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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why Are They Leaving?

Back in 2011 the Barna Group released a report about a study on why it is that young Christians are leaving the church based on Barna president David Kinnaman's book titled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church. Since I've been talking about some of this idea, I thought I'd look at what they said on this.

I note a problem right off the bat. According to Scripture, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) According to the title, "Young Christians are leaving the Church." There is a fundamental contradiction here. I would argue, then, that the number one reason that young people are leaving the Church is that "they were not really of us", that "they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." But I understand the problem of language today. I understand that genuine believers might stop attending church for some reasons other than not being genuine believers, so let's examine the six from Barna's study.

The Report
The church seems overprotective. They feel the church is preventing them from connecting to ideas and worldviews outside the church, that the church demonizes what is not church, ignores problems of the real world, and is concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful.

The church experience is too shallow. By "shallow", most mean "boring" and "not relevant to my career or interests." Others mean a lack of Bible teaching or the suggestion (20%) that "God seems missing from my church experience."

Churches appear antagonistic to science. In this category, the most common complaint is -- you may have guessed it -- "Christians are too confident they know all the answers." Right behind it is the suggestion that church is out of touch with modern science and below that is "Christianity is anti-science."

Churches are judgmental about sexuality. Barna argues that, while young Christians are "more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality", they also "are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers." Some say they feel judged for their sexual "mistakes". Others believe "the church's 'teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.'"

Christianity is exclusive. In a society that values above everything "open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance", the younger generation would like to find common ground, "sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences." They believe that churches fear other faiths and force them to choose between faith and friends.

The church feels unfriendly to doubters. Young adults (and, let me suggest, it isn't only young adults) don't feel safe in asking questions or expressing doubts. They don't feel safe in wrestling openly with tough questions of faith. They also feel that the church doesn't address emotional problems.

Kinnaman says, "Churches are not prepared to handle the 'new normal'", referring to views on marriage and sexuality, delayed families, technology, alienation from institutions, and skepticism toward authority. He warns of the two extremes, one of minimizing their concerns and the other of trying to shape church to appeal to the young. He urges a top-down change, suggesting that "Cultivating intergenerational relationships is one of the most important ways in which effective faith communities are developing flourishing faith in both young and old."

My Response
I see a couple of different types of issues here. The first, obviously, would be valid concerns about potential or real issues in the church. There is (or could be) a problem here and we ought to address it. The other is the opposite. Many have "problems with the church" out of a deep and abiding desire to bend the church to "the new normal", meaning "our present sinful desires" or they have an outright disregard of God and Scripture for which leaving the church is a smokescreen. (Trust me; I know whereof I speak.)

I think a huge part of the problem is America. Okay, too general. America has elevated individualism to the point of godhood. The "question authority" of the '60's and the endearing "follow your dreams" concept has morphed into things like "expressive individualism" -- the idea that each individual determines one's own identity, that living out that identity is good, and that everyone else ought to respect and affirm that identity. Coupled with "nonjudgmentalism" and the new "tolerance" (which simply means "embrace what we want or you won't be tolerated"), they end up believing that "what I want" is the right thing and those who stand in the way are wrong ... even if that's God. No one is urged to ask "Is what I want good?" "Is the dream I want to follow a good thing?" And "question authority" is a rule, a function of its own authority, apparently. We're supposed to question authority, so "You can't tell me what's right!" And, predicated on the Ultimate Authority, Christianity and the Church would represent the perfect synthesis of both authority and questioning what is good.

Having said that, valid concerns are ... well ... valid. Church ought to engage in the real world. Church ought to be deeper than a warm feeling on Sunday and should be teaching more than Bible-lite. Sometimes some churches do oppose science for the sake of opposing science, even though the church has no inherent fight with science; only where science opts to dispute the Truth. That is, the church has an inherent connection to the Truth, especially considering that the ultimate Truth is a person. The church does often fail to restore the one caught in sin (Gal 6:1-2), taking instead a "holier-than-thou", self-righteous anger approach. The church ought to be engaging people with their burdens, their doubts, their real problems. These are valid issues.

On the other hand, the church cannot embrace worldviews opposed to Christ. Makes no sense. They must not pit science against God's Word and assume God was wrong all along and science wins. They must side with God on matters of sexuality, even when modern society does not and especially when self-identified Christians are engaging in sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:9-10). That Christianity is exclusive is a given. Jesus said it; reason demands it. This is not stuff we can change to entice people to come or to stay.

We don't get to make God's Church into whatever we want it to be. "What we want it to be" might be a "we embrace all views and ideas" place or a a tight-laced, narrow-minded, self-righteous place. These are equally not our right. We cannot align church with our preferences; we need to align God's Church with God's preferences and God's Truth. Of course, if we're going to deny the authority of God and the Bible, then that becomes pointless and Christianity is done. But, let's face it, much of the time it doesn't happen; we don't align our churches with God and His Word. It ought to be a concern of every believer who calls Christ "Lord" ... because it's His Church, not ours.


Unknown said...

Thank you for faithfully sharing your bible based truths with us. I read all your articles and, again, am thankful to know there at others who still hold to Truth.

Craig said...

It's a little interesting that this list differs from the list I've been reviewing. Although this does make the point that the author of that list is unaware of the fact that people are looking into the phenomenon.

I do agree that your larger point is important as well. Ultimately it's about God's sovereignty and that He draws people to Himself no matter what we do. Not that we should ignore this kind of thing, just that we shouldn't rely on our strategies.

Bob said...

the whole church process is upside down. .
what we call the worship service amounts to rushing to your seats, sing some songs, then listen to a 20 min sermon. then shake hands and rush out. Sunday school is always optional.
for some reason we think that because we call it a worship service, that it must mean that we are actually worshiping...
Sunday school is anything but.. there is nothing even remotely academic about it.
i think the best solution is to simply disband the whole process and go back to home fellowship and prayer. i noted on the radio when the person referred to the down trend in church attendance, the host asked , so what should we do? maybe it''s the wrong question.
maybe we should do less. dump the programs and the bogus worship circus.
maybe we should make greater demands upon our christian curriculum by providing educated teachers in our Sunday schools. drop the head count for the budget committees and start counting GPA's for our disciples.

Stan said...

Yes, Craig, your list was written by a Millenial. This one was from Barna.

Stan said...

Bob, there are those who are doing just that. Of course, I can't say if it's working ...

Craig said...

Well said.

Craig said...

Are you suggesting that the Barna list might somehow be more accurate?

I'm pretty sure the book I referenced in one of my posts is related to the barn a survey that you mentioned.

Stan said...

No, not more accurate. Just a different perspective. And, of course, the Barna survey was actually just 6 points from the guy's book. I'm sure it was a lot more comprehensive than that.

Craig said...

I'm sure your right about that, if I ever finish my series I'll probably take a shot at the Barna book, to see how much of his stuff is already being done.

I'm guessing Barna has more data.