January 22, 2021

Longing for a Mother, not a Babysitter


I was talking to some old friends the other night and explaining why I had decided to practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition. As we were conversing, it struck me how many of us here at Internet Monk, post-evangelicals in spirit, have taken refuge in historic traditions.

Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk and our muse, did not ultimately find a settled home in a church or denomination. Having moved on from his Baptist roots, in his later years he preached in a Presbyterian church, loved to attend Anglican worship, maintained a love for Lutheran theology, and deeply appreciated Roman Catholic resources for spiritual formation.

His wife became a Roman Catholic and his daughter and son-in-law worship as Anglicans.

Gail and I became Lutherans. One of our daughters and her family participate in a mainline United Methodist congregation, and one of my sons joined a traditional Lutheran congregation.

When I first met Damaris and her family, we were attending a non-denominational evangelical “community” church together. Now they are members of the Catholic church. Jeff has made clear his attraction to Rome as well. We’ve had Martha from Ireland writing for us about church history and the Roman Catholic perspective for some time now, and I think she’s winning converts!

More recently, our friend Mule has been challenging us from an Orthodox perspective.

We have contributors like Lisa, Craig, Adam, and Dan who continue in evangelical churches, but they are thoughtful and, when appropriate, critical in their writings about the evangelical path.

Over at The Christian Pundit, Rebecca VanDoodewaard has written a piece I’ve seen widely shared across the web called, “Young Evangelicals Are Getting High.” In it she asserts, “Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least.”

She suggests that casual evangelicalism feels outdated and passé to many of them, like the church of the 1950’s felt to the Baby Boomers of my generation who created the church growth movement and the contemporary forms of evangelicalism. In another memorable line she says that young people are looking to historic traditions because today’s churches seem stuck in trying to be “fun babysitters” when what people really want is “dutiful mothers.”

VanDoodewaard cites another piece in her article, one by Andrea Palpant Dilley warning churches to proceed with caution when trying to be culturally relevant to the young:

Consider the changes that people go through between age 22 and 32. Consider that some of us in time renew our appreciation for the strengths of a traditional church: historically informed hierarchy that claims accountability at multiple levels, historically informed teaching that leans on theological complexity, and liturgically informed worship that takes a high view of the sacraments and draws on hymns from centuries past.

Some of us want to walk into a cathedral space that reminds us of the small place we inhabit in the great arc of salvation history. We want to meet the Unmoved Mover in an unmoved sanctuary.

So as you change — or as change is imposed upon you — keep your historic identity and your ecclesial soul. Fight the urge for perpetual reinvention, and don’t watch the roll book for young adults.

We’re sometimes fickle. When we come, if we come, meet us where we are. Be present to our doubts and fears and frustrations. Walk with us in the perplexing challenge of postmodern faith.

Even so, your church (and your denomination) might die. My generation and those following might take it apart, brick by brick, absence by absence.

But the next generation might rebuild it. They might unearth the altar, the chalice and the vestments and find them not medieval but enduring. They might uncover the Book of Common Prayer and find it anything but common.

I don’t have statistical evidence to prove that, as Rebecca VanDoodewaard says, young people are returning to historic traditions in droves. If our roster of authors and families here at Internet Monk is any indication, many of us who are Baby Boomers may be. I think that most of us here would say that the older we get, the less stomach we have for the shallow pandering to culture that characterizes so much of contemporary American evangelicalism. Our journey has been a long and winding road through decades of experimenting and fads.

If some of those in younger generations are feeling that way now and doing something about it, perhaps they won’t have to endure some of wilderness experiences many of us had.


  1. Well stated. Older Evangelicals are getting high, also (even when still considering ourselves Evangelical). I’ve long thought of myself as an Evangelical in a “mainline” denomination.

    • > Older Evangelicals are getting high, also (even when still considering ourselves Evangelical)

      Some are, some just leave Christianity all together [I can list some, they never want to even hear about it ever again], and some [such as myself] exit , find an adult alternative, and drop the label.

      • As one who has served on staff in churches of several denominations, the label “evangelical” has never been to me about denomination (or non-denomination), style of worship, and certainly not politics. It has meant an emphasis on the Bible, a (personal) relationship with God the Father through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (Trinitarian), the cross and resurrection, and orthodox belief (the content, if not the exact wording of the Creeds). Thus there are evangelical Methodists, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, etc.

        • There are no evangelical Orthodox.

          Thank you, thank you

          We now return you to our reguarly scheduled programming.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > “evangelical” has never been to me about denomination

          No, the term “evangelical” is not about denomination.

          But your definition “evangelical” equals ‘authentic biblical spiritual christianity” (setting aside what saying you are an Evangelical XYZ then naturally says about any not-Evangelical XYZ) if you polled America I do not believe that is what Evangelical means to anyone who doesn’t use the label for themselves.

          Evangelical is about strict biblical literalism, it is comfortable with the use of state power for sectarian purposes, and it espouses parochial morality [I’d recognize Job’s friends as Evangelical]. Read books by Evangelicals, listen to Evangelical radio – the interests of Evangelicalism are crystal clear [and they own the label].

    • “Evangelical” and ” Evangelicalism” are not necessarily always identical, especially as “Evangelicalism” has come to be (re-)defined in today’s usage. However, Evangelism has its roots back in at least the 18th century. An excellent source for learning about Evangelicalism is the History of Evangelicalism series from InterVarsity Press, beginning with Mark Noll’s “The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys”.

      • That’s “Evangelicalism”, not “Evangelism”. But what can you expect from someone who doesn’t even know his own name?

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    His wife became a Roman Catholic and his daughter and son-in-law worship as Anglicans.

    Gail and I became Lutherans.

    All three Western-Rite Liturgical churches.

    • Christiane says

      ‘Roman’ or ‘Latin rite’ Catholic is ‘western’ in its liturgy, yes;
      but there ARE many Eastern-rite Catholics in the Church (under Rome) . . . my godmother is from a family that came here from the Ukraine and are eastern-rite Catholics (I think you call it ‘Byzantine’ Catholics) . . .

      they recognize the Pope, and accept all the Church’s theological and moral teachings,
      but pray in the ways of Eastern Christianity, and have their own liturgical traditions.

      People hear ‘Catholic’ and they think ‘Roman Catholic’; but there are many other rites beside the Latin rite in the Catholic Church, and there ARE Catholics who celebrate an eastern Christian liturgy.

  3. If this phenomenon really exists, is an American phenomenon. In Spain and Italy the seminaries and Catholic churches are empty. The average age of those who go to church must be around 70 years. Most young people are disgusted with the Catholic Church.

    • Lector, I lived in Europe for several years, and although I agree with the validity of your observation, I disagree with what I sense to be your explanation for it. In my opinion, formed by what I have read and experienced, many young western Europeans are rejecting the cultural Church, the sense of being Catholic by osmosis and family tradition. Not sure at ALL that this is a bad thing. Just as our Hebrew brothers and sisters struggle with those who are Jewish as a social construct rather than a faith, so many Christians, especially Catholics in the “old world” grew into the superficial trappings of the Church without a lick of real thought, exploration, or faith. THIS they are rejecting, and should. Christianity is not a set of meaningless traditions, but a deep and abiding service to the Maker of the universe who became Man to save us and show us what “Love” looks like. Better, IMHO, to be an agnostic than a shadow Christian with a “faith” that doesn’t exist.

      In other words, either choose an adult faith and struggle with living it, or have the cojones to reject all the superficial trappings to keep Nona or Granmutti happy…

      • Pattie, surely it is a complex phenomenon with many causes.
        It seems obvious to me, especially in Spain, that in the last 30 years there has been a very strong secularization. Often the Catholic Church has helped strengthen this trend. For example, you can not preach poverty and live with state taxes.
        I feel tenderness when I read American/protestants blogs like this that have a completely idealized image of the Catholic Church. I envy the protestant naivety.
        If this blog were Italian or Spanish would be titled Dispatches from post-catholic wilderness 🙂
        Or perhaps the authors would become atheists (in Catholic countries, God and christianity are monopolized by the Catholic Church, others churches are simply cults).

