertile soil in the last couple years, my hope is that you won’t give up.



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Clay Knick

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:51 am


I love what Duke Divinity School is doing with their
summer Youth Academy. We sent a rising high school
senior last summer and she raved and raved about it
for months.
And I agree with Scot: a conference needs to be
held on this.



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ChrisB

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:53 am


Before we can do anything about this problem, we have to get an idea of where it comes from.
RJS thinks it’s “individualism” they learn from their elders.
Travis thinks we’ve given them a faith that doesn’t “matter.”
I think it’s a secularism that says faith should be private, a naturalism that automatically questions any hint of the supernatural, and a pluralism that questions Christian exclusivism — all toxic to Christian faith and practice.
So which is the problem? Or is it all of the above? If it’s the latter, what can we do?
It makes me wish I was a Calvinist.



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rob

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:58 am


#46 – I think it Travis nailed it. And your response kind of reinforces that. You said:
“I think it’s a secularism that says faith should be private, a naturalism that automatically questions any hint of the supernatural, and a pluralism that questions Christian exclusivism — all toxic to Christian faith and practice.”
Wouldn’t you say that a view that dismisses out-of-hand such things as “toxic” can lead to a shallow faith that is afraid to engage the culture? When youth are told that such things are “toxic” to their faith, but yet their experiences tell them different, wouldn’t a more robust faith that has room for cultural engagement be a good thing?



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:01 pm


ChrisB (#46)
I think we are talking about different aspects of the problem. I certainly think the naturalism and secularism of our society are real problems. I’ve been immersed in secular academia my entire adult life – and part of what I’m trying to do these days is think about how the church can prepare youth to deal with the conflict. I don’t think withdrawl into our own subculture is a good approach (my kids attend public school, and we would only choose something else if a real problem arose).
But another part of the problem is typified by some of the responses here – that while faith is personal and real, church is optional and exists to meet individual needs. This is another serious problem – and in this case the enemy is us.



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maestro

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:04 pm


just wait. we are going to see more rob bell types pop up. he has captured the lingua franca. however most of the “establishment” church wants none of it because it demands that all the flashiness be done away with. also, look at why droves of 18-35ers voted for barack obama: HE INCLUDED THEM, ENLISTED THEM! most boomer church leaders i know are either threatened by the 18-35ers or only allow them to do some goofy side-show. so they either leave the establishment or start their own church. many are starting their own communities and they are not quantifiable in the same way boomer churches and denoms are. besides did jesus ask us to ensure the churches existence through more money, marketing, and flashiness?



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Your Name

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:07 pm


Unfortunately, this still sounds like “more of the same” ministry except we’ll just change our strategies and target audiences. It sounds like what a company does to keep the next generation buying their product. “We” must realize and practice that “we” can’t do anything unless we are with the Spirit rather than assuming the Spirit will be with us in all our efforts – even if they appear to have drifted away from devotion to Jesus as Lord. I wonder if the Spirit is ready to jump on our next bandwagon for helping to build his kingdom or if he is no longer going to meet the American church on our own terms? I need remembering, brokenness, humility, repentance, longing, worship, giving and recommitment to Jesus and I need the Spirit to lead and accomplish this in me. If the body of Christ comes back to him in this way, he will draw all people to himself, whatever age they may be. And I won’t care so much about age but seeing Christ in another. But I believe there will be all ages present because this is how families are made and maintain themselves throughout a lifecycle. The fact that we also see the disintegration of this in human families as well as churches is no coincidence.



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Jon Snyder

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:08 pm


I hope youth ministers head calls like these and find ways to connect students to God. As a youth leader, I can say that these ideals are much much more difficult to aim for than simply filling the seats, but that’s what happens when the church focuses more on marketing than the gospel.



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MattR

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm


ChrisB,
Wouldn’t you agree though…
Those ‘outside’ forces are a bigger issue because we have failed, in large part, to help young people embody a faith that is robust enough to thrive in that context?
That starts with the Christian community… not public school environment, culture, etc… Christians have often been in cultures that aren’t hospitable to faith, so what’s different now?



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ChrisB

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:22 pm


A timely touch of perspective from Spurgeon (HT: Tim Challies):

“Never think of the Church of God as if she were in danger. If you do, you will be like Uzza; you will put forth your hand to steady the ark, and provoke the Lord to anger against you. If it were in danger, I tell you, you could not deliver it. If Christ cannot take care of his Church without you, you cannot do it. Be still, and know that he is God? When you begin to say, ?The Church is in danger! The Church is in danger!? what is that to thee? It stood before thou wert born; it will stand when thou hast become worm?s meat. Do thou thy duty. Keep in the path of obedience, and fear not. He who made the Church knew through what trials she would have to pass, and he made her so that she can endure the trials and become the richer for it. The enemy is but grass, the word of the Lord endureth for ever.”



