I read an article today begging the question of why young people are leaving the church. It was an interesting article citing the problems with young people and today’s philosophies. I thought it made some good points. You can read it here, if you fancy. But I don’t think it quite answered the question: why are young people leaving the church and can we do anything about it?
This is a conundrum I’ve pondered many times in recent years. It’s certainly a topic believers should explore, given the state of the country today. And while I won’t purport to have all of the answers, I do have a few theories of my own.
You see, I have worked for several Christian organizations over the years (I say organizations because not all of them were proper “churches” per se. Some were ministries, etc.) I have seen a similar theory carried out in each of them: the best way to reach the world is to look like them. No, I’m not talking about full-on secularism. But I am talking about the “packaging.” Churches, ministries, and various other Christian organizations tend to have the philosophy today that as long as it looks relevant, it will appeal to the young crowd.
I know from having several “millennials” in my own family that nothing could be further from the truth.
Today, spirituality is rampant. That spirituality can be Christian in nature, but it is not necessarily. The “to each his own” mindset flourishes in young people. “I can believe what I want to believe, you believe what you want to believe and as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, who cares?”
I’ll tell you who cares – God. More specifically, Yahweh – the ONE true God.
That’s a controversial sentence today; I am well aware. But it’s the truth whether you want to believe it or not. Sorry about that. And the truth is, only Yahweh’s opinion on all of this matters. I read a great quote by Jimmy Evans the other day: “Right is what God says is right. Wrong is what God says is wrong. When you lose that – you enter a world of mass confusion and deception.” That’ll preach, right there. And in my humble opinion, this is the root of the problem with why young people are leaving the church: because both the church and young people try to sit on a fence between spirituality and the world. Yes, BOTH the church and young people (and old and middle-aged for that matter) are guilty.
When young people are reared to be believers in Christ, but are not taught Biblical principles that cannot be altered despite the culture, they are left to define things for themselves. Or, more accurately, define things according to the Lady Gaga philosophy, or whatever celebrity-du-jour has stirred our hearts with a message of Kum Ba Yah, “why can’t we all just get along” spiritualism. And when they are left to define it for themselves, they end up with a wishy-washy, “all roads lead to the same end,” “Jesus is cool and so is Muhammed” philosophy about the world.
And on the same token, when the church is so focused on the packaging that they compromise the truth of the message of the Savior Jesus Christ, we end up with what I see in most churches today: a bait and switch, used car salesman type of philosophy. Same tired method, prettier branding. As a graphic designer, I am well aware of the power of branding. I am well aware that the church needs to stay relevant with their “packaging.” But if the method outweighs the message, there is a big problem. And when more thought is put into what font to use than in the meat of the Sunday sermon, people leave. In droves. They can smell that kind of slopped together, phony bologna from a mile away.
I was privileged to see this first-hand at one of the ministries I worked for in the past. I happened to be there during a time when they were rebranding the entire company. Many discussions of marketing method, brand imaging, and impact ensued. We talked about a thousand different ways to package the message. But every way we discussed seemed cheap to me when I started really breaking it down. I finally pointed out in a meeting, “If we’re Christians, let’s say we’re Christians. Why are we trying to look relevant without letting people know that’s what we are first? What’s the point of putting a ‘Jesus’ pie in a secular crust?”
And then it hit me.
Am I trying to do the same thing in my own life? I took a look at my band. I took a look at my own message. I was the first person to call myself “spiritual” but not “Christian.” My band was not a Christian band. We were just a band comprised of Christians that sang Christian songs (whatever that means). I realized I had fallen prey to the very same secular, spiritualist, Kum Ba Yah philosophy. And I was just as cheap as a used car salesman.
Things changed for me from that day on. I knew it was time to stop trying to “sell” Jesus and start living what I claim to believe. I knew it was time to stop claiming to be spiritual and start crying from the mountaintops that I’m “Holy Spirit-ual.”
The Bible teaches very clearly that there will come a time when you’re either Christian or you’re not. You’re either in or out. There will be no more gray, no more toes on both sides of the line. Get in or get out. I believe fully that time is upon us.
And I believe that’s why young people are having such a hard time with the church. No one has guided them in Spirit and Truth to say, “this is how it is. You’re in or you’re out. You can’t be ‘spiritual’ and embrace the worldly philosophies anymore. All other religions are wrong. And some things are just wrong, whether Lady Gaga likes it or not.” Because baby, you may have been born this way, but it’s time to be born again!
That’ll preach, right there.