        • And there are political (etc.) reasons as well… Franco was supported by the RCC hierarchy; there’s the long, painful legacy of the Inquisition, which was used by the state as a tool to suppress political dissent and did not end until the mid-19th c.

          I think younger Spaniards have *plenty* of reasons to walk away from the church, really.

          • A little anedoct: My father told me that when he was a child, the Guardia Civil (a police force) checked to make sure everyone in the village where he lived went to Mass. Then, since in catholic countries the morality is rigid only on paper, they were able to circumvent the law 🙂

        • If this blog were Italian or Spanish would be titled Dispatches from post-catholic wilderness 🙂

          Yes, you are right!

        • Lector,
          As a former Roman Catholic, to me this is the post-Roman Catholic wilderness; many of my wilderness wandering companions on this blog have a far more sanguine attitude toward the RC Church than I can ever have.

          Sociologist Peter Berger thinks that, based on the existing data, the mainline churches in the US serve as half-way houses to both secularization and disaffiliation from religious institutions. If he’s correct, then the movement of young evangelicals into mainline churches would be followed either by their or their children’s movement out of the mainlines and completely away from any religious institutional affiliation, and away from historical Christianity.

          • Robert F, I completely agree with you.
            In my little experience, most people I know, disappointed by the Catholic Church, has become agnostic. Or retains some vague religiosity, without any connection with Christianity.
            For most people in Spain or Italy, the evangelical churches are not even an option, because ordinary people do not have the culture of religious plurality, as happens in the U.S. The Protestants churches are often associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons. And if you leave the Catholic Church, the road is agnosticism or atheism. Unfortunately the exodus towards atheism has been massive in recent decades.
            In my opinion, in the West, Christianity, in any of its forms, will become a small minority belief.

  4. I’m 33 and have exited the Neo Puritan world (it started souring on me after only 2 years starting in 2008). I’m now a catechumen in the Orthodox Church.

    The Divine Liturgy speaks to me – by changing my heart, bit by bit. I’m so glad to have found a home where union with Christ is tangibly there. For me, it’s also a place where emotion has very little to do with worship (if anything at all!). And I think that’s a good place to be.

    • Welcome to the family, and soon the Table. As paraphrased by the late Fr. Andrew Greely, the Catholic Church really means….”here comes Everybody…”.

    • Dana Ames says

      mr s, glad to “meet” you and glad you are on your way in… Our stories are so interesting. What I find re emotions in worship is that the emotions don’t lead (emotionalism); they are there, but in their proper place. I sing in the choir, and sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by… whatever… and the tears flow, this does not phase our choirmaster (or anyone else) at all. He understands that all I need is a few moments, and when I “recover” I resume singing. In O., honest tears are a good thing (which is a great blessing for me being of Italian heritage…) Another choir member had a sudden and tragic death in her family, and she was told not to sing that Sunday, but to stand with a friend in the congregation and mourn… This did not take away from the Resurrectional focus of the liturgy for her, but was an honest expression of a reality of life, which is enfolded in the Church. One of the many things I love about it…


  5. PS: I’ve loved Mule’s posts.

  6. “We’ve had Martha from Ireland writing for us about church history and the Roman Catholic perspective for some time now, and I think she’s winning converts!”

    *feels immediate need to crawl under rock and hide*


    • Christiane says

      a thoroughly Catholic response! 🙂
      Martha, your lack of personal hubris is SO refreshing . . .

      In researching my grandmother’s Southern Baptist faith, I’ve seen enough ‘hubris’ displayed by some who are trying to convert others to Christian fundamentalism to last me a life-time, and the sad thing is they don’t understand the incredible irony of what they are doing in attempting to bring others into their view of Christianity without using the ‘fruit’ of the Holy Spirit . . . indeed, among those who are strict fundamentalists, there seems to be a profound lack of trust in the great power of personal humility and it’s connection to God’s gift of grace

      • Christiane, it’s not lack of hubris, it’s self-preservation from when the pitchfork and torch-wielding mob wants my head once they find out the reality of what Catholicism As She Is Lived is like 🙂

  7. Steve Newell says

    As one who was raised in the SBC tradition and now in a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregation, I have found a depth of theology and of worship that I found missing in the SBC. For example, I find great wisdom and biblical understanding when I have read parts of the Lutheran Confessions that I found lacking the minimalist theology of the SBC. I also found that traditional form of worship that is part of Lutheran tradition is much stronger in being Christ centered than what I found in many worship services. Between the liturgy, music and sermon, there is Holy Scripture through the worship service.

    What I find lacking in the Lutheran tradition is the strong culture of personal discipleship. There is a mindset that after confirmation, there is not a need to continue to study Holy Scripture and to grow in the faith.

    • About “not a need to continue…” – true in and of some Lutherans, very much not true of others.

      I’m ELCA, spent time in the 80s attending an LCMS church, and if anything, they were big on Bible study etc.

  8. I think it would be overstating to say ‘droves’. In the blogging world we are very vocal, and I know a handful in my community, but the numbers are not high. We are exceeded by those leaving the liturgical and mainlines. In fact, at the same time I joined my local ELCA church, a larger group left for the evangelical non-denominational world.

    • Shoot, I posted a big comment and it disappeared. It had a bunch of stats and stuff.

      Basically, Allen, you’re completely right. Liturgical and Mainlines denominations are all dropping pretty quickly – around 0.5 and 2% per year. Evangelical as a whole are sort of holding steady or slowly declining.

      Non-denominational and Charismatic/Pentecostal are the only groups that are increasing their numbers.

      People usually look around themselves, and extrapolate out to the big picture. In this case, Rebecca has looked around herself, written her opinion based on her personal circle, and applied it to the whole US picture.

      However, she’s just not accurate about anything. Some people are moving to the “high” church from the evangelical circles, but far more are leaving.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > I think it would be overstating to say ‘droves’.

      But that is what the Internet does; it exaggerates trends. Foreign Relations magazine did an article awhile back talking about the ‘secularization of Europe’ and religious trends in the Old West. This includes the death of Christianity, the peril of the Roman Catholic church, etc… which have been brought up in these comments as well. They found, after analyzing the data: ‘yea, not so much’. Enormous organizations can dwindle for a l-o-n-g time, everyone talks about their dwindling – they are *still* enormous. What I remember from the article is there were demographics with steep drop offs, especially younger, especially more affluent. But not everywhere, not everyone, and pockets where the numbers went the other way. That is Europe, and a different (but kinda related) issue, but it illustrates the point. What someone sees in their pocket may not be generally illustrative. I do not doubt what she sees is real. I see some of the same thing, but that’s just in my (probably odd and anomalous) pocket. And will they stick one they arrive there? Will trends continue? They will, until they don’t.

      • Another aspect is the near explosive growth of Bible-based faith ih Africa and Latin America. In fact, in many parts of Latin America, you are asked if you are Catholic, or Christian.

  9. In regards to the Christian Pundit article, I think we need to look at it carefully, and critically, as Scot McKnight did over at Michael Bird’s site:

    Scot stated: “Overall that article lacked the credibility of numbers that gave her apocalyptic warnings substance. How many, really, are moving into the more liturgical framework? How many are nibbling on liturgy in nondenominational churches is another question, and does not indicate move toward “high” church. That requires communion with on one of the “high” churches; it requires a church that celebrates eucharist as the high point of the service; it entails lectionary preaching; it means recitation of the Creed.
    I read the article on this so-called high church move as an uninformed rant instead of a reasoned article, which we need. I wrote on this in an article called From Wheaton to Rome, now in a book called Finding Faith, Losing Faith (Baylor Univ Press).”

