Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the large percentage of teens raised in the church who leave after high school and don’t return. This study has some churches shocked and some churches scrambling to do something and some churches unfazed and unchanged.
(disclaimer: this is all my opinion. I claim to be a person who has been part of changes and a person who has watched changes. I do not claim to be an expert in anything)
Too often, we look at changes happening in the church culture and we panic. We tend to think that, if God is unchanging, then the church should be unchanging too. We tend to forget that the ‘normal’ church today is nothing like the church in generations past. Those of us who don’t want church to change now have forgotten that church is the way it is now because we wanted change.
In my own experience, I can only go back about 50 years, but it’s enough to see a pattern. When I was a child, I had to sit with my parents in church. No kids’ church for me. It was b-o-r-i-n-g. The only thing I learned was when to be quiet and how far away from my parents I could get without getting flicked or pinched or threatened.
Then someone started making kids' church so it would be on their level and they could understand better. Over the years it has evolved so that kids don't see the inside of 'big church' until they are in their late teens. And now, guess what? It's b-o-r-i-n-g!
When I was in my early teens, people started to be concerned because young people were leaving the church in droves and not looking back. Some folks took it upon themselves to meet the teens where they were and show them that Jesus was about relationships, not a place and not just acceptable behavior inside a certain building.
My generation rocked the church. We wore jeans to church! (the gasps from the ‘0lder generation’ sucked most of the oxygen from the building) We talked about what it meant to live for Jesus in ‘rap sessions’ where someone would often play a guitar and we didn’t sing hymns.
Our generation wanted to be radical for Jesus. We knew we wanted Jesus and we knew we didn’t want the church we grew up in. Being young with little direction proved to be like giving a loaded gun to monkeys!
However, the established church finally realized that things needed to change in order to keep the next generation from walking away from church and their faith.
It’s not a new problem. It seems to surface 40 to 50 years. So, what do we do? I can say from experience that trying to convince a generation of teens that hymn books and wearing suits was the only way to worship didn’t work.
The people who loved the generation the way they were and poured the love of Jesus into them is what made the difference. I believe, if you look at the generation who is choosing to stay in church, you will find they are connected to other people who love them.
Relationships and the unconditional love of Jesus will make the difference. We want to throw money and programs at them because relationships are so much more costly. We want to complain and bemoan this new generation when we forget that we were right there ourselves a few decades ago.
If we want the younger generation to see Jesus, they will need to see Him in us. If those of us from the last generation who saw big changes in the church are honest, that’s all we were really looking for too – Jesus. It’s going to cost us time and more time. Are we willing to pay that price?