Death Of The American Church
We are at a turning point in American Christianity.
Christianity is not being passed from the older generation to the younger one. At an increasing rate, young people are leaving church. They are not always anti-Christianity (though sometimes they are). Many, however, simply don’t see the point in making it a priority in their lives.
Perhaps, the young reject Christianity because they are rebellious and don’t care much about spiritual things. Or, perhaps they reject the current version of Christianity, because they DO care about spiritual things and just don’t see Christianity as very spiritual. I think there are some of both.
The Boomers and Gen-Xers have been attempting to reach us (I am at the older end of the millennials), but their efforts have largely failed. Coffee bars, knock-off pop music, and skinny jeans are simply not going to do it.
For those who don’t care about spiritual things, creating a second-rate social club isn’t going to bring them to Jesus. For those who do care, commercializing Christianity more than it already has been will only push us further away.
So now what?
To the younger (my) generation:
Quite a lot of us have decided that we are going to do things differently than they were done by our parents and grandparents. However, pointing out that there are a lot of things wrong with the way Christianity is being done is really easy. Anyone can do it. But, now that we recognize that something is wrong, what are we going to do about it? Let’s take the next step, and do what’s necessary to actually solve the problems instead of just complaining about them.
As we step back and take a fresh look at things, we need to make sure we do it right. This requires spiritual growth on our part. Walking the right path is difficult, and it takes a committed person to do it (even with God’s help). We, however, are talking about remaking the path (as the church understands it; not as it really is). That is a whole other thing, and we need to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.
Let us not remake Christianity in our own image. We should not simply decide to do X, because we like X. If we are going to reimagine how Christianity should be done, we need to do it right. We need to begin by studying to understand what Christianity was meant to be, and we need to be involved in our culture to understand how it applies (not fits in) to our current situation.
If we are going to apply ourselves to this task, then we need to dedicate our whole lives to it. If not, then it would be better to give it up and stick with a flawed version, because at least then we won’t be any worse off than those before us. Taking a fresh look at Christianity could make things a lot better, or it could make things a lot worse. The one thing it will not do is let them stay the same.
To the older generation:
While I’m sure it is difficult (and probably a little painful to hear) the way Christianity has been done is not going to continue in a meaningful way into the next generation. For better or worse, my generation is reimagining the way things should be done. However, we could use your help, if you’re willing.
What all young people need is wisdom from those who are older. You have lived life before us, made mistakes, and learned from those mistakes. If you would be willing to engage with us in this process, we could learn a great deal from you.
We do, however, need to be in the driver’s seat, because we can only learn so much by watching. When you taught us to ride our first bikes, you eventually had to stop holding the seats. When you taught us to drive our first cars, you eventually had to let us drive on our own. It is time to do the same with church.
At some point, we’re going to be driving anyway. Wouldn't it be better if we spent some time driving while having someone coaching us from the passenger seat rather than being left to figure it all out on our own? Let us lead, make changes, fail, and try again. Ask us questions that get us to think about things that we haven’t thought of, and let us know when we’re going to make mistakes. But, if we decide we want to make those mistakes, let us make them. Who knows? Some of our crazy ideas might actually work out.
Will this work?
Frankly, I don’t know. I have two facts in front of me. 1) Quite a lot of my generation is unsatisfied with the current form of Christianity in this country. 2) Some of us are reimagining a different way of doing things.
These are the facts I have. Is it possible (or even desirable) to try to work within the existing structures? Maybe. Maybe not. However, I think that if things continue as they are, more and more young people will continue leaving church and will do things as they see fit.
I think a lot of people are ignoring this issue. Whether this is good or bad is another question entirely. The fact is, it’s happening. And, given that we are younger, we will be the ones running church eventually. If the older generation wants us to stay in church and have an influence on which direction we take things, they need to let us take the lead now. If they do, they will still have the opportunity to help guide us.
Again, will this work? I don’t know. But, what I do know is that the current attempts to keep us in church and do things the way they have always been done aren’t working very well. Perhaps, we should try something else.