Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's Wrong with Us/Them?

Allow me to toss a few stats at you:
1) Approximately 100 million people in America live in apartment complexes. That is roughly 1/3 of America. The residents include people from all social classes and age groups (though the majority are young). Of the 100 million, only 1 million (1%) are affiliated with a faith community or church.

2) In his book "Revolutionary," George Barna writes that his studies have shown that there are approximately 33 million younger people (18-35) living in America who claim to be spiritual and lovers of Jesus, yet they don't want anything to do with a church. 33 MILLION!!!

3) Studies have shown that 50% of our young people growing up in Churches of Christ will leave the C of C by the age of 23. Now, this doesn't mean that they are turning away from Jesus (though some are), but they are finding their homes in other denominations, in church plants, or at the "5th and Bedpost" Church.

4) In the Evangelical world, roughly 70% are leaving their churches by the age of 25.

We are quick to ask, "what is wrong with them?"

However, maybe we need to ask, "what is wrong with us?"

What is wrong with the church when over half of our young people don't want to have anything to do with it by the time they graduate college? And, are we willing to do something about it?


Josh said...

The whole premise behind UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons is that the best gift we (Christ-followers) can give the generation we're losing is to be rigorously honest with ourselves...especially when it comes to their perceptions about us. We need to recognize it and deal with it. To a disturbingly high number of young outsiders, we're hypocritical, power-hungry, and a bunch of other anti-Gospel things. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Another great post, Josh.

Dr. Phil said...

Are we not burdening young people (and others) with some legalisms that Jesus never intended? We look inside the walls and say worship is this, this and this for that 1 to 2 hours a week. Perhaps some who are leaving are beginning to look outward for ways to more effectively mimic Jesus' ministry on a 24/7 basis. We should take note!

James Wood said...

I remember growing up in church and feeling like there was no place for me in the future of the church. I was faced with the dilemma of either following my convictions or following the convictions of the older members of the congregation.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but church planting has offered me an alternative. I really think that what is "wrong" is that most churches do not provide an environment where younger people can follow their own convictions and develop into leaders in their own right. If young people are constantly being told that their ideas don't matter and that they can't participate in leadership, then they will tend to shut down and drop out.

Ephesians 4:11ff makes it clear that the leaders of the church are given to equip everyone in the body for ministry. Our failure (I fully include myself in this) has been to not equip and empower the leaders of the future.

Luke said...

I think unChristian was on to something. Honesty in a fake world is quite refreshing.
While I too am in favor of Church planting, I don't think the blame goes completely on the Church regardless of how irrelevant she has been. The message doesn't make sense to everyone and that is worsened when the means (the Church) makes it even more non-sensical.

Casey "C.P." McCollum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Casey "C.P." McCollum said...

The church (youth ministry) is a side dish. The main course of spiritual formation is to be done at home. And most of our students are starving to death.

ejm said...

wow, age 23! That's the age I was when God really threw it all in my face that it is HIS plan no matter how hard I had tried to move away from him and the church for the two years before. If it had not been for the love, encouragement, and most importantly the prayers of SVCC and many others across the nation I may have missed out on the peace that I now enjoy but at 23 denied in order to be a part of the world. What an awesome God we serve and what a tough time 18-25 can be for those without unconditional love and support. I am stunned but have no doubt in that statistic because at one time I was one that supported that demographic. Thank God that there was enough unconditional love here on earth and grace by unconditional love of God to bring me back home.

James said...

I do believe things should be judged on a case by case basis.

That out of the way, there are many that leave (in my experience) because they have failed to understand the relevance of meeting with the church. The importance of 'pleasing God' bu showing up just doesnt cut it for everyone.

Heb 10:24 -- the gatherings motivated people.

Tammie's Thoughts said...

Maybe they leave because of inconsistencies they see in us as Christians...what we teach and what we do... maybe we ought to be taking a look at that very closely.

Josh Ross said...

Great thoughts. Thanks for the comments.

J-Pat, thanks for helping me, and us, dream about the in-breaking of the Kingdom.

Dr. Phil, I am so grateful to be partnering with you here in Memphis.

James Wood, I love your passion for church planting. God is using you to do some great things.

Luke, thanks for your thoughts. You are right, the blame cannot be forced upon any one person or group. Dude, I hope and pray that God uses you to reveal his power and goodness to the Denton area.

C.P., what up bro? Hope Richardson is treaing you well. I agree with you in theory. Our families are our first church. However, realistically speaking, so many of our young are from broken homes. I like your words about our youngsters starving to death. Some of them don't even know what they are hungry for.

EJM, great testimony. Thanks.

Justin said...

