Thursday

the youth exodus & consumer christianity


Much has been made in the media lately about a supposed exodus of young people away from churches and/or Christianity. Rick Santorum blames university education, but if faith cannot withstand learning, questions, and life beyond Sunday school, there's something far deeper at play.

Rachel Held Evans lists 15 reasons she left the Church and 15 that caused her to return, but I'm still not sure how one commits to the "big C Church" independent of a local, worshiping body of believers.

Tim King at CNN argues that hypocrisy and "political spectacles are driving a generation away from faith." I'd agree that actual and implied Christian voting guidelines are a huge turn-off to young Christians caring more about justice and poverty than tax cuts, but politicization may be as tenuous a boogeyman as higher ed. Plenty of Christians don't vote Republican and still manage to worship alongside, love, and be loved by those who do. The votes any of us cast in November have little to do with how we practice faith together daily.

An article at Sojourners says that hurt drives young people away, and that is a truth I won't ever argue against. Spiritual abuse is real and terrible, and the Church is often better known for its judgment, masks, and control than our compassion or grace.

"I like your Christ," Gandhi famously said. "I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." We have much work to do if we truly want to be a people that welcomes, heals, and loves like Jesus. Our churches are a long way from being known as safe places for survivors of all kinds of abuse, and this desperately needs to change.

But the article's six other reasons [we're distracted, we're exhausted, mememememe] seem a lot more like excuses to me. It's kind of sexy to harp on the Church, isn't it? It's so backward and nerdy and uptight! They're so this and that, and they just don't get me at all!

I know how it goes. I really do. My nose hoop and Jimmy's jeans will never in a million years fit in with the white hair and designer handbags peppering the pews, and it's lonely. Our generation is patently absent from our local church.

But I'm not sure it's "Their" fault. I mean, I'm a disciple-maker, too, right? If the pews aren't full, what am I doing to enact a change?

I don't know where we go from here. Many days I feel like Peter telling Jesus he's sticking around because really, what else is there? But I know we can't approach the problems with the same consumer mindset that [in part] created them.

Consumers want, take, and expect everything to be catered to their perceived needs. But worshipers worship. Disciples serve, give, and love. Christians practice self-denial, pick up crosses, and follow Jesus into suffering.

People desire to be known and loved--not targeted, marketed, boxed, or sold. The Church is the naked emperor, and our gimmicks (and double-speak) are showing.

But if our churches are unsustainable and shrinking, should they be resuscitated? Our attractional ministry models are inherently flawed. What if our money, passion, and energies were directed toward something more meaningful than than building campaigns and filling seats? What if our worship and practice transcended four walls and one hour each Sunday?

Martin Luther King Jr.'s words** were eerily prescient:
Unless the early sacrificial spirit is recaptured, I am very much afraid that today’s Christian church will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and we will see the Christian church dismissed as a social club with no meaning or effectiveness for our time, as a form without substance, as salt without savor.
The Church doesn't need better coffee or cooler music to retain young people. A sacrificial spirit and love that lays down its own life: those are the markings of our Savior and a people called by his name.

Let's be about that.

**His words, of course, were not about disaffected White youth, and they are worthy of reading in context. Reading them today, especially as we talk about Trayvon Martin and the silence of White "beyond evangelicals" puts another spin on the youth exodus narrative. Would a vibrant Church engaged in justice work and oriented toward the margins be bemoaning the same loss of young people?


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