    In that From Wheaton to Rome article, Scot writes: “First…until evangelicals learn to take seriously the importance of liturgy and aesthetics as a true embodiment of the gospel, they will lose converts to those sectors of the Church that do so. Second, I lay down another observation: until the Roman Catholic Church learns to focus on gospel preaching of personal salvation, on the importance of personal piety for all Christians—and abandons its historical two-level ethic—and personal study, and on the Bible itself, there will be many who will leave Catholicism to join in the ranks of evangelicalism. There is something wrong in Rome that leads so many to Wheaton, or to Willow Creek!”


    • McKnight’s article was written in 2002 and it remains to be seen if the situation has changed much since then.

      I suggest that Scot might not be as well-informed about changes in Roman Catholicism as he is about evangelicalism. I continue to maintain that the changes of Vatican II are bringing changes that future generations may see as a second Reformation. If the Church seriously deals with the sex abuse scandal and cleans up its act there and becomes revived by the energy of the growth that is happening in the Global South, there may be a season of abundance ahead for the Roman Catholic Church.

      • I do not agree with the fact that the Second Vatican Council will be a second Reformation. It seems to me a very, very optimistic analysis, but it is a matter too hard for my broken English.
        Instead I agree with the fact that the future of the Christian churches, not just the Roman Catholic, is in the southern hemisphere. In Rome, where I live, it is increasingly common to see priests from South of the world who work in Italian parishes.
        I do not think the line of demarcation regarding this topic is catholic vs protestant. The real boundary that marks the growth or decline of Christianity is opulence vs poverty (said in a very simplistic way). In poor countries, among the most needy, the Good News takes root much more easily than in affluent societies. In the highly consumerist society, the Good News has less and less space, or become a commodity. In fact, for those of us who are strangers to the American world, the American evangelical churches resemble too much to the marketing business. The church is reduced to a company that sells a product.
        This reminds me of the divine warning to the people of Israel:
        ” When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery,
        Deuteronomy 8:12-14
        New English Translation (NET)

        • “The real boundary that marks the growth or decline of Christianity is opulence vs poverty.” Excellent point, Lector. We in the opulent countries can only pray that God will bless us with hardship.

        • I do not agree with the fact that the Second Vatican Council will be a second Reformation. It seems to me a very, very optimistic analysis

          Lector, I agree. In the US, there were many good things happening in the 10+ years following Vatican II, but to me it seems as if Rome – and some bishops here – have been working very hard to overturn many of the changes that came from Vatican II.

          *if* things change so that priests are allowed to marry, that will be a sign of a true “reformation.” (In my opinion – I wish they would ordain women, too, but I doubt that will ever happen.)

        • Lector,
          Your analysis is spot on; affluence and consumerism give people the impression that they are in control of their lives, that they, not God, are sovereign. Of course, the dream of unending economic growth is unsustainable; the recent economic downturn that hit the global market gives a sense of what will happen when the big, illusory bubble of endless economic expansion finally bursts. Who knows what will happen in North America and Europe in that eventuality? But for the present, what you say is true, and Christianity will wither in the affluent countries of the Global North.

        • Josh in FW says

          great point

          • I wonder whether it is material abundance that is the tipping point, or the busy-ness that is required to acquire and maintain it all. Objects can consume a great deal of emotional and spiritual energy.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > until the Roman Catholic Church learns to focus on gospel preaching of personal salvation, on the
      > importance of personal piety for all Christians

      I’m not an official Roman Catholic. But I consume a fair amount of Catholic media, attend Catholic services, etc…

      I do not recognize the Roman Catholicism you speak of. There is *TREMENDOUS* emphasis on personal salvation. There is constant encouragement of personal piety.

      I’m trying to recall how often the term “piety” was every used when I walked in Evangelical circles – the use of “rapture” easily out-numbered the use of “piety”.

      The comparison seems entirely wrong-way to me.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve experienced a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Fire Insurance with complementary Rapture Boarding Pass. And complete indifference to others except as Potential Converts.

  10. The statistics of nationwide attendance trends DO NOT match the opinion in the article. In fact, statistics show quite the opposite.

    This is a self-selection bias. The author of the piece fits what she wrote about, and she tends to have friends to also follow the same track. What is a large portion of the readership here at InternetMonk? Disaffected or at least unsatisfied evangelicals. The article will likely match much of the readership here.

    When you get a group of similar people together, they can look at what they see around them (on the Internet or physical) and decide that the rest of the world is like what they see around them. What do they see? People dissatisfied with evangelical Christianity and moving to other types.

    However, once you look at the nationwide statistics, there is a very different picture presented.

    Lutherans are shrinking like crazy, both ELCA and all the different splinters. (between 0.5 and 2% per year)

    Catholics are shrinking in all the demographics except for immigrants. (holding steady overall, but non-immigrants are shrinking by 1-3% per year)

    Episcopalian and Anglican are dwindling rapidly as well. (0.5 to 2% per year)

    Baptists are also shrinking at a slower rate overall, but they are aging rapidly as they are quickly losing their youth while retaining most adults. Not a sustainable long-term trend. Something I think Michael mentioned a time or two.

    Where are the only types of Christianity which aren’t losing members like crazy? Non-denominational and Charismatic/Pentecostal.

    Non-denominational churches are growing around 4% per year, though the studies vary because it’s difficult to get reliable numbers since there’s no overarching body. The Charismatic and Pentecostal crowds are dominated by the AG denomination which is growing around 2% per year, and several of the smaller denominations like the Church of Christ and others, are growing between 1 and 4% per year. Overall growth around 1%.

    Rebecca’s article is not accurate at the large scale. It is, at best only an accurate statement of what she sees in the circles around her. The same is true here on IM. Many here are uncomfortable with the broadly evangelical scene, and so read this article and see it match the circles they are in (on- and/or off-line).

    But, just like the plural of anecdote is not data, in spite of what people may see in the circles right around themselves, when looking at the larger picture, the idea that some large trend in population is leaving evangelical churches for liturgical / “high” churches, is simply not accurate.

    • Whoops, ninja’d by Allen right above me. I’ll type more quickly next time.

    • I would agree that it is not a “large trend.”

      I have also read statistics that indicate even the non-denoms and charismatic churches are actually declining, though at a lesser rate than some mainlines.

      I would also suggest that at least some who are leaving more progressive mainline churches are not necessarily going to non-denom evangelical churches but to more conservative bodies that are connected to historic traditions: newer conservative Anglican churches, LCMS and newer Lutheran bodies, PCA or Evangelical Presbyterian, as well as Roman Catholic and Orthodox. And I would hazard a guess that many who do try out the non-denom churches will not stay there for the long term. As we have written here often, they are good at attracting (which feeds “growth” statistics) but poor at sustaining faith over the seasons of life.

      • Agreed all the way.

        AG (for an example that is the largest of the Pente/Charis denoms) hasn’t shrunk as of their most recent releases, but they are growing very, very slowly.

        I don’t think there is any group except for non-denom (which has all the issues you mention) that is growing as fast as population, and so in real-life comparison to the total population means they’re shrinking. If you have $100 in the bank and it gets 0.5% interest while inflation is 2.5%, you’re losing even if you have $100.50 in the bank after a year.

        The graphical representations of flows between denominations and non-denoms and non-believers looks a lot like spaghetti with generally larger flows from the liturgical to the evangelical than the other way around.