In response to number 3:
I am going to challenge my generation to not be so resistant to leadership from those more experienced than us. Many times what is decided is best for us, we just don't believe it because we don't have experience on our side. Youth is such a value in America it is hard to see that there are those with gray hair who know what is best for congregations.
Also, there is something to be said for loyalty to a group. No matter what type of church you move to, there are going to be issues. Recently a relatively well-known church leader of Churches of Christ said he asked a church leader in an Independent Christian Church what was one of their biggest problems among congregations in their churches. I surprised to hear what he said...Instrumental Music. With them it was the type of instrumental music. Grass is not always greener on the other side. I think my generation should be more loyal to churches who have given them an environment to grow as Christians and do care about our well-being no matter how we see it. Submitting to authority of those much more experienced than us is part of life and part of the church as is described in scripture. The young in the church are not completely innocent in this problem.

Jeff said...

I may be the least qualified to answer this but my opinion is the problem isn't in the church with the old people or the worship or the sermon - the problem is in the heart of the one who decides to leave.

Can the church do a lot of things to be more irresistible to folks who are leaving? YES, but that's a heart issue with every individual in that church.

I wandered for many years. I can tell stories of alcohol and drug abuse and I've had plenty of excuses for doing what I did. But, looking back on it several years later, I realize I did what I did simply because my heart was closed to God and open to Satan - not because of what anyone did to me but because I alone allowed it to happen.

Today, I can only ask myself what I am doing to be in harmony with God and, if I am in harmony with God, pray that my light will shine and the joy I exhibit will make God irresistible to those around me. It's not my church's responsibility to be light, it's not the minister's or the song leader's or the 70 year old sitting in the same spot - it's my decision to be light and to show others an incredible God living in me. Once everyone in the church is living in the harmony of God in their hearts, thoughts and actions, who wouldn't want to participate?

Missy Robinson said...

One of the things that we were looking for in a church when we left the Church of Christ we had been attending was a place of healing when people faltered. We ended up at Hope Presbyterian, where we have been members for 7 years. One of the very first pushes to let us know we were in the right place was their slogan on the bulletin that said "We Don't Shoot Our Wounded". We have found Hope to be a place of "Wounded Healers", where people can confess problems without fear of being ostracized or gossipped about. We have found the atmosphere to be a lot more about loving than judging. It is certainly not perfect, but that is precisely the point - no pretentions/fakeness about perfection!

The perception of the Church of Christ in the community (at least from the people I work with and am in contact with who aren't CofC) is that "they think they are the only ones going to heaven" or "they are the ones who don't dance or drink" or whatever... I don't often hear others say "they are really a loving group who are always serving in the community"... I am not saying that many CofCs aren't doing that, but I just think that isn't the perception from outsiders. And, we were told that "They will know we are Christians by our love".

Bonniebeewester said...

Josh: first of all, I love reading your blog. It’s thought-provoking, honest, and sincere. Thank you for continuing your ministry. It’s so awesome to see how you’ve grown over the years and how many lives you continue to bless…

I thought I would weigh in on this discussion since I fall in to the 50% that left the church of Christ by 23. Let me explain. 2 of the 3 churches of Christ that I have been a part of have split due to fighting over petty issues. Everything was black or white. I’m right, you’re not. I’ve seen many people hurt and too many egos involved. Not really my cup of tea. The bickering is not only dangerous to the Kingdom but completely misses God’s intention of the Church. This is in NO WAY reflects all churches of Christ and is not to say that my new church is immune to such problems. This is just from my personal experience and why I chose to leave.

Switching gears, I believe that my generation is different from my grandparents/parents in that we are a generation that’s not comfortable sitting in a pew being told about Christ’s love. We are a generation that wants to show and be shown Christ’s love. Maybe that could be another reason for decline in church #’s?

Brent said...

Hey, at least the C of C is only having 50% of it's young people leave by 23, while the rest of the Evangelical world is having 70% leave by age 25. :) Seriously, this isn't an issue with the Church of Christ as much as it is an issue with church and religion in general. It seems to me that young people WANT to SEE Christians be different. They WANT to SEE Christians stand out. But the sad truth is that Christians as a whole are not that different that the rest of the people out there. I think UnChristian points out that Christians might cuss a little less than "outsiders", but other than that our actions are pretty much in line with the rest of society. By and large these people aren't leaving because they have a problem with Jesus, just the way his fans represent (or don't represent) him.

Anonymous said...

I could not resist replying to this blog. I am nearly 32 and have absolutely fallen into the category of which you speak. I think the topic gets rather complicated rather quickly. I think many 18 year olds are not prepared for the sudden pressures they will face upon entering the "adult" world. I think the church does a poor job of transitioning from youth group to toung professionals. I think there is a lot of questioning that begins to occur during this time as one finds who one is and what one believes. It is a tumultuous time of life. I work in retail and have a predominantly college staff. I work with my team on a personal level quite often as each team member navigates the waters of growing up. This is not the best time in one's life. It can be a lot of fun, but it is hard. One hardly sees that choices made in a moment will impact the future. I would love to be involved in a program at SVCC that addresses this group and goes after them. It is easy to feel that no one cares. I have seen it in every congregation I have attended...we watch them walk away and do nothing. I want to be part of the revolution that changes this!