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Your Name

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:31 pm


I am the parent of a 20 something who has left the church and the faith. We did all the suggested things – we were and are serious about our faith, we talked about it daily spontaneously, not so to influence her but it was an influence. Our church did not have a teen program but she went to teen programs with friends. We jsut trust that her confession of Christ at an early age was true and God’s got hold of her and she will return to the faith at some point in her life. Right now we need to not press the matter – rarely talk about it because that would drive her further away in rebellion against us. But after a discussion the other day, I told her she was more christian than she thinks or admits she is, because of things she said in the discussion.



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trevor

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:48 pm


One of the issues that I think we fail to address in youth ministry is…what is the end look like or what is the goal of youth ministry…to often it gets stuck in some sort of behavior modification program or look how successful we are because we got so many kids to attend.
If we start with the disciple mindset of leading young people to become disciples. Developing their own faith, not a faith in youth group or youth minister. Then when they leave and go to college or work, they will have a faith to stand on, not a youth ministry. Similar to adults, most of that kind of faith gets developed in more intimate one on one settings than large functions



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Phil Niemi

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm


Jon (51)
I think many of do heed the problems of the day, many of us loath fun and game ministries or being a social coordinator for parents that desire child free parenting. The issue is the whole church.
Are parents raising their children in the faith?
Is the church being salt and light in the culture, or running from the darkness of culture?
Are the biggest concerns of the church abortion, evolution, humanism and homosexuality or are they greed, apathy, discrimination, discord and bringing the world to rights?
It would be very hard for me to show students what it is to be IN Christ if I primarily had to teach creationism, fun, the dangers of emergent, fun, purity, fun, the rapture, and did I say fun?
A major factor is creating disciples in our churches rather than consumers of Christianity. Apathy and affluence are the battle grounds.
Grace and Peace



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H.S.

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:02 pm


I would like to know more about those numbers. Isn’t there a pattern of young people returning to the church when they become parents? That was certainly true for me personally and true for a number of other couples I know. I realize anecdotes aren’t data, but is there data out there about people returning to church after they have children?
I think having children is a spiritual wake-up call for many people. I also think — again, drawing from my own and my friends’ experiences — that many people are waiting to have children until their late twenties or thirties.
If this hypothesis is correct, it’s not surprising people in their twenties are not at church.



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Bob Smallman

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:05 pm


Our little, small-town church (140 in worship, 10,000 in the community) sees 80-90 7th-12th showing up for our Wednesday night youth ministry (most are not members of our church — many are members of other churches in town, many are unchurched).
I attribute these numbers to three primary factors (and a million others we’ll never figure out): 1) The Holy Spirit — the Spirit blows where He wills, and for some reason He’s chosen to blow our way over the past few years. 2) A Youth Director who’s been with us for 16 years. That kind of continuity has been critical. Our children grow up in the various children’s ministries in the church and can’t wait to get old enough to join C.H.A.O.S. (“Christians Helping Along Other Sinners”). Plus, he’s a known quantity in the community — very important in a small town. And, of course, he has whatever “it” is that kids naturally connect with — he’s now 46, but there’s a 16-year-old hidden inside him somewhere. But 3) The ministry’s focus is on spiritual formation and service rather than on entertainment. Our young people certainly do some fun things, but most of Wednesday night is focused on group intercessory prayer and Bible study. And most activities outside the church focus on service or outreach of some kind.
The encouraging thing for me has been to see how this training has “stuck” with great numbers of our young people who have “graduated” from the ministry and gone on to college and/or careers. Last month I was gone for three weeks — two of the preachers who filled in for me were our college students who are now active in their campus ministries. The third week our current youth group members led the entire service.
The ministry has “infected” the whole church. It’s not really a “youth ministry” anymore but a “church ministry” that happens to involve young people.



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budcath

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:06 pm


I have two grown sons (28 and 20) that I raised to be christian and were baptized. But they have quit. Bottom line. They don’t believe the stuff in the Bible happened (miracles). As my youngest said, even at age 10 while in bible study to the chagrin of the teacher. “That’s not true. Nobody can walk on water.” Obviously, referring to Jesus’ miraculous feat. It seems a lot of young people today are using their experiences as humans and their observations of how things work in the day to day world as a justification that all of the weird and miraculous stuff in the Bible was just made up.