        That’s not a serious problem. The big problem is that the graphic shows MUCH bigger flows going to the non-believer category than coming out. 🙁

        I’m a grumpy cuss, but articles like this one that talk about how great or horrible some population movement between denominations is … well they generally irritate me to no end. To at least some extent it’s rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

        Almost every denomination, all the high/liturgical denoms, and most certainly Christianity in the US as a whole — they’re shrinking in the number of people following Christ. But all too often there are cheers or groans based on nothing more than rearrangements a few thousand souls between denominations while the Church in the US is losing people/souls by the millions.

        And then an article like this gets even the basic raw numbers completely backwards and I go into full Grumpy Gus Mode.

        • prayer for help says

          I’m a grumpy cuss, but articles like this one that talk about how great or horrible some population movement between denominations is … well they generally irritate me to no end. To at least some extent it’s rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


      • CM,
        Many young people disaffiliating from the mainline churches of their childhood are leaving Christianity; the Europeanization of America has begun in earnest. Barring significant social changes, the numbers of those who identify with Christianity in the US will continue to dwindle, and the bleeding will accelerate in future decades.

        • Robert, as one who loves Luther, your comment actually gives me hope. For I believe in the hidden God who reveals himself in the guise of the cross. He seldom appears among the popular and prosperous and “successful.” If God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, then I long for the day when the church is weak.

          • Robert F says

            Most of my life I have experienced God as hidden, and that continues to be the case. I haven’t concerned myself too much with how influential Christianity is in our culture, because I’ve always been suspicious of the triumphalism of Constantinianism; when Christianity had the chance to shape the Western secular, world it did so in ways not too different from those of classical European paganism. Christendom had its chance, and failed; in the West we have entered a new era, and who knows how it will turn out?

            But I have to say, when I see some of the things moving into the vacuum left by Christendom, it alarms me. There is a growth in coarseness, and there is a glorification of brutality, violence and obscenity that seems not merely unchristian (that’s to be expected) but inhuman. The god of our age is self and its preferences, as EO theologian David Bentley Hart has written, and at the core of the self that claims autonomy from God there is by definition the nothing, and the increasingly meaningless and vile spectacles that the nothing projects to fill the emptiness left by unawareness of the divine.

            To talk about the hiddenness of God as a hopeful sign for those who have faith in the God who reveals himself in the cross is one thing, and there may be truth in it; but to live with the facts on the ground in a society denuded of the vestiges of Christian humanism (not denying its failures) and its humanizing values is, from what I’ve seen so far, shaping up to be something else altogether.

          • Robert F says

            “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
            Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

    • WebMonk, is there a single source for the numbers you are reporting here? Just curious …

    • Episcopalian and Anglican are dwindling rapidly as well. (0.5 to 2% per year)

      I think this might be off, reg. the anglican numbers especially. I’ll be happy to check this with some stat geeks at my anglican parish and report back, but this does not sound right to me.

      Greg R

      • Episcopal Church numbers

        The denomination sunk to 2.1 million active, baptized members in 2006, down from 2.4 million. Average Sunday attendance is 765,326, one-third of the membership. Sixty-three percent of its congregations have fewer than 100 people attend Sunday morning services.

        By the end of 2006, there were 7,095 parishes and missions, down 60 congregations from the previous year. During that same period, membership dropped 2 percent, which works out to 50,804 people leaving the church — 1,000 a week.

        • Robert F says

          At the same time, the Anglican church is the fastest growing traditional denomination in Africa, and the growth is in the tens of millions in the last decade or two.

  11. There is absolutely nothing to be triumphalistic about in our current situation. All communions are facing the same challenges. Our priest reminded us last week that 60% of young people leave the Orthodox Church in their 20s, never to return. Only half of those who leave ever reconnect with another Christian tradition.

    In counterpoint to this, I heard the same dismal note sounded at an Assemblies of God youth camp my daughter was participating in when the D-CAP (old timey A/G people will know what I’m referring to) mourned that the Assemblies of God was facing an 80% defection rate, and that 4 out of 5 of them would have to be reevangelized five years from now.

    It doesn’t matter if you use smells and bells or pizza and drums.

    My gut instinct tells me its because they either are having consumer smorgasbord sex and feel guilty about it or because they want to have consumer smorgasbord sex and don’t want to feel guilty about it. I’m including girls in this as well.

    But, as the Faithful Narrator relates, that’s a story for a different day.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      My gut instinct tells me its because they either are having consumer smorgasbord sex and feel guilty about it or because they want to have consumer smorgasbord sex and don’t want to feel guilty about it.

      If so, how many of them are honest about it? I’ve seen a lot of Sophisticated Intellectual Reasons end up as a coat of paint over “I WANNA!”, and it’s actually refreshing when someone’s honest about it.

      To further confuse the issue, that is also given as a glib surface reason (right up there with Exposure to Evilution) for kids leaving the church or joining the Nones at 18 when the real reasons have more to do with abusive church environments. JMJ/Christian Monist has written about this many times; he knows a lot of kids (including at least one of his own) who bailed because of “Evangelical Phoniness”, but the reason given from the pulpit was “they wanted to have consumer smorgasboard sex”.

    • Yeah, I’m gonna name “consumer smorgasboard sex” as a lie taught from pulpits. Might be true in some cases, but overall it seems something pastors heard from other pastors and thus must be true and worth repeating.

      Then again, in my experience, those who are having “consumer smorgasboard sex” are the ones who are still in the church and often in positions of leadership handed to them by the elders, while the ones who are fighting and struggling to NOT have “consumer smorgasboard sex” are leaving churches in droves as they slowly go insane.

      Even in church, those who are deeply apathetic and can lie do better than those who feel and truly believe.

      • Josh in FW says

        ” those who are deeply apathetic and can lie do better than those who feel and truly believe.”
        It’s sad how true this statement is.

      • I agree with Mule that sexual promiscuity is a major factor in people leaving the Church. There is a HUGE divide between the traditional Christian teaching on sexual intercourse as an “act of marriage” and the current cultural norm regarding sex. Factor in the availability and influence of pornography, and sinful sexual behavior really is an epidemic from a traditional Christian perspective. This has to be a major contributing factor to young people leaving their churches.

      • That’s why I said it was just a gut feeling. I’ve seen the evaporation in lots of churches going back to the 80s. Kids do get detached during the college years, and fewer of them are finding their way back after marriage and parenthood. Of course, there is a decline in traditional marriage as well.

        Maybe the smorgasbørd sex is a symptom, not a cause.

        And I don’t think Father/Pastor/Elder Mcrapeyrape is as common as the media or the Internet megaphone makes him out to be. That has not been my experience, but as has been so ardently pointed out here, the plural of anecdote is not data.

        • It’s almost impossible for Father/Pastor/Elder Mcrapeyrape to NOT be overrepresented in media. It’s something that ought to be reported, for one; and the combo of clerics, coverups (and there are always coverups), and kiddie-fiddling does make for one hell of a story. “90-something% of pastors have rock-solid respect for boundaries where children are involved” is a pretty lame headline.

        • I was about to post the same thing. I left in 1980 when the fun (and yes, sex) of being a college freshman was more appealing than my cold, aloof family and the faith they espoused. Now, older and wiser, I am getting reacquainted with scripture in preparation for rejoining a church.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Then again, in my experience, those who are having “consumer smorgasboard sex” are the ones who are still in the church and often in positions of leadership handed to them by the elders…

        Or Elders or Pastors themselves (ain’t just Catholics with clergy sex scandals…).

        Rank Hath Its Privileges.

    • And it isn’t just the young who are leaving the Faith for “consumer smorgasboard sex.” Over the past 25 years I can count at least 5 different people I knew well from my small Bible College class (ministry dropouts like me) who openly live in sin today and proclaim “I’ve never been happier.” To which I can’t help but respond, God is more interested in your holiness than He is your happiness.

