Monday, September 11, 2006

Reaching the young

The Wall Street Journal featured an article last week on the "church-growth" movement, a controversial but popular undercurrent in modern evangelicalism. Rick Warren is one of the leaders in this movement with his bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life. I really hope the reporter writing the story didn't get this part quite right (which often happens when agnostic or non-believing reporters approach spiritual topics), but this quote summarizing Warren's approach characterizes all the reasons I'm turned off by Warren -- and why I was so surprised by his comparatively solid appearance on Charlie Rose a few weeks back. Here's the quote, the reporter speaking: "[Warren] figured they might find God if they could sit in a theater-style auditorium and listen to live pop music and sermons that could help them with ennui and personal problems." Really? That's all it takes? A little redecorating, change the DJ, and voila.

While that may not be the solution, there certainly is a problem. The Barna Group came out with a new research summary today asserting that we're missing the boat with our teens. Their research finds that as teens move into their twenties, they stop attending church. They are unable to apply the Sunday school lessons and youth group skits into anything that has meaning beyond high school. A Washington Post article from Sunday confims this, starting off with the story of an evangelical teen, now in her late twenties, who left her traditional roots because, "as an environmental activist, she believed that it offered little spiritual support for her work." She's now a congregant at Brian McLaren's church. McLaren grew up in a conservative tradition, but left that behind in his teens, according to the article, because, "As someone who loved books, music and science, 'I was on the way out from the Christian faith.'"

This is a sad indictment of the teaching we're dispensing to our kids! Even sadder, it's probably this way because not enough adults know any better themselves. Books, music and science are not antithetical to faith. Environmental issues have huge spiritual support. The entire Bible begins in a garden, for Pete's sake, with the God of the universe commanding His newly-fashioned people to take care of the place! He communicated His words to us in a book, complete with a hymnal right in the middle, and loaded with information about science. Now, don't get me wrong, we can't reduce Scripture to literature and biology, any more than we can re-tool God as Mother Earth with a beard. But we can and should be teaching our kids that God has important things to say about every aspect of life.

Barna's research summary goes on to say that the churches that most effectively help teens make the spiritual transition to adulthood do so by developing "teenagers' ability to think and process the complexities of life from a biblical viewpoint." Yes, give them meat, not pablum!

It works because it's what teens need. Joshua Harris says in a recent Christianity Today cover story (not available online), "I just think there's such a hunger for the transcendent and for a God who is not just sitting around waiting for us to show up so that the party can get started." Then, there's Albert Mohler in the same article saying, "This generation of young Christians is more committed, more theologically intense, more theologically curious..." The CT article holds that young Christians want more than just country club Christianity and a few pat truisms. They want depth of theology, the kind of depth that naturally stirs the heart to action. That's how to reach the young. Not 'relevance,' whatever that is, or loud music, or getting to wear jeans to church. It's about passion and depth.

The CT article includes mention of my grand-pastor, the pastor of the church of which my church is a church-plant. Got that? Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I never thought I'd go back to a Baptist church, but tiny little Guilford drew me in with its warm atmosphere, solid teaching, and (gasp, can it be?) hymns and liturgy. CT says of the parent church, "its 525 members average 29 years old. Dever mockingly rejected my suggestion that they aim to attract an under-30 crowd. 'Yes, that's why we sing those hymns and have a [55-minute] sermon...We're seriously calibrated for the 18th century.'"

But if you teach it, they will come!


Mindy Richmond said...

So true! Most young people want substance and depth. They get plenty of entertainment and fluff from the rest of the world.

Matt said...

If kids want entertainment, they know where to find it, and what they find in entertainment venues is always going to be more satisfying as entertainment than what they find in a church that tries to pander to them.

If they're coming to church, it's not for the multimedia experience. They're coming to church looking for God. DJs, they can find anywhere. And a church that focuses more on the entertainment than the religion is always going to be a flash in the pan.

Anonymous said...

Much truth in how we, the church, are not reaching our youth. It must be a grass roots effort. I know in my own congregation the kids are on fire about attending bible class.

It takes effort and commitment. Also, we need to incorporate new ideas to challenge our college bound. Thanks for highlighting this problem. We need to keep dialog going to stir people to action. Be blessed! Lynn