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H.S.

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:08 pm


Whoops, I see other commenters above already made my point. Sorry to repeat it.



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Sue

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm


It’s interesting to me that no one picked up on Your Name #24’s comment. This is a huge issue, precisely because it’s not even on anyone’s radar screen within the church. Churches tend to treat singles as invisible, second-class citizens. Walk into any church and look around. The predominant imagery and language is aimed at couples and families, while a 24-year-old single person gets described as a “kid” and steered toward the college Sunday school class or corraled into a “singles ministry” that is largely isolated from the larger mission of the church. With so many people delaying marriage into their late 20s and 30s — if they marry at all — it’s small wonder that they opt for alternative ways of serving God rather than submitting to a church culture that treats them like perpetual children.



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Henry Zonio

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:24 pm


We can’t really begin to address this issue without looking at a much broader age range. We have to look at what is happening all the way back to newborn stages as well. There has to be a much more holistic view to spiritual formation. How are we (the Church) facilitating spiritual formation and transformation from the newborn ages on up?
In order for students to transition into high school and university and beyond and be primed to be receptive to community and more missional ways of Kingdom living, we can’t gloss over the importance of what happens at the beginnings of brain development… through the years from birth up through nine and ten years old. We seem to be happy enough to teach these kids Bible stories, cute songs and crafts… we focus on teaching behaviour and character traits rather than helping them to actually see and live out a faith that is about transformation more than it is about “doing the right thing.” Kids need to see God’s redemptive story throughout Scripture and history and understand that we are called to be a part of that story.
I think that can only be done when Church sees itself as a family… as a community. Parents are called to disciple kids. The community is called to disciple kids. The Church is called to disciple kids. And that means church staffs and parachurch ministries and people, in general, reaching across generational lines and engaging each other and working together to disciple kids and youth and young adults because working apart from each other hasn’t been effective…
I think one other thing to take into consideration is that to simply pile everyone from birth through 20-somethings into one term, “youth,” can be confusing and minimizes the complexity with which this problem needs to be addressed. There are HUGE differences in those first 20 or so years in terms of behavioural and cognitive development, and those of us working in different segments of those ages need to work with each other. You can’t simply say “youth” is everyone under 30.
Oh, one more thing… we need to stop harping on parents. Most parents I come in contact with aren’t looking to not teach their own children about faith. Can we just stop making that assumption? We need to spend more time encouraging, empowering and equipping parents. They have an ENORMOUS job, and the last thing they need is for the Church to wag its finger at them saying they are inadequate. Let’s spend more time finding what they are doing right and helping them to become the primary faith models to their kids. If a parent is just bringing their children to church and nothing else… at least they are doing that! Take that opportunity to praise them for that and then use it as a bridge to be able to positively challenge them to grow and be and do more.



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Maria

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:35 pm


I have a few thoughts, and by no means am I an expert, but just from my own life and observations.
1) Most youth ministries (and i have helped lead a few) are very consumeristic, even if their end goal is discipleship. We need to do youth ministry differently- less programs, more incarnational relationships. This means two things: you’ll probably lose the kids who came just for the show and you’ll need your church (all generations) to get serious about adolescents so you can start building incarnational relationships with them. (I highly recommend Andrew Root’s “Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry”)
2) I’m a twenty-something (25) and became a Christian when I was 20 but have had to fight so hard to stay connected to local churches. I have to say most churches aren’t too interested in those of us with postmodern worldviews who want to lead and my have a few-too-many radical ideas of what it means to follow Christ. Many friends have left church not because they have left their faith, but because the church wouldn’t embrace their faith. Get 20 somethings into leadership, listen to them, let them challenge you and shape you, and maybe they just may come to your church.
3) Tell the whole story of the gospel. Have a robust ecclesiology. Be counter-cultural. Really dig into the scriptures and don’t be afraid to challenge. Have a bold mission. Be authentically committed to the least of these. Lose the hierarchy and be a community. We’ll be part of that.



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ChrisB

posted November 26, 2008 at 1:35 pm


I remember hearing from the guys at Stand to Reason about a church group who took their “youth” to Salt Lake City and Berkley to do evangelism.
Getting (rhetorically) slaughtered opened their eyes to how little they knew about their own religion. With no prompting from the adults, the kids emersed themselves in the Bible.
Maybe if we can get them to take their faith more seriously if we expose them to a controlled crisis of faith.



