When we decry the current condition of the youth in our churches (and the church as a whole) we are usually met with angry resistance. Now the condition of the youth (and the church) has gotten so bad that even secular news outlets are sitting up and taking notice.
The Wall Street Journal has recently reported on the sad state of the youth in American churches in an article aptly titled The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity.
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.
And what does “cool” look like?
There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated “No Country For Old Men.” For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.’s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).
And then the article asks the million dollar question.
But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie-rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?
Another secular news source giving attention to this problem is CNN. In their article More Teens Becoming Fake Christians, it begins with the following:
If you’re the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning: Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.
And then there’s this quote:
Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children’s faith, places the ultimate blame for teens’ religious apathy on adults. Some adults don’t expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.
And this one:
Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens’ religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor. She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.
And what I think is the best quote from the article:
“We think that they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake,” Corrie says.
Finally, USA Today chimes in with the article ‘Forget the Pizza Parties’ Teens Tell Churches.
Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.
You can’t help but read these articles and feel the irony that this problem is being reported by the non-believing secular world. Sadly that’s because those from within Christianity who point this stuff out are summarily dismissed as “legalists” and “Pharisees.”
It’s time for fathers to take charge of your families once again and stop abdicating the responsibility of your children and their spiritual upbringing to strangers.
What are most youth groups like? You get a real personable young leader who’s usually not married and a lot of mousse in his hair. And then he gets a lot of young people around him, and what do they become? According to Proverbs they become companions of fools. When you put young people with young people in this atmosphere of adolescence you have no growth to adulthood, you have no maturity, no elders are involved, no parents are involved. It can’t work because it’s not Biblical. – Paul Washer
For those unaware of what these scathing indictments from secular news outlets are about, please review the following past DefCon posts for a sampling of the the train wreck known as “youth ministry.”