      “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”
      Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

      • TPD: do you think your friends are perhaps happier because they have left narrow, rule-bound evangelicalism behind, rather than because they are “living in sin”? (I must admit that the phrase makes me cringe; it is not something I’ve heard much since the late 60s-early 70s, and even then, it came across – usually – as either judgmental or jokey.)

        • The problem is consumerism and affluence; sexual libertinism is just one of its symptoms.

        • Numo – I believe “living in sin” is a legitimate term. As opposed to someone who struggles with alcoholism, struggles with sexual addiction, struggles with… whatever. The term “living in sin” denotes someone who has given up fighting and given in. The people I am referencing all abandoned spouses and children so they could start over with someone younger, prettier, richer, or even just hop from person to person. Christian virtue will always look narrow because it assigns definitions to words like “right” and “wrong.”

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        >openly live in sin today and proclaim “I’ve never been happier.”

        But turn it around – isn’t this an utterly shattering condemnation of the “my small Bible College class” community? That many people in it are miserable. Something is clearly wrong, but the Evangelical issue is [I had it once too] is to stand inside and look out at them, and ponder what went wrong ‘with them’.

        Cultures are nearly, or simply are, impossible to change; even when the evidence is thunderously obvious.

        >To which I can’t help but respond, God is more interested in your holiness than He is your happiness.

        To which they would respond, and I would in an honest moment echo: “then screw him!” But it is a false construct that holiness ~= misery. It just seems sooooo true in some circles.

        Aside: Personally, I feel “holiness” is God’ province; it is can be a terrible thing to approach. I’d stick with “piety”, “righteousness”, and “charity”.

        > “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the
        > battlefield is the heart of man.”

        To which they would respond: “no, my heart is my own. God and the devil can go elsewhere.” It is not their call to make, but the quote won’t change anyone’s mind.

        • Adam,

          “holiness ~= misery” No holiness=being set apart to God. The contrast between holiness and happiness is the contrast between living for what pleases me (my happiness) or what pleases God (my holiness). Many times they are one in the same. But when they are at odds with each other, then which do we choose?

          “no, my heart is my own” No, it isn’t. God made you and He has every right to every part of you. You can deny it but you will find out it is true in the end.

        • +1

    • Can we please retire “smorgasbord sex” as a phrase? As someone of Swedish descent who has been to smorgasbord-type events, I cringe to imagine what “lutefisk sex” would entail….
      (don’t ruin sex with the smorgasbord…)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      >My gut instinct tells me its because they either are having consumer smorgasbord sex and
      >feel guilty about it or because they want to have consumer smorgasbord sex and don’t want
      > to feel guilty about it. I’m including girls in this as well.

      Yep. My conversations indicate they leave, nothing goes terribly wrong, they shrug, and continue on their way. I do not believe it is “don’t want to feel guilty about it” – it is just they do not feel guilty about it. If there is not guilt, no sin, then we should be honest – Christianity is entirely pointless.

      Psychologists say there is not gesture more dismissive or condescending than the role of the eyes. And that is what will greet you if you mention “chastity”, “modesty”, etc… “Humility” will get you a bit further, but don’t get specific. Once someone really doesn’t care about these things it feels like the slamming of a door.

  12. It seems remiss on this post on refuge in historical traditions to not mention those called radical reformers. You could read Menno Simons or many others to give more weight to what I’m trying to say, but there has always been groups in opposition to institutional in any sense. There seems today mounting ethos for multi-voiced worship. I add this in the spirit of everything should be done so that the church may be built up. I think many traditional churches incorporate a blend of coming together with weekday meetings being spirit filled in the sense of individuals bringing heartfelt offerings, and liturgical services being spirit filled in the sense of corporate offerings.

    • I have been wanting for some time to give more attention to Anabaptist traditions here at IM. I hope we can incorporate some posts on that subject soon.

      • That’s cool… but please keep in mind that there’s a strong tendency toward rigid definitions and expectations re. gender roles among Mennonites and Church of the Brethren folks. That can be *very* difficult, for women especially.

  13. Dan LaRue says

    I found not only a “mother” in the Lutheran tradition, but also brothers and sisters. I found the evangelical/fundamentalist world where I grew up to be excessively individualistic, where one “found” Christ one by one and basically had to figure out how to live for him on one’s own. Rather a Lone Ranger brand of Christianity. That works to a certain point to where one needs other people. In the Lutheran tradition I noticed that all of Paul’s commands are written in the plural, something we miss in English, but which I noticed reading the Lutherbibel in German. And there is more of a sense of community, for instance in baptisms of infants/children where the whole congregation recites the baptismal vows and agrees to help the new person in the Christian faith. Maybe I am unique, but I don’t think so, but when I went through a spiritual crisis, while still in an evangelical church…I noted that the persons standing with me and helping were NOT my church acquaintances by and large, rather friends who were Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic….Even the Lone Ranger has Tonto, after all.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Maybe I am unique, but I don’t think so, but when I went through a spiritual crisis, while still in an evangelical church…I noted that the persons standing with me and helping were NOT my church acquaintances by and large, rather friends who were Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic….

      You have just stated how the Official Body of Christ and the actual Body of Christ can be two different groupings.

      I suspect one reason is the American Evangelical focus on Personal Salvation and Only Personal Salvation. You won’t find much sense of community (except in the sense of Forced Community(TM) by fiat) in a church tradition made up of individual “ME & JESUS” atomistic units.

      • Christiane says

        they need to learn that ‘conformity’ is not the same as ‘community’ . . . I think evangelicals (some) have difficulties with each other’s diversity, and if they could come to terms and accept each other’s uniqueness and points of view with genuine respect, it might help build community among them that would be more nourishing for them

        all I here right now in the world of Southern Baptists who are fundamentalists is pride in their ‘exclusivity’ . . . it gets old very quickly

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That’s something I noticed from my time in-country. You’d think that all these independent splinter “Fellowships” (don’t call themselves churches) would be wildly anarchistic. That’s true only on the macro level, between different “fellowships(TM)”; on the personal level within each non-a-congregation, the level of Conformity is somewhere between North Korea and a Borg Cube.

  14. After a more than two year period of being rather nomadic in our church attendance, my wife have finally kind of settled in an Anglican church. We come from a Pentecostal background, but we grew to feel out of place in many Pentecostal churches. It wasn’t really that we didn’t find the people friendly, per se, but it was just that we found that a lot of what goes on these churches is, well, spiritual fluff for lack of a better term. It’s not just Pentecostal churches, though. It seems that many Evangelical churches are still stuck in the mindset that says more is better when it comes to things like fancy lighting systems, sound systems, and video walls. It’s not that I can say I totally dislike modern worship music (some of it I do, though) it’s just that I hate all the pretension that surrounds it. I hate that pastors and worship leader feel the need to wear flannel shirts and get tattoos just to prove that they’re “just like everyone else”. Most normal people I know don’t really dress like that… 🙂

    But, anyway, the Anglican congregation we’ve been going to is still pretty low church overall, and it maintains a lot of Evangelical, even Charismatic, elements. But I love the liturgy in it. I love the that Eucharist is celebrated every week, and I love that we’re all invited to partake in “the gifts of God for the people of God”. I do appreciate that by doing this, we are connecting to something bigger and older than our contemporary situation.

    All that being said, I still don’t know I notice a mass influx of evangelicals to liturgical churches. It seems to me that there are still plenty of my peers who are happy in their evangelical surroundings. What I see most of is people becoming more entrenched in that in some way – they become part of “the show” and love the lights, camera, and action part of it. Or some people simply leave and don’t go anywhere. I do have some friends who have gone the liturgical route, but it’s not very many.