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Rebeccat

posted November 26, 2008 at 2:20 pm


I have to echo the call to inter-generational ministry. People have to be connected with each other across ages and across life stages. I also think that the church needs to rediscover its historic appreciation of chastity as a holy vocation. Our singles need to be viewed as having worth and a place to be in the church. Too often, the best we offer singles is some sort of single’s ministry where they can go to find a mate so they can enter into the real church community.
And really, we just need to make our churches work better. I can walk into a bar here in town any night of the week and have an easier time finding community and a friendly greeting than at any church in town. And no program is going to fix that- it’s all about hearts. If our hearts are right, our actions, thoughts and love will follow suit. When what we are doing isn’t working the heart is pretty much always at the root of the problem, imo.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted November 26, 2008 at 2:47 pm


I’m currently reading a book by Carol Howard Merritt called Tribal Church, whereby she attempts to address this very issue (the decline of 20-somethings). She clearly has an intentionality for multi-generational ministry (thereby not forgetting about those who are older), but is equally clearly not looking to think of 20-somethings as simply “older youth.” I wish I could say more, but since I’m still reading it myself, I can do little more than provide a recommendation to check it out.



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Dan

posted November 26, 2008 at 2:55 pm


I haven’t read the book–I would like to. But I really like Kenda Creasy Dean’s book on *Practicing Passion.* Imo, its one of the best books out there for seeing how youth hunger for communion, transcendence, and fidelity–and how we as adults need to model for them–holy, spiritual friendships as a medium for spiritual formation for our youth.



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Travis Greene

posted November 26, 2008 at 4:54 pm


Chris,
Your quote at 53 is great. We should take declining church attendance as evidence that we’re perhaps not being as faithful to the gospel as we should be, not as evidence that we have to somehow save the church.
I’m not sure how a controlled crisis of faith would work, but surely exposure to sincere non- or even anti-Christian ideas (not the usual straw men), with strong Christian rebuttal, along with why it matters, would be a very good thing.



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Mike King

posted November 26, 2008 at 6:45 pm


There are some really great comments here.
A couple of years ago I spent three days with the leaders of 40 plus national youth ministry organizations and denominations. Our purpose was to discuss the future of youth ministry. The theme was A Battle Cry for a Generation. So I kept hearing things like ?We can?t lose the cultural war against our teenagers or we are doomed as a nation,? ?We have to take back America for God,? ?We must capture teenagers for Christ? and on and on. Several of the youth ministry leaders were worked up over this statistic ? more than 80% of youth who grow up in church, leave the church when they hit their twenties. Unfortunately, many of them seemed convinced that the solution is doing the same things they have been doing in the past ? only with more intensity. Several of us suggested that instead of doing the same things with more passion and intensity it might be better to evaluate and begin doing things differently. If the way we have been doing youth ministry is failing ? LET?S STOP!
I too have been concerned about the percentage of young people who are walking away from church. However, I do not believe they are evil, secular, youth who have examined Jesus Christ and found God insufficient. In fact, consider these statistics released by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. They polled 112,232 freshmen from 236 colleges and universities and discovered that eight out of ten say they attend religious services. More than 80 percent of the students say they are very interested in spirituality. More than two-thirds of these young people pray. Hardly the gloom and doom that prevailed over these meetings. I believe this generation is looking for adult leadership that will believe in them, listen to them, understand them, show them how to follow Jesus, develop them, challenge them to ?lay down their lives? and change the world.
Teenagers respond to youth ministries and adults who take them seriously and believe in them. They are turned off by our human efforts to modify their behavior by presenting them a list of ?things we don?t do in our church? while at the same time ignoring the radical call of Jesus to a life full of meaning that is not always safe and definitely not consistent with the ultimate American Dream.
I do believe our youth are dissatisfied with the church and our youth ministry programs and mindset. I think more and more youth workers are beginning to realize that the real battle is our ability to change within our church environments the ineffective ways we?ve done youth ministry. Our youth are ready for us to join them by diving into the dangerous wonder of life lived in the in-breaking Kingdom of God.
?Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.? Ephesians 3:20, 21



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Pat

posted November 26, 2008 at 6:54 pm


John L wrote: “First, when kids go to college, they join campus groups who take the place of a church. In itself, I find this OK. However, when they leave college, most of the kids are unable to find a church that looks like their college group. Thus, they drop out because they don?t find a community which measures up to their college experience ”
This couldn’t be more true! All through my graduate work in biology, I belonged to one campus church after another. When I got a job, I headed up to the local university, and was directed to a local church because the lutherans didn’t have a campus church. My very first day in that local church, right across the street from the university’s Biology building, I heard a sermon against evolution.
The answer isn’t for campus churches to consciously feed students into the local churches, it’s for the local churches to be as good as the campus churches. A bunch of educated people is a potential asset to a church, but we are often treated as a threat instead.



