January 23, 2021

Yet Another “Wake Up!” Call

What’s so uncool about cool churches?
Unintended Consequences: How the “relevant” church and segregating youth is killing Christianity.
by Matt Marino, September 23, 2012

*  *  *

Matt Marino is an Episcopal priest, the Director of Youth and Young Adults for the Diocese of Arizona, who recently did ministry as a hospice chaplain. He has worked a lot with youth, spending 17 years on Young Life staff. Matt wrote a post on his blog The Gospel Side, sounding yet another (well written) alarm about the decline of the church in the U.S.

He says:

The church may look healthy on the outside, but it has swallowed the fatal pills. The evidence is stacking up: the church is dying and, for the most part, we are refusing the diagnosis.

Here is some of the evidence that gets Marino’s attention:

  • 20-30 year olds attend church at 1/2 the rate of their parents and ¼ the rate of their grandparents.
  • 61% of churched high school students graduate and never go back! (Time Magazine, 2009) Even worse: 78%  to 88% of those in youth programs today will leave church, most to never return. (Lifeway, 2010)

We look at our youth group now and we feel good. But the youth group of today is the church of tomorrow, and study after study after study suggests that what we are building for the future is…

…empty churches.

Why is this happening? Here are Marino’s suggestions (I have shaped some of these statements to add my own take on them):

  • We emphasize decisions not discipleship.
  • We have embraced the concept of “market-driven” youth ministry, giving people what they prefer (a road that has no end).
  • We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church.
  • We believe that big = effective, and we believe that more programs attended = stronger disciples.
  • We’ve created the perfect Christian bubble (that is bound to burst eventually), then we invite people into our Christian subculture, where professionals are responsible to Christianize them.
  • We imitated our culture’s most successful gathering places in an effort to be “relevant,” forgetting that none of those are places of transformation.
  • We’ve embrace attractional models over missional ones, filling the church and giving us “Sunday experiences” that bear little relation to real life.

In short, Matt Marino reiterates important principles:

  • Methods are not neutral and cannot be separated from the message.
  • Methods become the message.
  • The method-formed message shapes those who receive it into its image.


UPDATE: In conjunction with this post today, readers might want to look at yesterday’s post by Pete Enns: Outgrowing Evangelicalism, in which a Christian musician describes how, as he grew up, evangelicalism didn’t grow with him.


  1. I don’t know if the demos indicate anything at this point in time other than that religion isn’t as popular as it was in prior generations since the post-ww2 era. Gen X wasn’t as religious as the Generation Jones or the Boomers. The Millenials are even less religious than Gen X.

    One question I have is with deferred marriage and childbirth, are we just going to see a delayed re-entry into church, with people going back in their 40’s instead of their 20’s? Judging from Gen X, and at least one set of surveys from them, the answer is no, in fact, it looks like Gen X is becoming less religious with age (a stat which if true, would be a real divergence). If you filter out Catholics from that, a group with its own religious challenges, I think the data set changes. I think this needs more research to see if it holds up. I am Gen X and I attended a Catholic university with a co-hort which includes maybe a half dozen Catholics today. The rest having either joined other faith traditions or chosen agnostic atheism or SBNR. Once, such decisions would have resulted in one being shunned in the neighborhood or at least talked of. Today, with the breakup of the old ethnic neighborhoods, and most people living in anonymous urbania or suburbia, shunning doesn’t work and neighbors are more interested in your lawnwork than your faith.

    It could be that snazzy youth group has kept youth in the church that would already have left anyway. Thus graduation may not be a real loss to the church. Religion is no longer something that is uniquely respectable, such that it’s considered a normal part of life for folks to go to temple or church. So it could be that the old retention stats of past generations are what is unusual and was never stable in the first place.

    • …Or perhaps we have not spiritually formed students, or connected them to a community to give themselves to, or expected leadership from all of them rather than just the golden, gifted few.

      The data has piled up from a plethora of sources, Protestant and secular, that 20 somethings are leaving at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. The last place they were connected was our youth rooms. The obvious conclusion is that something we did lacked staying power.

      • > The obvious conclusion is that something we did lacked staying power.

        The obvious conclusion is that *everything* we did lacked staying power. If at least something had been sticky the stats would look different.

        In my experience, which is of course anecdotal, jives perfectly with all this data.

        The things former ‘students’ I’ve met have said to me lead me to believe they do not [or did not?] even believe the things we said were something we took seriously. Otherwise they would have known they were insulting me. I’m OK with being insulted, apparently we failed, badly. Or perhaps time just did that and they do not even remember what was said (humans do that, a lot) – but isn’t that just the same?

        • Isaac / Obed says

          Cermak has some really good points. One of the most important of principles when dealing with statistics is that correlation does not necessarily indicate causality. So a good question is this: does the lack of retention stem from a lessening religious ness in society, or vice versa, or are they independent issues?

          At any rate, the call for discipleship is well made. We seem to be a mile wide and an inch deep. That’s a discipleship problem.

        • “something we did lacked staying power”

          Right on. The blogger says this well by the principle: “What you win them with, you win them to,”

          Getting kids into church with parties and games and then teaching them to be moralists (self-righteous) is disaster. None of that equips them to deal with the struggles of real life .

          Maybe other churches are figuring it out too, but this is the only issue I’ve ever seen the LCMS be ahead of the curve on, in its fast-growing youth program, Higher Things. (higherthings.org) It emphasizes heavy duty theology (taught seriously, but with a sense of humor), no moralism, and worship with full-fledged liturgy and hymns. Their services with hundreds of kids fully engaged are probably some of the best worship services anywhere in the world.


          That being said, most of the synod still prefers its youth rock concerts.

          • I’m going to check them out. Higher things sounds like a move in the right direction.

          • > Getting kids into church with parties and games and then teaching them to be
            > moralists (self-righteous) is disaster.

            To be fair, that was NOT my experience. I have never participated in anything I would describe as a moralist-factory. In all my mega-church and protestant wanderings I’ve never experienced what I would consider a true fire-and-brimstone sermon (some were a bit simplistic and cause-and-effecty).

            The pastors and professional clergy I worked with where honest, sincere, and I do not doubt their motivations. The professional pastor I worked with at that mega-church was a good guy, I’d consider him my friend. … But they were trapped in a mindset, in an institutional set of rules. They perceived a particular vision of success [a kind of “industrial” one, for lack of a better term]. Being so out of touch their sermons / sermonettes / messages just didn’t resonate. They couldn’t really talk [publically] about loss, disappointment, fear, etc… those were things of failure. They could only be discussed privately, in hushed tones. That is not “moralism”; perhaps it is “americanism”, it is at least fear of producing a deadly sound-bite.

            I have seen straight-up moralism, but only in the context of children’s programs [pre-teen]. The problem there is that those in charge assume an eight year old is just too stupid to understand anything else. They are wrong.

            And neither am I anti-institutional. Without institutions there is nothing. The un-church is not a church at all. Humans naturally build institutions, the anti-institutionalist will build an anti-institutionalist institute. We just need to build, or choose, the right kind of institutions. That is a debate unto itself.

    • Cermak,

      What is “SBNR”?


