The excellent Brian Kirk reports on some research which looks at the disconnection of young people from Church. This is clearly US-focused work, and so operates in a different culture from the UK, which is much more advanced in its disconnection from Church (hey, we’ve been losing young people for decades and yet still we persevere!)
The core issues are these my comments in red:
1) Churches seems overprotective (e.g. resist, demonize, and ignore real-world issues and problems). What young people hate most is inauthenticity. They recognise and respect the role of doubt and the post-modern incredulity of the metanarrative is their normal mindset. “It’s like this because I say so” isn’t going to work.
2) Youth experience Christianity in the Church as shallow (e.g. not relevant or connected to an experience of God.) There is a genuine yearning for God by people of all ages, and it goes beyond entertainment and spectacle. This is as much of a critique of the super-Catholic Mass show as it is the Soul Survivor gig: unless young people actually engage with God, usually in small encounters, shallowness pervades. Trouble is, we still tend to think about the big event.
3) Churches appear antagonistic to science. Who created the science then? The wonder of creation is the most awesome thing ever, and we should celebrate science as God’s work, not run away from it. Thankfully, only a peripheral problem in the UK, but these types of people make my work that much harder.
4) Churches take an overly-simplistic or judgmental view of sexuality. Bingo! Some of the most popular courses at the moment encourage discussion on ethical issues, and young people do not need to be filled with prejudice and hate to see issues as black and white. Biblical sexuality is not about cherry picking individual verses of the Torah, but a much more complex multilayered and grey area of human existence. God seeks to empower not curtail humanity.
5) Youth struggle with exclusive claims of some Christian churches. Metanarratives again. When someone says definitively “The Bible says…” or worse “God says…” we should instantly be on our guard (including what I say) and apply our own exegesis and interpretation to that of others. The Holy Spirit works through all of us to seek God’s will.
6) Youth sees the Church as unfriendly to those who doubt.…and yet is the only body created for the benefit of it’s non-members. Mission means engaging with those who doubt. Outreach means serving those who struggle. The Gospel means walking with everybody, and letting Christ in to do the converting.
For those of us whose mindset is mission, and who believe that young people deserve to hear the authentic Gospel, these are salutary challenges. It is easy to assume that our message is the only message that God will bring to young people, and that what we do is the only way; but I have been hearing a different story recently: understanding that some methods are inappropriate, and that many tools of evangelism of the distant past cast by the wayside have value and benefit. The real work lies ahead: it is organic, small, unspectacular, individual and authentic. It connects to the tradition of the Church and shies away from the entertainment industry and the megachurch.