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Pat

posted November 26, 2008 at 7:21 pm


I also want to take issue with the criticism of people who leave a church because it doesn’t meet their needs – as if god thought our needs were irrelevant. If a church doesn’t meet my needs, I’m not going to keep pouring time and money into it, and I regard that as entirely legitimate.
Perhaps you are criticising a certain set of needs as inappropriate to expect the church to meet, though. Does anyone wish to clarify?



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Matt

posted November 26, 2008 at 8:34 pm


I wonder if the disappearance of the twenty-somethings from church in America has to do with the way in which our culture is putting off marriage.
I have been ministering to married twenty-somethings for about six years now, and I find the same story being told over and over–“I grew up in church, left the church for a little while in my early twenties, and then came back when I got married/had children.” A lot of Americans associate the church with the transmission of values from one generation to the next. When they’re 25 and single, they don’t care about that. When they have their first kid, they suddenly realize that they need to get their life in order and they come back.
I would be curious to see what percentage of thirty-somethings are in church compared to a generation ago.



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RJS

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:16 pm


Pat,
What needs do you think a church should meet, and what is the purpose of church?
By the way educated people are an asset to a church, but we have to determine to be an asset to the local church – slowly and tactfully.



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Sue Van Stelle

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:54 pm


I believe one of the reasons our young people are abandoning the church is because in many cases church has become a commodity, not a communion. You can trade in commodities, you can change them like outfits, and you can leave them behind.
A generation raised with commodified music, commodified sex, and commodified just-about-everything-else instinctively recognizes another commodity when they see one. Why bother? Young people are not necessary to a commodity, and they know it.
How many things about church have become commodified? For one example, in many cases corporate worship has become about production, not passion; about a technique, not a telos. I?m sure you could think of more.
The ?solution? to this problem is for the church to do some deep theological thinking about the gospel and what it means(thanks, Scot), about corporate worship?what it is and what it is for, about the process in which children and youth actually internalize faith (one doesn?t become a Christ-follower in the way one learns algebra), about what it means to BE the Body of Christ in the world, and about ecclesiology, period.
Just my two cents, but after doing a lot of reading over the past six or so years, that?s the conclusion I?ve drawn.



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Tim Hallman

posted November 27, 2008 at 12:16 am


I think one problem that we don’t take into consideration much is the difficult transition children must make in becoming an adult Christian. Kids that grow up in the church are served a “kid-friendly” version of the Bible, Jesus, salvation, etc. But then somehow as an adult they are supposed to smoothly transition their faith out of the “kid-friendly” version into the painful realities of young/adult life? Young adults need to be given lots of room and permission and relationships to help sort out what they are going to believe about what they are “supposed” to believe.
And nothing can replace good old fashioned relationships. As has been said here many times, young adults are looking for community – and I think older adults are too. But it’s too often from an individualistic point of view. This is understandable in the young adults, but it’s deadly when it is true of the older adults. The younger adults need the older adults to invest in them, to join them in work projects, to wrestle with the Scriptures together, to share some apple pie together. If the 35+ crowd wants the 35-and-under crowd to join the community, the older ones will have to take the initiative to start hanging out with them.



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Sue Van Stelle

posted November 27, 2008 at 2:01 am


Good comment Tim #73. Too often I hear the +35 crowd wanting the younger crowd to conform to them. “It was good enough for us.” Or they are sitting back unwilling to reach out because, “I did my time.” Since when did reaching out to help someone else grow in faith become about doing time?