      • Spiritual but not religious. Can mean anything from a quick answer to someone trying to fob their faith off on one or it can mean a deeply spiritual existence but without the structures and specific commitments of religion.

        • …or a trendy trite cliche used to justify one’s lack of spiritual discipline? It seems to me like a rather pretentious way of saying, “thanks, but I’ve already got my metaphysical side all figured out. No need to discuss that with you!” Quite a non-sequitur. Anybody using this phrase is either religious and in denial, or uninterested in admitting they’re generally uninterested in spiritual matters.

          • Why would one need to justify one’s spiritual discipline or lack thereof? This is a pretty private matter that is not the business of the general public. What’s wrong with saying “thanks but I’ve got my metaphysical side figured out and they have no need to discuss it with someone else?” It’s a much kinder, gentler way of stating that they don’t wish to discuss their spirituality with the individual.

            Besides, I’ve seen it both ways. I’ve seen blindingly spiritual people who found the face of the Almighty in everything and everyone yet had no wish or need to join an assembly of others, even if a congregation of folks who saw the world in the same way could even be found. And I’ve seen people who literally don’t have a religious bone in their body but do not wish to be annoyed by well-meaning (or sometimes not so well-meaning) faith foisters.

            I find it ludicrous that people think it’s pretentious. I think it came about as a result of a defensive position taken by people that didn’t want to be harassed by religious recruiters.

          • Right. You shouldn’t have to justify your lack of spiritual discipline to anybody. However, it seems to me that people using this phrase feel somehow under the obligation to. It may be a gentler way to dismiss proselytizers, but imo it’s trying to hard. “Not interested, go away” works fine.

            Ok, so it certainly isn’t pretentious all the time, but it can be used in a sort of “I have no need of your worthless rituals, I’m already awesome” sort of way. Plus I’m not quite sure why religion or spirituality is a private matter. I understand it’s up there with politics on the list of things not to discuss over dinner, but imo, rational, well meaning people can have a constructive exchange of ideas concerning it anytime.

            I guess my main beef with the phrase is that I’m not entirely certain what the difference between “religious” and “spiritual” really is. Honestly, I think everybody is religious, about something, at least. I’m with N.T. Wright when he says that “spirituality” is a not-so-helpful term people use when they’re referring to prayer. Which is religious.

    • The emphasis many churches and preachers have on attracting youth (and putting on all the rock concerts and other things that are supposed to entice youth) is one thing (of several) that actually puts me off from going to church, and I’m between the age of 40-45.

      And I’ve never married – you want to talk about a group of people the church does nothing to attract or keep, and it’s older, single adults, especially older females who have not married and had kids; churches don’t want us to attend. They give us nothing to do and do not address our needs.

      When I was in my 20s and went to church every so often, I was actually turned off by the attempts of preachers or churches to try to lure me in via being cool.

      Maybe my personality was different from that of most 20 somethings of the time, but I found it patronizing that churches thought I was an air head who could only be brought in by gimmicks. I actually did want to hear about Jesus, and sermons with practical applications on how to deal with everyday life problems. I did not want to be entertained with long haired guys on electric guitar, not even in my 20s.

  2. > Methods become the message.

    Yep. I was heavily involved (as “president”, whatever that means) of a college ‘program’ at a local mega-church for almost a decade. The church even built a “coffee shop” because that was perceived as place where the-cool-kids hung out at that the (ah, the 1990’s…). It was both one of the most interesting and most frustrating periods of my life [for lots of reasons, not just “the ministry”].

    But I became convinced that the professional clergy exist in their own orbit with little or no association with reality, they go off to their conferences and come back completely enamored of the zaniest ideas, and they bring in tow a small brood of interns from ‘the right colleges’ who (a) walk on water and (b) can’t get along with any of the other students. We’d promote, and fill an auditorium, they’d get wild eyed and excited, and the next Sunday the auditorium would be nearly empty. It has been so apparent that this-does-not-work to *everyone* else for *so long*. But just try louder, try harder,….

    [ugh, and some of those “interns” created some of the grossest problems… but that is off topic, but still counts towards the clergy-island problem]

    Occasionally we did do something really interesting, and there were some people we really helped – I had a homeless guy living in my house for awhile, that turned out to be a really beneficial experience. But it wasn’t ever the big explosive stuff that produced anything that stuck. And some other people who came in ‘flying low’ could have been helped more effectively, if more emphasis had been placed on actually making sure there was someone around who had the *time to care* [having time is *KEY* *KEY* *KEY*, caring takes TIME. You cannot make caring into a 30second schtick].

    But this pop-church thing is irreversible. Nobody is listening. They can’t hear you over the rock band.

    You couldn’t drag me into participating in a church program if I was bound in chains; both because I’m frustrated, and disillusioned, and I now know what it will take to succeed – and that knowledge is a bit frightening. I wish the period of my life when I did have so much more disposable time and energy hadn’t been as wasted as it was.

    But the church will not fail, it will not disappear, it will not die. It will just slide off the edge of the radar. it will continue, but as irrelevant. Maybe that is OK, maybe it already is – like the kid at the party nobody likes but who is really loud. When that kid finally leaves the party he can go down to the real coffee shop and have better conversations with some people who actually care about him. They’ll teach him about using an “inside voice”..

    • Wow, Adam! I have a growing pile of friends who had your experience. We could commiserate over beer with my friend who fired himself from the largest church in Arizona’s youth program and became a volunteer in the program in order to actually be friends with the students. …or the friend from the fifth largest church’s children’s program who said, “I run a Christian Nickelodeon Channel show every Sunday.” He quit and went to work for Young Life. He says raising the 175k budget every year but getting to train leaders to go where kids are and walk with them is so much more fulfilling.

    • But it wasn’t ever the big explosive stuff that produced anything that stuck. And some other people who came in ‘flying low’ could have been helped more effectively, if more emphasis had been placed on actually making sure there was someone around who had the *time to care* [having time is *KEY* *KEY* *KEY*, caring takes TIME. You cannot make caring into a 30second schtick].

      Right on target, Adam.

    • +1 infinitum

  3. “We’ve embrace attractional models over missional ones, filling the church and giving us “Sunday experiences” that bear little relation to real life.”

    Well said, and the impact of that aspect cannot be understated.

    However, would not some say that churches that practice high liturgy also are giving “Sunday experiences” that bear little relation to real life”?

    • Perhaps. But the difference that leaps to my mind is that, in those cases, the point of the ‘Sunday experience’ is not the Sunday ‘experience’. It has an end beyond itself. So I can leave Sunday Mass feeling no rush or buzz, indeed maybe even feeling a bit apathetic, and still know my time has not been wasted.

      • Amen!

        It is not ABOUT me, it is about praying with my brothers and sisters.

        But I am a cradle Catholic, now grandma, so my data isn’t relevent to this story. (except, perhaps, the number of new Catholics joining the Church who are older, with no or a limited Christian background….and the handful of Catholics “coming home” after drifting away.)

        • Hi Patty, I think you have much to add. The liturgy is God directed rather than man directed. I think the Mass has the potential, when artfully done, to be engaging and helpful, as it is Scripture in motion.