  15. Let’s just rephrase and say we are getting more QUALITY people back into the liturgical churches, those who want to go deeper than the surface, or who have taken the faith as their own. In my own parish I have lost a number of luke warm parishioners to secularism, meaning that Church is not at all an important factor in their life. I have seen more folks going to the non-denoms for the fun stuff they do (and especially to the AoG down the street for the works they do). I have also seen folks leaving because, upon getting married to a non-Catholic they decide to make a comprimise – which usually turns out to be Lutheran or Prebyterian tradition.

    Bu those who have entered the Church come in with a hunger and a wealth of knowledge, and a desire to grow spiritually. And that’s a good thing…

    As for Orthodox… Greek Orthodox is accepting of those coming from other traditions… the Serbian Orthodox down the street are too suspitious of non-serbs so not so much.

    • I’ve also noticed that among the handful of people I have personally talked to who have left the evangelical mega-church style church for liturgical traditions that the majority of them do indeed take their faith seriously. In fact, they probably took it seriously before they joined said liturgical tradition, but (if their experience is similar to mine) didn’t find anyone else that took it seriously. Church was “fun hangout and socialize time” rather than actual worship time.

      Getting more quality people into liturgical churches bodes well for those churches, but bad for those churches they left. Because while the liturgical church they joined gained a “quality” believer, the church they left lost one. I think a better measure of how well a church or tradition is doing is how many “quality” believers they have, rather than the number of believers they have. A church composed of 20 or so quality believers is far healthier than a church of 10,000 lukewarm ones.

      My natural reaction (as is probably many others as well) to hear of declining church numbers is for me to get all worried and hear alarm bells ringing. However I think we need to look past the numbers and take a look at the actual people that still compose the churches. A small worldwide church composed mainly of believers who take their faith seriously and strive to be more like Christ everyday is far better for Christianity than a large worldwide church where 50%-60% (just pulling numbers out of thin air there) say are lukewarm and don’t take their faith seriously. Were this change to actually take place it should, theoretically, improve the opinion and image of Christianity overall since most of those who remain would actually be Christians who actually practice Christianity; all the lukewarm ones who simply claimed to be “Christian” would have been “disposed” of.

    • Let’s just rephrase and say we are getting more QUALITY people back into the liturgical churches, those who want to go deeper than the surface, or who have taken the faith as their own.

      I’ve gotten that impression as well, but I don’t like to say it much. Too easy to come off sounding (or maybe, to easy to be) arrogant and self-congratulatory. “People leave our tradition for yours for shallow reasons, but they come to ours from yours because they want to go deeper in the faith and you aren’t giving them that.”

      At the same time though, no one goes from Evangelical to a mainline or non-Protestant church without taking it seriously. When you grow up thinking that mainlines are where you go for dead ritual and liberalism, and that Catholicism probably isn’t even Christianity, you don’t make a move that direction casually.

      • Your last paragraph is spot on, Michael. That does not give those taking this step special status, but I’ve yet to see a case where this was NOT a thought out change of course, carefully done. Because my anglican communion does not make a big deal about “anglican is THE way…..” I feel free to shrug off those who want to naysay my change in course. If you really want the non-denomish BIG SHOW, then go for it dude….

  16. David Cornwell says

    Just a random thought:

    If John the Revelator were to suddenly appear among us, or more likely away somewhere in exile, to whom would the letters to the churches be addressed? I think it would not be to individual congregations in different cities, but to large parts of the Church (maybe Evangelical, Roman, Eastern…etc.). What would the letters say?

    “Tell me what’s John writin’? Ask the Revelator
    What’s John writin’? Ask the Revelator
    What’s John writin’? Ask the Revelator”

  17. If preaching the gospel attracts people and brings them in, as I’ve heard some pastors say repeatedly, then why are churches declining everywhere?

    • My take – luke warm parents who don’t take the time to pass on the faith or are too busy to go to church themselves don’t prepare their kids forthe onslaught of secularism… which the kids are bombarded with daily… so given those odds what do you think is going to haapen? Secondly… to a smaller degree at least in my neck of the woods… keeping the kids in an artificial christian bubble and not subjecting them to what is going on in a world as a whole aka homogenized communitee (can see this happening in the south), causes culture shock when they go off to college and the whole “I’ve been lied to” experience…..

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Secondly… to a smaller degree at least in my neck of the woods… keeping the kids in an artificial christian bubble and not subjecting them to what is going on in a world as a whole aka homogenized communitee (can see this happening in the south), causes culture shock when they go off to college and the whole “I’ve been lied to” experience…..

        This angle — the “Just like fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” Bubble phenomenon — is currently being covered by a lot of blogs. It is possible to go from birth/Altar Call to “Homegoing”/Rapture in the Christianese Bubble without ever encountering the real world outside of drive-by prosletyzing sallies. And immersion in the world outside (like “go off to college”/informal Rumspringa) often causes a fatal-to-faith reality check.

        Does God and Christ want us to live in the real world, or some Christianese Bubble Hothouse?

      • So true… about the bubble. It’s a very comfy middle – to upper class christian bubble here where I live and although lot’s of people go to lot’s of churches…and the mega ones keep growing – there are a lot of people (probably me as well) who have little idea what really following Jesus is about…

    • Dana Ames says

      For me, the problem crystallized as “What exactly is ‘the gospel’?” “The Gospel” is one of those phrases that we think we all know what we mean when we say it, but what gets preached may not actually be the gospel, the good news, as recorded in Scripture, and because of which the martyrs of the first 3 centuries gave their lives… Too often, what “preaching the Gospel” has meant has been laying out of program of Sin Management (D. Willard). For many serious people, this becomes a rut, a hamster wheel going nowhere. We all know we’re supposed to be good… Okay, I have acceptedJesusChristasmypersonalLordandSavior… Now what??

      I’ve been away from RC too long to be able to venture an opinion about that, but I do agree with Rad about the Christian bubble/culture shock experience of young people. Fr Stephen Freeman writes that secularism – the strict division of reality into 2 parts and the insistence that the non-material has no place in the material world/life – is the most dangerous thing… it is a given in our modern western culture. It is not so much that we are bombarded with it (though we are) but that we are swimming in it…


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Fr Stephen Freeman writes that secularism – the strict division of reality into 2 parts and the insistence that the non-material has no place in the material world/life – is the most dangerous thing…

        Which cuts both ways — the non-material has no place in material reality and the material has no place in the non-material/Spiritual world. This sort of Gnostic Dualism is JMJ’s main subject over at Christian Monist.

        Judaism (and early Chrsitianity) were Monistic in that respect, with NO hard dividing line between the material and non-material, between the physical and spiritual. Both shaded into each other as just different parts of a holistic Creation and Reality.

    • Christiane says

      there’s ‘preaching the Gospel’ and then there is preaching the ‘biblical gospel’ . . . they are not the same at all

      I have asked many times for descriptions of the fundamentalists’ definition of ‘the biblical gospel’ and I get an angry response . . . and IF I manage to get a definition, it is a very, very truncated version of the Gospel of Our Lord.

      When I ask ‘what about the gospel of the Beatitudes and the gospel of the Kingdom, the response is MORE anger, and from some name-calling and a lot of this kind of thing: “Are you now ready to repent of your sin and embrace the biblical gospel? ” and I am back to square one asking for a definition of the term ‘biblical gospel’.
      Usually the end of the ‘dialogue’ includes this stock claim by the minister: ‘you are on your way to a devil’s hell’.

      thing is, that term ‘biblical gospel’ is NOT defined the same way every time . . . there are variances, and always much is left out of Our Lord’s teachings and commands . . . which I see as very much a PART OF the true Gospel of Our Lord.

      so when I hear ‘preaching the gospel’, I am always wondering ‘what are they referring to THIS time?
      And I am always hopeful that those who ‘truncated’ the full message of Our Lord come to realize what they have done without realizing the seriousness of it.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      >If preaching the gospel attracts people and brings them in, as I’ve heard some pastors say repeatedly

      Because it doesn’t. The Gospel is Good News. It makes sense against a backdrop of Bad News. Against a backdrop of “Eh?”, it just seems nonsensical.

