Young people are becoming less and less religious in the United States; no one can deny it. There are many possible reasons why they are leaving spirituality behind; both the faithful and the skeptics have tried to explain it in varying degrees.
Recently, it has been suggested that the modernization of the church is to blame. The theory is that young people see acoustic guitars, pastors in jeans, or a Joel Osteen book, and they can just sense the “posers.” They make a sprint to the doors, never to return.
It is an interesting thought, but does it really hold up to scrutiny?
Do younger potential Christians prefer ancient liturgy or Victorian Age hymns to the modern worship music being put out by Brian Johnson or Nicole C. Mullen? Do they see a pastor in jeans instead of a frock and think, “He’s trying too hard”? Are they leery of modern Christian scholars like Dr. Michael Brown in favor of ancient teachers like Thomas Aquinas?
The Barna Group did a 2011 study about this; they identified six possible reasons why the younger generations are leaving religion behind.
- Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
- Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
- Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
- Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
These are all issues that the Church needs to address in a biblical manner, but notice anything missing from the study?
It is not a sense of whether a church is “trendy.” The root cause of the reasons listed above is that young people are turned off by shallow and unauthentic faith. It could be in a modern church with a modern building, music, or dress, or it could be in a more traditional parish that uses organs, speaks Latin, or plays hymns. It does not matter how the phoniness is being displayed; it only matters that it is phony.
Those who are against modernization will insist that these new and trendy things are making the church more “worldly.” In some regards that is true. There are several churches that choose to make their places of worship a weekly social club with no meat to the teaching or the lifestyle they promote. They go along to get along. Jesus himself condemned this in the Bible, the Book of Revelations 3:16, saying that He rejected anyone who was neither hot nor cold in their faith.
Does a practice have to be ancient to be correct? Nonsense. Just because the Church practiced something a long time ago that endured into the modern era does not mean it should continue, unless it has a biblical basis.
At one time, Catholics and Protestants taught the “Replacement Theology” heresy that specifically targeted the Jewish people. The Catholic Church continued to affirm this belief until Vatican II. Protestants started rejecting it thanks in part to the efforts of the Evangelical movement, which affirmed Christianity’s commitment to Israel and the Jews. It was an old, well-practiced belief that had no biblical foundation and needed to be removed.
So how does the Church combat the decline of young people in the faith?
For one, they should not be afraid of proselytizing. Another study by the Barna Group, conducted earlier this year, showed that Christians are ceasing to share their faith at an alarming rate. The reasons vary, but most seem confused by what they actually believe or are afraid of beng alienated from someone close.
The answer to this is simple: ministers need to prepare their flocks for evangelizing in a a way that is knowledgeable and unapologetic while also spreading the love of Christ. Pastoral leadership should hold true to the faith and help the congregation know not just what they believe, but why they believe it.
Architectural and musical style are not the key to either losing or winning over the younger generation. Whether offering a modern service or an ancient liturgy, churches must choose to present the Gospel in a way that is authentic.