    • > > “We’ve embrace attractional models over missional ones, filling the church and
      > > giving us “Sunday experiences” that bear little relation to real life.”
      > Well said, and the impact of that aspect cannot be understated.

      True. But I wonder if the issue might be better described as the church looking EXACTLY LIKE *ORDINARY* life. While it promises to be something different. The attractional model so often looks like a mere imitation (and often a not terribly impressive one), like an odd Christian simulacra of “ordinary life”.

      What really bugs me about the “attractional modal” is all the talk about “seeker sensitive” (yes, the professional clergy have moved onto new terminology, but they never answered my question). A seeker is someone who *SEEKS*, seekers are verb people. You don’t need to cater to or market to seekers – they will find you. You just need to be ready to meet them. What do “contemporary” services and rock-a-billy services have to do with meeting seekers? [and this is not a condemnation of contemporary or rock-a-billy, just that neither has anything at all to do with the goal]. If a seeker shows up and nobody talks to them? I can get rock-a-billy on the radio.

      > However, would not some say that churches that practice high liturgy also are
      > giving “Sunday experiences” that bear little relation to real life”?

      I believe it is more simply that they clearly state – this is us, this is who we are [that is liturgy after all]. Rather than trying to emulate something, but with additive. The high-church is, IMNSHO, being honest and up-front. And it isn’t ashamed that the life it proposes is different, looks different, and makes demands. That is completely about real-life, not simulacra.

      • +1

      • Absolutely! The entire “relevant” model is one of being just like the world only nicer, cleaner with shiny teeth and (as Northpoint’s self-parody says) “with arms open wide so you can see my tatoo and know I have a story.” Christian Smith’s “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” comes to mind. When Andy Stanley says, “I don’t preach the Bible, I preach principle’s for living from the Bible,” he is summarizing the entire preaching theory that packages a how-to, self-help message.

        In my mind, the point of the liturgy isn’t musical style, but that it’s reference point is God. It is a vertically oriented narrative rather than a horizontal one.

        • @MattM said, “When Andy Stanley says, “I don’t preach the Bible, I preach principle’s for living from the Bible,” he is summarizing the entire preaching theory that packages a how-to, self-help message.”

          I am not a big fan of the “be relevant” model so many churches embrace these days (see my other post in this thread about it), but I disagree a bit with your quick dismissal of preachers who try to make the Bible lessons relevant in the sense of making them applicable to people’s lives, frustrations, and pain.

          I was reading an interview with a Christian guy who said that not doing so is actually one reason of many why people don’t find churches useful or helpful anymore, why they stop attending.

          He said his marriage almost collapsed, and when it recovered (with no help from the local church), he realized that the church does nothing to help marriages in trouble (or other life problems) by giving practical help, assistance, or instruction.

          He said, instead, for the umpteenth time, a pastor will get up in front of the church and give yet another sermon about Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and general comments about the role of faith in Abraham’s life. This guy seemed to say that’s fine to a point, but talking about Abraham and Isaac week after week while ignoring real problems people face daily is not addressing the lady in the pew whose husband is an alcoholic, the divorced person who is lonely, etc., so they feel overlooked, hopeless, the attending church isn’t doing anything to help them where they are, etc.

    • David Cornwell says

      The thing about liturgy, ether high or otherwise, is that it is faithfully delivering the gospel message again and again. It’s the repeating of the old story, the story of the Son of God who died on a cross for our sins, rose from the dead, and is now King of the world. Liturgy can be kind of stale, or it can be presented in fresh ways that are vibrant and appealing.

      There is not another story that will have lasting meaning, now or ever. It will bring hope to some, and others will turn away.

      • We have given our children exposure to a wide variety of church experiences. Upon visiting a liturgical church my son’s question was “So, is it true that the primary purpose of the liturgy is to put you to sleep in time for the sermon?”

        How would you deal with his perception?

        • Without knowing what kind of liturgy he experienced, it is hard to answer in depth. My 5 year old niece loves the liturgy at our parish, except the quiet part while the priest puts things away after communion. She always whispers, “Why aren’t we singing?”

          I think to really appreciate a liturgical service and haven’t learned it by growing up in it, you need to be able to read along. So if you had asked that question in our neck of the woods, I would have invited your son to a music stand to sing the liturgy with us. There’s a few copies without the notes for new people around too, but singing it is better.

          I’d actually wonder what he sees the primary purpose of a non-liturgical church service as. In my mind, a liturgical vs non is like a person with a very defined exercise routine vs someone who does a less scheduled but abundant mix of athletic activities. The end goal is the same, no?

        • I would respond by saying that the primary purpose of the liturgy is not to keep you entertained. Because it is not a “church experience” that is about you.

        • David Cornwell says

          Yeah, I agree that it can be boring. When I think of liturgy to me it includes the entire service; music, prayers, responses, offering, and sermon. Those elements can be made more lively with a variety of forms being used. And, I agree, it’s not the answer to everything.

        • I have heard kids describe every kind of service as “boring.”

        • It’s God’s punishment on you for not cleaning your room. Now accept your sentence and face it like a man!

  4. To add one to Marino’s suggestions as to why all this is happening: Evangelical Churches have entered into a competition looking for the “bigger”, “better”, “modern” oder “more entertaining”. And to gain advantages in that competition some started to grind away the spikes and burrs of the gospel that might make the listeners uneasy. Thus we moved from a call to follow Christ and cling to him in all circumstances to “Your best life now” in different wrappings. I know I’m generalizing, but the Christians of my age that I meet, even here in Germany, are children of that process. I’m afraid we deserve everything we’re going to get.

  5. I would add that we take the enthusiasm and black-and-white-mentality of teens and push it to an “all-in” message. But, all-in often equals rigid, narrow, indefensible extremism where you are with us or you are going to Hell. (Insert your favorite story of Hell House or cheer leaders putting Bible verses on giant sheets of paper in defiance of school.) This does not leave teens with the ability to transfer faith well into the complexities of adult hood. The teens end up subconsciously seeing themselves as Christian failures and God not what they were taught to expect. They can’t reconcile it.

    Personally one of the biggest guilt moments in my life came when my Bible teacher told us the story of David Brainer and how he died at a very young age – 29 – because he “burn out for Jesus.” We should live our lives so we would “burn out for Jesus, too.” I’m over 40 and I remember how that felt like it was yesterday. FAIL.

    The result brought by teaching that rigid adherence to perceived Christian values/dogmas coupled by the lack of love in a humble sense has a part to play in creating people who move into being interested in spirituality but not churchy.

    • EV are you in Arizona? I have friends who ran the local “Hell house.”

      Your “all in” comment also resonates. I have a friend whose ministry made them all read “Heroic faith.” The wife, in tears, said, “Why does everything have to be heroic? Why can’t we just have faith and that be good enough? Do we need to keep sacrificing our marriage, our children and our sanity on the altar of ‘heroic’?”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Because the “Heroic Faith” message is:




        I grew up with that Expectation of Utter Perfectionism.

        That was four solid years of High School.

        That sort of Utter Perfectionism is the MINIMUM expected of me at my job.