      But that seems nonsensical to those with great faith in the god-shaped-hole-in-the-heart-of-man meme. Once you loose faith in that then the world starts to make a lot more sense; and modern affluent secular people’s responses to “the Gospel” seems entirely understandable.

  18. Two of the classic books on this subject are “Evangelical Is Not Enough”, by Thomas Howard (1984) and “Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail”, by Robert Webber (1985). A revised edition of “Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail”, by Robert Webber and Lester Ruth was published just this year.

    • I should add that after moving into the Episcopal Church (where he was when his book was first published), Thomas Howard became a Roman Catholic.

    • Knitting Jenny says

      Another good book on this subject is Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism. In this book, several different writers share their conversion experiences, then evangelical writers respond to their stories, and finally the converts respond to the evangelicals’ critiques. It was interesting to read about all the different faith practices from so many different points of view.

      I guess you could call me a boomerang Anglican. I was raised High Church Anglican but left it for non-denominational evangelical fundamentalism. I’m back in the Anglican Church after 20 years. It’s good to be home.

  19. People have been asking about stats. The move to evangelical churches to mainline churches has been equal to the move in the opposite direction.

    I posted about it on InternetMonk a couple of years ago.

    Click on the chart to enlarge it..

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “People movin’ out,
      People movin, in,
      All because of the color of their skin —
      RUN! RUN! RUN!
      But you still can’t hide…”
      — The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion”

  20. I, too, have a post-evangelical spirit and am looking to abandon American evangelicalism (most of my experience comes from the neo-Calvinist atmosphere many of us have been reading about lately) to something more “biblical”, to use their word.

    Adding yet another category of post-evangelical church: I’m looking for a simple/organic/house type of church that has been popping up all over the land, except it seems in the San Francisco area. A participatory church that practices mutual edification in its meetings, has a meal at every meeting, and the Supper as part of each meal. A real Acts 2:42 church that the others only give lip service to.

    You hit the nail on the head with your “babysitter” analogy of evangelicalism. But I’m neither looking for a babysitter, nor a mother. I’m looking to be a functional part of a functional body, something American Evangelicalism doesn’t do very well.

  21. Deb4kids says

    One point that I haven’t seen made in this discussion is that fact that children do not hire babysitters..parents do.

    I notice that the two age demographics being discussed here are Baby Boomers ( most likely empty-nesters by now) and 20-somethings ( most likely not yet parents of school age children and certain not parents of teens).

    I wonder how many folks have done the same thing that my husband and I did..left the Mainline “for our kids” and headed over to the big EV Free church that had all the great programming for kids and the awesome Youth Ministry…then circle back to the Mainline now that it is just us.

    The big question is: What will these 20-somethings do in 10 years when they are parents? Will the Liturgy keep them or will they find themselves back in the evangelical big church ” for the kids”?

    I recently heard Scottie May, Wheaton Professor of Spiritual Formation and all-around expert on ministry to children, tell of visiting churches made up of young 20-somethings who wanted something more meaningful that the “Babysitter”-type church they experienced as kids and teens, think “Solomon’s Porch”-type churches. But when she visited some of these churches five years later, after many of the couples had kids, she saw them largely recreating the same types of “fun” Kids’ Ministries in the basements that they had been sent off to themselves!

    • As a once-20-something and now a 30-something with a Toddler, I can say that I have no interest in exposing my daughter to the “FUN” children’s ministries/youth groups of the American Evangelical ™ churches of my own youth. The Youth Group environment, for me and my husband both, were generally negative environments full of flimsy faith and just more of the social pressures of school except somehow I was expected to make friends with the kids that were making me miserable. During our last flailing and desperate years at our last (and final) EV church, I was coerced into helping teach children’s Sunday School and I was amazed by how shallow and at the same time inflexible the lessons for the kids were.

      We haven’t been to church in two years now, as we have been off nursing our wounds from the nasty break-up with our last church and ultimately our divorce from Evangelicalism. But I do want to bring up my daughter to know the faith that her parents have decided that, while difficult and confusing at times, contains truth, beauty, and hope to guide her through her own life’s journey. But I don’t know where that will be exactly, but as of now I know that at the very least it’s not any of the Calvinist or Charismatic churches that burned us so badly in our youth. We’re looking for someplace where both child and elder can work together, the child learning from the wisdom of the old, the old renewed by the vigor of the child, instead of putting people in life-stage ghettos. We want her to have a connection with the rich history of the Church but also cares about doing the Kingdom work in the here-and-now.

      Having said that, I don’t think we’re unlike our peers. We are on the older-end of the Gen-Y group (We’re 30), and I think as my younger peers join us in the land of parenthood, there will be more people with children in some of the older and more sober traditions.

  22. Love this post; it felt very autobiographical. I was raised in a fundamentalist church, and in high school our family shifted over to Willow Creek for my high school years. My family and I, after our 4 year stint at Willow, attended Harvest Bible Chapel from its earliest days. After the fiasco that ensued at Harvest, as well as obtaining a theological education at Wheaton, I would identify myself with the Anglican Church. However, geography is working against us in that regard since the nearest Anglican Church is roughly an hour away. So, in the meantime we are trying to build community in an Evangelical Free Church.

  23. This is a line that stuck out to me in the article – “They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.” That describes me. I go to a church that is basically generic evangelical with roots/connections to Mennonite USA… and I live in a county that is very dominated by evangelical…but I’m oft most frustrated by the lack of or even disdain of intellectual curiosity and that element of spirituality…

    It seems at times that the majority don’t read or listen to things that are outside of the christian radio/bookstore/megachurch/cultural war bubble….

  24. As to the post’s title, I have never thought of the church as “mother.” In fact, I find the image pretty disturbing, even though i am aware that it’s been in use for a very long time.

    • I don’t like the mother metaphor either, numo. I keep thinking of Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest.”

      • Robert F – Gah! That’s pretty nightmarish!!!

        • Robert F says

          Yes, numo, a little extreme; but my one year in first grade in a Catholic parochial school, and the attendant horrors I experienced at the hands of some severe teacher nuns, and the Mother Superior principal who seemed more to my nearly autistic self like the Angel of Death than a Sister of Mercy, ruined me forever for the church as Mother.

          If this means that I do not love Theotokos, may Christ have mercy on me.

          • Robert F – I’m so sorry, and your analogy makes total sense.

            I am sure God understands what we humans can barely begin to comprehend, in this and in so much else.

      • It’s because you do not love the Mother of God.

        • Or perhaps there are other reasons, Mule. Like being a woman and *not* seeing the analogy in the same way that many men seem to, having been in abusive churches, etc.

          I have a human mom; I need the body of Christ, not a minder and lecturer, as was the case during my time in evangelical/charismatic-land.

        • I think “Mommie Dearest” *is* what a lot of us have encountered in abusive churches, even though (in most cases) it was men who shouted and screamed the equivalent of “No more wire hangers!” at us.

  25. I’m going to raise an issue I don’t think anyone else mentioned and I’d like to know why. We are living in an increasingly illiterate culture in America. Not only are we increasingly illiterate, but even those who can read at an 8th grade level do not like to read. Recently Douglas Moo, Chairman of the translation committee of the NIV, stated that they translate the NIV for an 8th grade reading level.

    If people can’t or don’t like to read, how will they ever comprehend, much less enjoy a “high” church experience. They end up with either low church, mile wide and millimeter deep, seeker sensitive, and its truncated theology, or they go the RCC route, where they show up and hand it all over to the priest.