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Leya (#5)

posted November 27, 2008 at 2:39 am


RJS, you had two questions for me (sorry for the delay, I was sitting in traffic for 10 hours).
How do we “participate in Christian community” without being part of church?
the church and a church are two different things. I don’t really go to a church but I am part of the church. Being in community with other christians doesn’t need to be facilitated within the context of a church. For example, I’m big on volunteering – I’ve never really had that much money to give so I like to give my time. In the past I’ve gathered my friends and they’ve invited friend’s of theirs and we volunteer our time with an organization or just spend sometime downtown with people who are homeless. I love using this as an opportunity to put the gospel to work in a very practical sense, and I get to invite other people along for the ride. It’s a great way to talk about why I do what I do, which has a lot to do with my beliefs. To me, this is christian community without the church(building).
And – is the purpose of church and the Christian life “to grow into a deep relationship with Jesus?”
The more I try to answer that question, the more complex it turns! deepening our relationship is part of the purpose, but definitely not the whole purpose. Escaping the complexity, can I say that the purpose of Christian life is to live like Christ? (Talk about a loaded sentence!) To live like Christ requires an understanding of well, you know… Christ, so learning how to relate and foster a relationship with Jesus is important, but no, it’s not the sole purpose. As for the purpose of church, I’m still trying to figure out what that is. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I’m not going to a church right now.
Ok… I feel the need to mention that I do go to something church like. If you really want to call it a house church, I guess you could call it that. I’m not really sure what to classify it as yet. I don’t want to box it up :-)
I love the comments that are coming up. I wish I could have participated in it a bit more… alas I had to drive to Southern California.



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TW

posted November 27, 2008 at 11:14 am


I believe part of the problem is how youth programs are run. Youth programs are run with a focus on entertaining, rather than discipling. This leaves teenagers feeling empty and lost.
As a teen, I was plagued by questions like “how do we know God exists?” “how can I learn to forgive?” and “how do I reconcile this verse with that one?” I also wondered about God’s calling on my life, and developed epilepsy my junior year.
Highschool was not a fun time for me (or for a lot of my friends).
The youth group at church seemed to be focused on loud games and getting teens into church. I was already in church. I needed discipleship, guidance. I needed a place where I could feel safe.
If teenagers are looking for a good time, they will be able to find something that is more fun than youth group. Youth groups need to prepare our young adults treating them as today’s young leaders.



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laurie

posted November 27, 2008 at 11:23 am


I have six kids, three grown. They dropped out of youth programs from middle school on. These were loud, boisterous programs, and only appealed to some of the kids at the church.
When I was that age, they had youth group on a weeknight– designed to bring kids into the church– and Sunday morning small groups, designed to create leaders. Quiet kids, kids who were ready for a deeper relationship with God, and kids with questions went on Sundays. Often these were taught by college students or seminary students. The only fault I had with them was some sexism among some of those who led us, but otherwise it was a great approach. I wish we had something similar now!



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Pat

posted November 27, 2008 at 12:11 pm


RJS asked “What needs do you think a church should meet, and what is the purpose of church?”
I think it varies too much to have a simple answer.
In the campus churches I attended, the major needs were community and help figuring out what it meant to lead a christian life. Most of us were in a very unsettled place in our lives, and could make major changes. The church was the setting in which we looked at how god factored into those decisions.
I guess I still view those as important things a church should provide, but I’ve now realized that explaining the nature of god and helping people develop a loving relationship with him precedes them. Right now, I am in a church that is helping me recover my affection for god after I lost it during several years under a calvinist preacher.
At the campus churches, it seemed we could take for granted that we all saw god as worth following and had latitude to make important decisions. Neither of those seems to be true in the community church, to the extent that I now see community church’s first role as healing people of their bad experiences with church, their fear of god, and their belief that they aren’t free to make changes in their lives — in short, as getting them back to the state they would have been in at a campus church, so they can go on from there. What a sad waste of everybody’s time.



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Mike King

posted November 27, 2008 at 12:26 pm


#72 Amen to your comment Sue Van Stelle. If that is just two cents worth I want to hear more of what you have to say.



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Daniel

posted November 28, 2008 at 1:10 pm


I’ve not read the 79 previous comments, so if this has been said already I apologize, but my thoughts:
What we “save” them by, we “save” them to. Churches that seek to “appeal” simply to youth and there culture are like people that try to get dates simply on their looks. Now looks don’t hurt, but eventually there has to be some substance unless the other person is just as shallow.
The purpose of the church is not to fill up the pews with certain age-groups. The purpose of the church is to preach Christ, an offense to some, a stumbling block to others, but the only way to true salvation and real satisfaction. If a church tries to take out the offense, or remove the stumbling-block, they are preaching a different Christ.
That being said, the balance to this is to make sure that we don’t add our own offenses or stumbling blocks to Christ’s message.



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david

posted December 1, 2008 at 2:27 pm


Scot,
Is there a source for the some of the stats you’re mentioning here?



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cgshanks

posted December 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm


THE Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles were grown mature men.The qualifications for elders,deacons are Men. Get Back to the Bible or continue to sink we have clearly strayed it it clearly evident.



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