      • A student I teach has just been “encouraged” by the youth minister to read “Do Hard Things” by the brothers of the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” author and had a forward by Chuck Norris. You can guess the outcome.

        Yes, she wanted to get rid of all her video games, only read the Bible, and start knocking on doors asking, “If you died tonight, would you know Jesus.” This is how she interpreted this book’s message for how to live her faith. It lasted two weeks tops. Now, she feels like a failure in being a “real Christian.”

        This is wrong!

        • MelissatheRagamuffin says


        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Yes, she wanted to get rid of all her video games, only read the Bible, and start knocking on doors asking, “If you died tonight, would you know Jesus.” This is how she interpreted this book’s message for how to live her faith.

          I refer you to Wretched Urgency: the Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel, by Internet Monk. And you can only maintain Wretched Urgency for so long (with God’s gun to your head) before you burn out, bail out, break down, or go crazy.

        • Yes, this! I was a preacher’s daughter, and watched over the years as the youth groups did all they could to develop kids to go all in and never look back. Come out and be separate, they would say. We are different from the world.
          God created me in my mother’s womb, and He did me a solid when He installed a BS detector to help me navigate my way in this world. I call BS on this “all in” “tradition”. It didn’t work 30 years ago, and it doesn’t work now. I’m watching my teen and pre-teen nieces going through the same paces as I walked decades ago, and I have no confidence that things will be any different for them than for anyone else. The question then becomes, what happens to their relationships with God when these methods all go to hell for them? Thankfully, we have a God who will not let us go, but will pursue us as we try to run from Him. I thank Him daily for not letting me go.
          And yes, I am in the category of spiritual and not “christian” as it is defined today. And I have never been more in love with God and His Son.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I was a preacher’s daughter, and watched over the years as the youth groups did all they could to develop kids to go all in and never look back. Come out and be separate, they would say. We are different from the world.

            “Your parents are Apostate. Your parents are Lukewarm. Your parents are Backslidden. Only WE Have The True Faith, all others are Apostate/Backslidden/Lukewarm/Deceived.”

            That is the same sales pitch the Jihadis make to young male Muslims. “Go All In” to the Pure Faith, not all these Apostate/Backslidden/Lukewarm counterfeits.

            A similar sales pitch as all those Mass Youth Movements of the past century, from the Communists to the Nazis. Go All In and Never Look Back. Come Out and Be Separate (and True Believers).

    • I have heard other people comment on this, that when an Evangelical youth feels he has sinned (let’s say he has sex in college before being married), he feels outcast from his church because of that all in message. The ruined rose and all that, as Michael Spencer mentioned. It hasn’t helped it, but Catholicism has an answer to that, Reconciliation. I do know that some churches allow for rededication, perhaps Evangelical ministry could add in some rededication ceremonies (if everyone’s going up, no one will be curious about the “failing”). It might, at least, help with some of the falling away just because of the feeling that one is not perfect or all in.

      • That is part of the evangelical tradition – at least Baptist tradition – it is called rededication and means that during the 10 verses of Amazing Grace you go down the aisle and in some cases sit and wait your turn on the sinner’s bench. Rededication is exactly that – re (again) dedication (dedicating my self to Jesus).

        Now, to be accurate rededication and reconciliation are two different things. In a rededication you are confessing sin (usually something like not loving God enough, serving God hard enough) and now you are in right standing with God. I think there is a God is Perfect and expects perfection ethos that isn’t addressed in the wider thought pattern that changes how the guilt is held even after wards. I screwed up – I didn’t 1. trust God/have enough faith or 2. didn’t listen to God and try hard enough. This is the collective shame.

        In my Anglican background, there is a tradition of reconciliation. I see several differences. 1. It is not done in the midst of emotion as a response to a sermon. 2. It is a conversation with a (hopefully) wise person that helps you search your motives. 3. It allows for acts of penitence – whether restitution encouragement or specific prayers or Bible readings to help bring about new patterns of behavior. 4. It isn’t for the whole church to see.

    • And while the churches give teens an “X-TREME FOR JESUS” message that kids can’t really live up to (middle/high school is hard enough for most people already), adult ministry often teaches a sort of “soft prosperity Gospel” where the central focus is how Jesus makes your western middle-class life better.

      • What…there ISN’T a seperate “First-World Problems” Jesus who grades on a curve, so that having only mac’n’cheese” for dinner instead of sirloin is “almost” the same as having your last milk cow and chicken drown in the flood that washed your hut away???

        • @ Pattie who said, “What…there ISN’T a seperate “First-World Problems” Jesus who grades on a curve, so that having only mac’n’cheese” for dinner instead of sirloin is “almost” the same as having your last milk cow and chicken drown in the flood that washed your hut away???”

          I’d be careful about lampooning anyone else’s pain or problems, or playing the comparison game, such as downplaying someone’s sorrow because in your view, divorce, for example, is not as serious as some pagan guy’s mud hut being washed away. I know you used the Mac N Cheese Vs Sirloin example and not divorce Vs mud hut, but that is very close to what I’m talking about.

          This is actually one thing that drives some Christians away from churches, if not from the faith itself, this idea that if you are a hurting American Christian, you deserve no empathy/ help/ compassion from other American Christians because your problems are not as severe (in the listener’s opinion) as that of the starving, pagan kids in Africa, or the orphans in Calcutta.

          I do think people should try to keep their problems in perspective, count their blessings and all that, and I have met a tiny minority of people who make their mole hills into mountains.

          However, I’ve too often seen the opposite.

          After my close family member died, and I later began attending a local church and told them how much emotional pain I was in from this death, they pulled what you did – basically telling me that the death wasn’t so bad because hey, at least I had a roof over my head and was not living in a cardboard box under a bridge, like homeless people in our city of downtown Metropolis. (In their opinions, the homeless people deserved compassion and help, but I did not.)

          That attitude and the lack of compassion for the pain I was in drove me into further depression, and to some extent, almost caused me to walk away from the Christian faith. My pain is not of less importance than some impoverished pagan guy whose mud hut is washed way.

          Maybe the pagan guy’s life is more difficult than mine in some ways, but his misfortune does not negate the pain I feel.

    • @ EV, HUG, and the others in this thread. Thank you. This is one of my more recent problems or pet peeves with American Christianity – this push to be the ideal Christian, which ends up making me (and many others) feel like a failure because the standards seem rather unrealistic, too high, extreme, or too lofty for most people to actually carry out.

      Pastor Kyle Idleman has that “Not A Fan” book and the “Not A Fan” series on Christian television, where he pushes the idea that to be really, all for Jesus you must prove it by being extreme, giving up all your possessions, leaving your secular bill-paying job, working full time in a soup kitchen, etc.

      That Platt guy wrote a book (the title is “Radical” I think?) that has been hailed by Christians online, especially the ones who are perturbed by mega-church pastors who are greedy millionaires.

      I too am turned off by the greedy mega-church guys and the Word of Faith Prosperity tele-evangelists, but at the same time, I’m also kind of put off by these people who advocate being extreme about one’s faith walk.