    I am a United Methodist and I love the old hymns and the liturgy, but I also realize that there is no realistic onramp for 90% of my unchurched neighbors to every join my church. Part of the problem is my church, which hasn’t imagined these onramps, and part of the problem is the literacy and cultural condition of my unchurched neighbors.

    What can we realistically do????

    • Liturgy is learned by participating in liturgy. In my experience, it is not overly academic or intellectual in character. On the other hand, many non-liturgical evangelical churches that emphasize teaching have 45-60 minute messages with people taking notes like they are in a classroom. I now preach for about 15 minutes and it is invariably on a story or passage from the Gospels. It is much more listener friendly. It would seem to me that the evangelical approach to preaching and study would be much more daunting for your friends than participating in a simple liturgy. In our Lutheran tradition, in fact, the emphasis is on the Word heard, not read or studied. I would think the hymns might be the only challenge for someone like your friends.

      Anyone else want to respond to this?

      • I have always found people do better with the liturgy (even longtime denominational church members) when parts of it are occasionally explained. I once had a pastor who, maybe once a month, would have a segment just before the sermon where he would explain in 2-3 minutes some part of the liturgy. He called it, “for what it’s worth…” and he’d explain, say, what the collect is and why it’s in there.

        I feel that liturgy does become rote and over people’s heads UNTIL they understand why they do what they do. It makes all the difference, and it should be continually explained in a manner like this.

    • they translate the NIV for an 8th grade reading level.

      I think they are trying to reach as many people as possible, including younger children and people who are learning English as a foreign language.

      The NIV is very clear and readable, unlike the KJV and old RSV (the latter isn’t much different than the KJV and was used for decades in the Lutheran churches/synod where I grew up – mostly, it went right over my head).

    • Jean — You ask some good questions. “What can we realistically do?” I think participation in the liturgy itself is part of the education. I know I learned my “high church” vocabulary from the hymns and liturgy I experienced as a child; I didn’t learn the vocabulary first and then go to church.

      “If people can’t or don’t like to read, how will they ever comprehend, much less enjoy a “high” church experience?” Don’t forget that the high church experience was originally designed for the illiterate as well as the literate. I think it’s actually more accessible to people of varying abilities and training than is the intensive Bible study in most evangelical churches. Not only the intellect is engaged by the scriptures; all of the senses taste and see (and smell and hear and feel) the goodness of the Lord. The concepts I didn’t understand as a little child I still appreciated for their beauty, and as my understanding grew I had a wealth of memorized words and images to return to and comprehend.

      Churches aren’t doing anyone any favors by dumbing down the liturgy and music.

      • Radagast says

        Agreed. In the Catholic Masses, Lutheran and Anglican services I have attended, there are usually (Sunday) an old Testament reading, Psalms sung, New Testament Letter and Gospel read during the Liturgy of the Word. A capable priest (not all are gifted here) or clergy then kind of ties these altogether in the homily or sermon. Tie that in with the focus on the images of the Last Supper from Paul’s Corinthians and some other liturgical prayers and you have a good start.

        I understand that what can be lacking is the whole tying it altogether thing, and that’s where, in my house at least, there is a book of children’s Bible stories where at least they learn the stories so later, when they can comprehend history a bit more, those stories can be strung together in a coherent manner.

        I will admit though that this piece is many times missing from my tradition, as heard from the comments about the recent Bible series (on Discovery I think?)… many saying how this put into historical perspective all those stories they knew….

    • The Reformation would never have gotten off the ground without Gutenberg and widespread literacy. It hasn’t been an unmixed blessing, though, as it led to widespread Booklordism, where the ideal Christian disciple sallied out to do battle clad in his Strong’s Comprehensive, his Liddell-Scott lexicon, and his Keil and Delitzsch.

      Orthodoxy and Catholicism are at heart Christianity for peasants, which 96% of their adherents have been, historically. The liturgies contain all the Christianity you need.

      Wisdom. Let us attend.

      • Getting back to my “Irish peasant” faith has helped wring out the overemphasis on intellectual rigor that was stressed in seminary and in college theology classes. The Rosary, aspiration prayers (like the Jesus Prayer), more frequent attendance at Mass and Confession have helped make my faith much simpler and more alive. As you said: there’s much wisdom and peace in the simple faith of peasants.

      • “for peasants”? I have a lot of problems with that statement, and it’s not because I am against the RCC or Orthodoxy.

        I think you are romanticizing liturgy, which, it must be admitted, some of us high church Protestant types also have…. especially given the fact that up until Vatican II, the liturgy was in Latin, not in the native languages of the, um, “peasants.”

        Only a handful could understand it. That is a kind of elitism, no?

      • Robert F says

        If RC Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are indeed at heart Christianity for peasants, and peasants are members of the historically vast class of farm laborers and small farm owners, then RC Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have lost and are continuing to lose at an accelerating rate their primary demographic, since industrialization and technology are making the class of peasants disappear.

        Three hundred years ago, probably more than 95% of human beings were directly involved in agriculture, and most of those people were peasants; today the percentage of those who farm is probably around 5% (I’m just making a semi-informed guess here, but I think I’m pretty close) in the US, Europe and other “developed” nations, and is rapidly decreasing in Two Thirds World nations like China and India due to the aggressive deployment of technologically informed farming practices in those places. Worldwide, the percentage of those involved in agriculture is far below 95%, and the objective of every government with even a little concern for the welfare of its people and the stability of its society is to reduce the number of people necessary to the successful production of adequate quantities of foodstuffs.

        The peasant class is going away, and peasant religion will inevitably go away with it; that the wage-slave class that is replacing it will ever have an interest in the same kinds of Christianity as the peasant class is unlikely, as we can see by the development of distinctly different kinds of Christianity in the Two Thirds World today.

        • Which makes early Protestant churches (and even those of more recent centuries, including this one) religion for “peasants.””

          Most of this world is still dependent on its own agricultural labor, after all…

        • I’m not really sure that the base of those who do agricultural labor *is* decreasing at this rate in the entire world… (No offense, Robert F!)

          • Well, numo, I checked the stats over the internet, and the percentage of people employed as farmers in the US is actually 1%, which is less than I’d guessed; I would imagine that the percentage is very similar in Europe and other “developed” nations, not disregarding the fact that there may be some exceptions.

            According to CIA statistics listed on the World Fact Book, China has 35% involved in agriculture, and India has 53% involved in agriculture; since these two countries combined account for approximately 50% of world population, I think that my assertion is essentially correct.

            Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but there is no question that the historical trend worldwide is toward having fewer and fewer people involved in food production, and that this is a major policy goal of governments that want to free their societies from confinement to merely subsistence economies.

          • my hunch is that there is still a lot of subsistence agriculture in Latin America, Africa and much of SE Asia, though. (I might be all wet on this, I realize!)

          • I think mechanization might be one of the reasons you’re seeing a difference between the US and, say, India… that and the kinds of enormous superfarms that are now common in the Midwest.

            Around here, there are lots and lots of small farms, though likely less than there were even 25 years ago. Conversely, industry in my area has decreased during the same period of time, and population has dropped as well.

            With the world’s population increasing, i can’t imagine that there’s less need for agricultural products; rather, more.

            (Not meaning to argue, just musing aloud,…)

          • Robert F says

            I don’t think we are arguing, we’re just approaching it from different angles. Modern farming maximizes production through the application of technology and applied science and at the same time decreases the number of people needed in the effort; more farming is done than ever before in human history, or ever imagined possible, but by far fewer people than ever imagined possible. The technology vastly expands the productive power, as evidenced by “super-farms,” while making human involvement less and less necessary.

            Throughout the world, the governments in those regions that still rely on subsistence farming are applying various modern farming techniques first to increase their volume of production to feed their growing populations, which has the secondary effect of freeing up larger segments of the populace to work in the industrial and service (including information) industries that increase national wealth beyond mere subsistence.

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