      What is wrong with being an “Average Joe” or “Average Jane” Christian who lives an ordinary life?
      I try to help people when and where I can. I love Jesus and so on, but that is not enough for some of these Christian authors and pastors. They seem to define “good Christian” to mean giving up all your possessions to live in a cardboard box and hand out blankets to people in India.

      If God has called you to live in a cardboard box and hand out sandwiches to starving Africans all day, great, go for it, but please don’t insist that if I do not, or that I do not want to do so (it does not appeal to me for so many reasons), this makes me a horrible or selfish Christian. I find life difficult enough as it is without pastors and tele-evangelists giving me guilt trips for supposedly “not doing enough” for Jesus.

  6. In conjunction with this post today, readers might want to look at yesterday’s post by Pete Enns: Outgrowing Evangelicalism, in which a Christian musician describes how, as he grew up, evangelicalism didn’t grow with him.

    • Isaac / Obed says

      Read it. It was very good. I’ve been listening to the musician-in-question since their self-titled debut album in the mid-90’s. Dude NEVER fit well in Evangelicalism. He was always a bit too . . . Ecclesiastes? to fit well.

  7. I have observed the same trend of youth walking away over the years. However, I think only a few of the author’s points hit the mark. Granted my opinion is based on my own anecdotal observations, but I think there are plenty of studies out there that affirm the power of parental involvement or the lack thereof. I think the points that hit the mark are:

    ? We bought into the idea that youth should be segregated from the family and the rest of the church.
    ? We’ve created the perfect Christian bubble (that is bound to burst eventually), then we invite people into our Christian subculture, where professionals are responsible to Christianize them.

    We run into trouble as a society any time we outsource the raising of our children. It doesn’t matter if it is secular education or spiritual formation; unless the children experience the parent/s involvement the chances of success are reduced. I don’t think that our problem in church is the youth leader or the café’ just as I don’t think the problem in the public school system is the teacher. The lion’s share of the problem is a society that is designed to send us in different directions so that parents are too busy to realize that they need to involve themselves and take ultimate responsibility to form and inform their children.

    • > It doesn’t matter if it is secular education or spiritual formation; unless the children
      > experience the parent/s involvement the chances of success are reduced

      There is something to this; but it gets muddy. my experience has been something almost perpendicular to this.

      When I was involved in high-school / college ministry – it seemed like almost all the “Christian” kids vanished when the opportunity arose. Obviously I don’t know if they came back. The High-School Christians did not transition to College Christians. The non-Christian High School participants did not transition to College Christians. Non non-Christian College participants… more of them are still around in the community than I see of the other groups. They came of their own accord, and more of then stayed.

      NOTE: I use non-Christian here as a *cultural* group.

      • We for sure need to help parents be models and shapers of their children’s faith. It is almost as if we expect them to know how to do this by nature or something. We really need to think through equipping them well. One person who is thinking about this from an evangelical perspective is Rob Reinow with his Visionary Parenting stuff. I’m sure their are liturgical Christians doing the same. If you know some, I’m all ears.

        • Another point on the issue of parenting is that the kids they are raising are not as hard-nosed on social issues today, and to the kids it must seem as though their parents are today’s equivalent of the racists of the 60’s who based those racist views on biblical teachings.

  8. One of the difference I’ve found between how I grew up in the church, and how I perceive it now, is what I was reminded of recently – St. Anselm’s famous quote (I’m skipping the Latin which I can’t remember…) –
    faith seeking understanding.
    Certainty about one’s faith status is not always helpful; I teach this regularly to my confirmation kids. Faith in God is a journey, a life long journey. And questions are encouraged!

  9. A few things come to mind when I read this piece. I largely agree with it, but one thing I wonder about is the reason for the perpetual adolescence of many evangelical churches. I used to think that it was simply these churches thinking that they needed to be cool and trendy to attract people. But now I’ve come to believe it’s not quite as simple as that. I think a lot of it comes down to the perpetual adolescence of the American adult. What it means to be an adult in the US has simply changed in the last 50 years. It used to be that people graduated from high school (possibly went to college), got married and “settled down”. They knew what was expected of them after that, and whether they liked it or not, they did it. Now it seems that people are still “finding themselves” into their 40 and 50 even. And to add to that we are an entertainment driven culture. That’s why the NFL is the largest professional sports organization. So much of a typical game broadcast isn’t actually about the game. Games are actually about 2 hours or so of commercials with some football thrown in.

    So I guess my point is that the church pretty much looks like the culture. Sure, some evangelical churches still do some good things. But they’ve bought into the idea that in order for people to want to do those things, they have to be marketed to. Personally, this is why I feel myself becoming less and less of an evangelical.

    I’ve mentioned it before, but One corner of the church that my wife and I found a home in was in an African American congregation. They still had everyone in the service on a Sunday, and the whole program-driven mentality was not nearly as a motivation for people. Sure, they had their own share of problems, but on the whole, I found them to be much less about targeting a certain demographic. Actually, it was one of the few places I’ve been where a 92 year old great-grandmother was worshipping beside teenagers. Again, I’m not saying they’re perfect or even a model for every church, but I think they’re doing something right.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It used to be that people graduated from high school (possibly went to college), got married and “settled down”. They knew what was expected of them after that, and whether they liked it or not, they did it. Now it seems that people are still “finding themselves” into their 40 and 50 even.

      Epitaph of the Baby Boomer Generation:

      “They spent so much time and energy ‘Finding Themselves (TM)’ they never had the time to HAVE a Self to Find.”

    • David Cornwell says

      “Perpetual adolescence” is something I think of quite often these days. Look at the state of American humor. It seems perpetually stuck in junior high potty and body part jokes. You expect this from kids, but when you hear adult males laughing their heads off about this stuff, it makes me think something is amiss. We need to grow up, in church and out.

      • There is a movie called “Idiocracy” made several years ago starring Luke Wilson. It isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but I find myself thinking of it often. It is what we are becoming when I look at our country through my cynical lenses. For instance, in the movie, the top-rated tv show is called something like “Ouch! My Balls!” (sorry), much like Wipeout is top rated today. Reality tv and it’s allure to Americans is helping in the dumbing down of our society. What else is a church to do to attract attention? If they want the wallets, I mean souls, in the seats, you are going to have to bring on the entertainment.

        • Idiocracy was a very funny movie.

          It addressed the dumbing-down of culture, and how the intelligent over-thought having kids to the point they did not, so the smart people were out-bred by the not so intelligent. It also touched on other topics, too.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            …the intelligent over-thought having kids to the point they did not, so the smart people were out-bred by the not so intelligent.

            That’s actually called “Marching Morons Syndrome”, after a particularly nasty Forties SF story by C.L.Kornbluth. And echoed by Jihadis, Quiverfulls, and any other groups who try to outbreed the Other in a Darwinian reproductive-success selection.

    • Nice! We joke at our little church plant that we are “black-catholi-gelical.” So the charism holds at our place…and blesses us.

  10. Well, I type up a comment, and for some reason it’s caught in the moderation queue. I swear, I didn’t say anything bad!

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    If Church is all about Cool and Trendy, what happens when something outside of Church is “20% Cooler”? (And judging from experience, ANYTHING outside of some of these churches is 20% Cooler than the permitted Christianese imitations within.)

    And of course, each Christianese Expert has their own solution:



    And a lot of megachurches and splinter churches: Keep them in Church 24/7/365 — NEVER let them touch the Heathen Outside.

    • Grin.

    • I’m a Young Earth Creationist, so I don’t have a problem with people who want to promote and defend it. If anything, I’d say much of Christianity these days has become hostile towards YEC and those who believe in it.

      I’d add that another problem is that churches are not meeting the needs of the people who are already attending. I see a lot of American churches who want to get new people in the church, and who make a big deal out of giving sandwiches to the unwashed heathen.

      If you are a Christian in the church who is hurting? You will be told to sit down and shut up by other Christians. You’re only permitted to have sympathy for American-evangelical-approved victim groups (such as the homeless in your city, little girls sold into prostitution in Thailand, drug addicts in the USA, African pagans who lack clean water).

  12. Whenever I encounter someone who says that their church is growing like crazy, I say, “what are you guys doing wrong? The Christian faith has never really been that popular.

    Besides…you have a long way to go (if you think of that as ‘success’). The Arizona Cardinals are getting 40,000 on Sundays. And they are near the bottom in attendance figures for the NFL.

    • “…And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:47

      For those whose churches aren’t growing I would ask the same question.

      • How many were left at the cross? They abandoned him (Jesus) also. But they were gowing by leaps and bounds when he was feeding them (meals).

        The Mormons and Muslims are growing like crazy.

        Is that a sign of their faithfulness?

        We have a HUGE non-denominational mega-church down the street from us. And they wouldn’t know the gospel if hit them in the face. Not that the Lord can’t use even their distorted Christianity for His purposes. I’m sure He does.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          According to my writing partner, the reason the Mormons are growing is their reputation for taking care of their own in Hard Times.

          • Best church growth advice ever.

          • I guess there are many reasons for churches or religions to grow.

            When it comes to the Christian faith, being large or small is not a virtue. But being faithful to the Word of God.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Be Warm and Well-Filled. Just have FAITH. I’ll Pray For You(TM).”
            Then walking away on the other side of the road?

            After a bout of unemployment in the Eighties, I discovered that “I’ll Pray For You” is Christianese for doing nothing. However, my RCIA group (RCC) DID do more than “Pray For Me (TM)”. They passed me job-hunt tips. They passed me bags of apples and lemons and oranges from their trees. Not that much in the long term, but it was ACTION instead of just words. Ever since, I have demanded that words be backed up with actions, even small ones.

          • @ HUG. That has largely been my experience with other Christians as well, but the thing that makes it more galling (as I’ve said in other posts in this thread) is that those same Christians will actually help other people – they will help Non-Christian people, such as homeless people.

            I’m not against Christians helping Non Christians or the homeless, but why are so many of these sorts of Christians eager to cry over unsaved, hurting people, or to actually provide for them, but if you are a fellow Christian, their compassion and help vanishes?

            Why is it okay for Non Christian people to have needs, to be in need, to ask for help, but it’s not okay for a Christian to have needs, to be in need, to say they have needs, or ask for help?

            (I do actually try to help other hurting people when and where I can, by more than just saying “I’ll pray for you”, though I don’t have much money and no longer have a car, which makes it difficult.)

      • The gospel is “good news”. If you hearer does not understand that what you are offering is “good news” then is it? Is the gospel truly being preached if there is no understanding?

        I am asking the question because if our youth are leaving, then maybe the good news isn’t being communicated as good news.

        • “God loves you, but if you don’t do what He wants He’ll send you to hell for all eternity…”

          This is what most people hear from churches, regardless if that’s what the church is actually saying or not. So, yeah, that doesn’t sound like good news to most people.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “God loves you, but if you don’t do what He wants He’ll send you to hell for all eternity…”

            And this often comes with a definition of “do what He wants” as an ever-growing list of Thou Shalt Nots. Where’s the Good News?

      • On second thought, that is a pretty brutal use of the verse to indict numerically stable congregations. Not everything in the book of Acts is normative for the church today. I certainly agree that healthy churches should tend to grow naturally, but I also see the flip side of that coin, where the current Pope said the church might have to become smaller inorder to grow more faithful.

        But you are probably right in that the churches that the youth are fleeing probably haven’t grounded them in the core doctrines of the faith or indoctrinated them with an articulate understanding of the message of the Gospel. Most kids are just leaving generic organized religion. I’ve spoken with many of them and they completely do not understand what the point of Christianity is.

  13. I think a lot of teens see church as little more than an exercise in posing — which I’ll define as projecting a false self or image in particular social settings for reasons of self-interest or gain.
    While trying to develop their own identity, teens do a lot of posing — and because they do a lot of it, they recognize it when they see it.
    And while the church has always suffered from its fair share of posing and posers, the current state of affairs in evangelicalism has literally become an intentional system of posing. Paul instructed the church to “put on Christ” — but the evangelical circus has turned that into putting on a cookie cutter self of smiling, unthinking conformity to a lot of stuff that doesn’t have a dang thing to do with who Jesus really is.
    Of course, teens see all this posing for what it is — but they also see a lot of benefits to putting on the pose with everybody else, particularly if their parents are church-goers. Lots of free activities and stuff. And many chances to get the heck out of town and out from under their parents — to Christian concerts, conventions, camps, and the occasional water park.
    The day inevitably comes, however, when these teens move on to new environments and new circumstances in which the “pose” of Christianity is no longer socially beneficial. And, unfortunately, that’s usually where their involvement in church ends.
    The trouble with catering to self-interest — no matter how good your intentions — is that you eventually come to be viewed as nothing more than a caterer. And, as a caterer, you’d better maintain the best prices, the most impressive spread, and the friendliest customer service if your going to stay in business.

  14. 61% of churched high school students graduate and never go back! (Time Magazine, 2009) Even worse: 78% to 88% of those in youth programs today will leave church, most to never return. (Lifeway, 2010)

    A more scary prospect might be that these high school students stick around for life, imbibing the sub-Christian gruel that gets dished out perpetually… ending up as lifeless automatons in their 40’s and 50’s, unsure which end is up, or whether Jesus did anything worthwhile at all..

    I know lots of people that grew up in church and ditched after entering adulthood, never to return, and I’m interested in what our conversations we have reveal. A lot of them are living a deeply spiritual life of some sort- growing in awareness and empathy toward their fellow human beings, creating, living quiet, unpretentious lives, learning how to garden and sing songs together. I’m not trying to make a blanket statement like they’re all in some panacea. It’s just that a lot of them are much better off than what they would be had they gotten stuck in the Christless drivel they could have succumbed to in a life continuing involvement in the kind of church they’re used to.

    Personally I have no problem expecting that God’s hand and word are going to reach people like this through the occasional brush with realistic Christianity that maybe they glimpse here and there when Christians that aren’t too drenched in coolness and extremism bother to pay attention to them and value what they’re doing, despite it’s lack of a religious veneer. No sloganeering t-shirts there, just perhaps a desire to know what genuine humanity looks like.

  15. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    If I had it to do over again with my son, I would not allow him to participate in children’s church or youth group – beyond the occassional youth activity. I just really had no idea how much absolute garbage was being taught in children’s church, or how much they were pushing the prosperity gospel. They were down there telling the kids that life would be hearts and flowers and sunshine and rainbows if they would just pray the magic prayer! Is it any wonder that so many kids are leaving and are bitter toward church? If I had it to do again, my son would sit right beside me in church and anyone who didn’t like it could kiss my foot.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      They were down there telling the kids that life would be hearts and flowers and sunshine and rainbows if they would just pray the magic prayer!

      I “prayed the magic prayer” over and over around a dozen times before I figured it was BS. My life wasn’t hearts and flowers and sunshine and unicorns farting rainbows before OR after.

      Of course, this was the heyday of Hal Lindsay, so there wasn’t any need for perseverance or endurance or even living; just Say the Magic Words and wait to get beamed up — “WE MIGHT NOT HAVE A 1978!!!! OR EVEN A 1977!!!!” (It is now 2012.)

      • @HUG. You’re a little bit older than me, but I got into the Hal Lindsey books as a teen in the 1980s. My mother had a copy of the original 1970s print of Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” book, and not only did I read that, but I read a few other books of his.

        I’m still a believer in the Pre-Trib Rapture, and I’m still pro-Israel, but I’m no longer as interested in Bible prophecy as I was. It’s gotten to the point I turn the channel now, more often than not, when a Bible prophecy show comes on TV on the Christian networks.

        For decades, literally decades now, since my teen years, I’ve been hearing these Bible teacher guys go on about how we’re living in the last days, Israel is in imminent danger, etc.

        I’m now between age 40-45, and Israel is still here, doing just fine, and Jesus has not returned. I’m not a mocker who says Christ will never return (because in my view, it plainly teaches that he will), but it seems kind of like a joke now, how these prophecy guys make all this sound so pressing.

        Anytime anyone in the middle east (such as Iran) does or says something hostile or stupid, these same prophecy guys jump into alert mode that very week on their shows (or as soon as they can) to start telling us “this is it, Christ is going to return any second now, Israel has been threatened!” Some of them then rush a book to press to re-hash all the pre trib type teachings in light of whatever new threat Israel is under.

        You can count on Iran, Egypt, Palestine, or whatever Muslim group, to threaten Israel (verbally or militarily via rocket launches, suicide bombers, etc) at least once three to five years (it is so predictable), so this perpetual state of urgency by Christian prophecy guys has became ridiculous – and boring.

  16. empty churches? Well, we’ve had it this way in Europe for decades…and I have always said the trend would reach the States sooner or later. In my opinion, it is not too late for US churches to react and prepare the future though…

  17. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    I also think a big reason for the decline in youth attending church is the culture wars and the evangelical insistence on equating Christianity/being saved with accepting the GOP party line.

    • Yup. This has certainly been the case for our family, and I know it’s the case even more so with my kids and some of their friends. It’s not the whole explanation, but it’s a big part of it.

      Rachel Held Evans had a post earlier this year on her blog titled “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation” that addressed this issue.

      If churches were losing people because it consistently taught and lived the gospel, I could understand. But way too often churches are losing people over things that have nothing to do with the gospel, or even things that work against it. Ironically, that also gives me hope that we may get people to come back if we can start getting it right.

      • Rachel Held Evans had a great post. I think it is bigger than that though. We just plain never connected them to the adults. We made people takers rather than givers.

      • >Yup. This has certainly been the case for our family, and I know it’s the case even more
        > so with my kids and some of their friends. It’s not the whole explanation, but it’s a big part of it.

        True. After I fled the mega-church scene I ended up in a much smaller protestant church and got involved there. But it was the politics that was one of the big reasons that it turned out to be unpalatable. Once had to ascent to, or at least listen to [without comment], a steady stream of cultural and political critiques. And then 9/11 happened and it, literally [IMHO], got *crazy*. It isn’t comfortable at all to sit in a church service and feel that the speaker isn’t just misguided, but staggeringly ignorant. And it is hard for that kind of crusader culture-war context not to turn into a cult-of-persona, where questions == questioned loyalty.

        I’ve met many others to whom something similar happened; they just couldn’t bear going into another church service and having to keep their heads down and mouths shut. This wasn’t fire-and-brimstone legalism (which so many here seem to have encountered, and I never really have) – it was religio-patriotism.

        These days I just come right out with it: “I am not a patriot”. If that scares people away or makes them angry – I’m good with that. I don’t care in the least what legal citizenship some group somewhere has assigned to a soul.

        Fortunately I’ve found some respite in Catholicism. Way less frenetic. Some people there still get excited [and sometimes some excitement is warranted], but they’ve been around forever. Everything will pass, today’s evils will pass away, tomorrow will have new ones. The Church will be popular. then it won’t, someday it might be again, or not. God’s mercy endures.

    • As someone who is Christian and a Republican, I’ve never totally understood that point.

      Your only real alternative to GOP is the Democratic Party, which stands for a lot of things that are blatantly against biblical teachings, such as abortion, approval of homosexuality, etc. Even when I was a teenager, I had a hard time understanding how someone could say they are a Christian yet keep voting Democrat.

  18. I suspect the problem at the root of the subculture/bubble is that we’re losing the intellectual battle. There are many reasons for this. We see battles where we should learn to listen and we fight battles that should never be battles. This creates an odd us them where our connection with the world is to try to recreate in our churches worldly attractions so that those same attractions don’t seduce our youth to leave the church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Which I call “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”

      A completely-separate Christianese Pop Culture, sealed off behind its own Holy Event Horizon, where you can go from Birth/Altar Call to Homegoing/Rapture without EVER having to meet one of those Heathens except for drive-by prosletyzing sallies. Keep your nose squeeky-clean to pass the Great White Throne Litmus Test and nothing more.

      And most of the Christianese Pop Culture is heavily-bowdlerized, second-rate knockoffs of what’s outside the Thomas Kincade-decorated Holy Event Horizon. So when the Christianese kids actually experience the REAL THING, they never want to go back to the Christianese knockoffs.

      When is the church going to actually set the trend instead of just knocking it off after it jumps the shark on the Outside?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        P.S. I knew this was on YouTube somewhere:

        God’s Favorite TV Shows by InfoMania, a snarky look at Christianese Pop/YouthCulture TV which illustrates the theme of this posting and thread.

        Here’s KEWL Christianese Pop Culture at its most derivative:
        0:26 to 0:34
        1:02 to 1:30
        2:16 to 2:28
        (Warning: It’s actually painful to watch…)

        • That was painful.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Which was the most painful?

            The bad standup — “I’m so Spiritually Dry (whimper whimper)”?

            The X-Treme Sports and rap — “When ah say ‘The Devil is’, you say ‘WACK!’ The Devil Is — WACK! The Devil is — WACK!”?

            The exercise shows with Scripture(TM) and Witnessing(TM) as part of the workout routine?

          • All of the above. I’m going to take my Christian CDs, my Christian DVDs, my Christian fiction and my Christian how to books and dump them all in my Christian trash can.

          • Dear Internet Monk: Please please put H U Guy on the payroll ASAP. He’s always there just in the nick of time, amazing. Thanking you in advance…

  19. David Crawford says

    Mike, this is just not an issue for evangelicals. My Episcopal church has 6 kids and the Lutheran church around the corner has 15.

  20. I think church leaders really need to ask themselves if they should keep spending millions on church buildings that will be empty in 20 years.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Well, given the trend in megachurch architecture, if you knock off the steeple and the false front and expand the loading docks you’ve got a pretty good Wal-Mart or industrial building.

      As for other conversions, some are even already oriented towards Mecca.

  21. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but if all churches lost their tax exempt status, and the standard “tithing” teaching was eliminated, how urgent would the drive to “grow” really be? After all, isn’t a lot of the angst over “youth group” transfer to “regular” church REALLY about INCOME? How much of “church growth” is really translated into “more money for God”?

    I think that the American “success” mindset has polluted real church evangelism, and “green shade” visions have sullied everything that the modern church does.

    • I tend to assume the best about people’s motives. Most 25 year old’s are not great income producers. If they rejoined when their kids turned 7 and started having “bad influences” it would save the church piles of money on nurseries and volunteers and training. I trust the motives. It is the market-based methods that drive the teaching and content of everything from the song lyrics to the communion narrative down. I think the big numbers were addictive. Few asked questions like, “A what cost?” or “Is this Biblical?” or “Will this build a deeper walk of faith in people?”

      • > I tend to assume the best about people’s motives.

        I’ve met very few professional clergy who I did not believe were sincere. Misguided and sincere can be in the same package; and to some degree always are [including myself]. A couple were out-and-out parasites, but they are few and far between.

        I like the saying: “never assume malice concerning what can be explained by negligence or incompetence”.

        All the this-is-for-money claims also just give too much credit. A total sham capable of convincing more that a few people is actually REALLY hard to pull off. So I don’t believe in any conspiritorial capitalist-religion memes as much out of personal experience as well as simple logistics. That goes in the same bucket as the government-is-hiding-aliens – there is just no way they ever could, too many people are involved.

        It someone at a church board meeting ever actually said “we need to sustain revenues” there is 99.44% certainty someone repeat that statement and the system would implode.

        • While not malicious, it doesn’t have to be about money to be, well, about money…. The goal is ostensibly to “grow God’s kingdom”. But to do that we need a super-cool youth center. Or a a glitzy media blitz of the local community. Or a state-of-the-art sound and light system for the Sunday morning event. Or salary for the new pastor of marketing.

          And to do all things we need money. So, are you totally committed and sold out for God? Then sign up for auto-draft and your earliest convenience.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            $oul$ are the Christianese equivalent of dollars. The more you Save(TM), the more butts in the pews, the better your sales record.

            And to do all things we need money. So, are you totally committed and sold out for God? Then sign up for auto-draft and your earliest convenience.

            Make sure you give your routing and account numbers. Our security cameras are good enough that WE WILL KNOW WHO’S HOLDING OUT! — Grinning Ed Young

    • Oscar,

      I think your suggestion about eliminating 501c3 status would sort the serious from the entertainment junkies–at least in the South…


  22. As usual, I am few days late on this. But it seems to me that THE problem is in the underlying assumptions that drive American Christianity and American culture. Intertwined as the two are, it’s not surprising the church is getting the results it is.

    American consumer culture is not so much driven by crass consumption as it is driven by the selling of branded experiences. We own a Subaru. Subaru sells little trinkets they call a “badge of ownership” that you can stick to your car and announce to the world what experiences you use your Subaru for. Like to cook, bike, and camp? Stick those three to the back of your car and announce your tribal affiliation. (I do find it funny there’s no specific badges for mundane stuff like work, groceries, and going to the landfill).

    The American church has bought this approach hook line and sinker. Like any marketer, you suss out your target demographic (usually people who look like you) and imitate what appeals to that demographic until your fingernails bleed. And you hand out your little badges of belonging, the buzzwords of American Christianity. But here’s the catch: imitators are just, imitators, and never as good as the real thing. Would you rather go hear the actual band you like or some tribute knock-off? A church that is always imitating the culture is ultimately going to look like just another bad Elvis Presley impersonator, fat, ugly, and off key. And who wants that?

    And, if all churches are doing is aping the culture to get people in the door, pretty soon the people figure out that they can have a better experience elsewhere, without all the moralistic therapeutic deistic garbage that passes for preaching these days. If can can get the same endorphin rush on Saturday night at the arena concert, have a few drinks, and sleep with my girlfriend afterwards, why would I want to go to church on Sunday where two or maybe three of those three things are frowned upon and attacked from the pulpit? And so, hungover and hankering for some wings while I watch the BIG GAME (TM), I stay home.

    The solution–easier said than done–is not for churches to try to do these things better than they are now, better music, better speakers, better whatever. The solution is not to do the culture chasing thing at all. The solution is to overturn the tables of the moneychangers and chase them out with a whip and call them what they are, thieves. They take from the people of God and offer a handful of dust in return and call it even. The solution is for the church to “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

    • I cannot believe you just quoted that Jeremiah scripture today! I have read that at so many important times of my life so far, it is marked like graffiti in my bible.
      BTW, +1 on all of this, if that means Amen! If churches vying for the attention with football field sized flags in front of their multi-million dollar complexes could find it in themselves to simply represent Christ as intended, they would need to sell all they had to feed the poor. What happened to being the shining light for those searching? Did it really become interpreted as spotlights and high-powered sound systems?! God is that light, right? How is God represented in any of those things?

  23. Mega-church style church attender, wife works at said church. Interesting thing, I mentioned that I was concerned that our kids programs tended to be fluffy happy bible stories. My wife works a lot with the kids program people and told me a different version. While the lesson may still be based on a bible story there is a lot of discussion on how to get the difficult things across; turns out they are starting with the bible story and working out it’s message.
    So I go to the ‘big peoples’ service were the message is already determined and bible verses are used to support it. I’m not sure what is happening in the ‘youth’ church, but it is growing since we got the new youth pastor. Much sought after fellow that was a real coup for the church, even kids from his old church are attending our youth programs.
    Seems that the kids program is more gospel driven than the regular church.

    • LOL. There was a time when I would often attend our Kids Worship instead of the adult worship service, not just to help, but because the worship and gospel message was “better.” (Understanding that “better” is purely subjective, but truly I found myself engaged more in the spirit with God and Jesus during Kids Worship than the regular service!) As an aside, my church’s regular service has gotten much, much better, so that when I serve in Kids Worship now, I actually MISS the adult one! Praise Him!

  24. The practice of Christianity in the West, Europe and North America, was mostly a cultural practice, not based on conversion and the conviction that comes from it, but rather on the fact that the powerful cultural institutions, including the churches and governing authorities, exerted overwhelming influence over individuals to keep them within church bodies. This is no longer the case. The plausibility structures have evaporated, and all that bad faith along with it. Does anyone expect the plausibility structures to return? I mean, here in the West? Africa, Asia and Central and South America are the new, and growing, centers of Christianity. Christ is finding his welcome among the poor and powerless.

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