James McCarty wrote an interesting post on why young people are leaving Churches of Christ: Homeless: An Essay on the Ecclesial Lives of Young Adults from the Churches of Christ
James lays out 5 reasons he believes young people are leaving Churches of Christ and then ends the post with some words for those young people and some words for the churches who are losing them. His five reasons include:
- Rejecting the old claim that Churches of Christ are the only ones going to heaven.
- Rejection of legalism
- Dissatisfaction of the teaching and ministries of the church as too narrow/not relevant to them
- Rejection of the church aligning itself with the Republican party
- Desire for racial diversity in the church
Going beyond symptoms to the heart of the matter:
If you haven’t read James’ post you should. I think he makes some good points. These five things could be said of all kinds of different denominations. This is not a unique list for churches of Christ. I am not certain that his five points get to the heart of what is really happening here. I think this is more of a symptom checklist of some deeper issues that have to be uncovered if we are going to move forward. You could “fix” all five of his points and still have young people leaving the church.
Two Underlying Issues:
First, in almost all of the discussions I have heard on this problem we have framed the problem as young people leaving the church. When you are concerned about young people leaving the church the metric you use to assess their spiritual health is whether or not they return to attending on Sunday. The problem is, these guys attended church for 18-25 years and then left. First and foremost this is about bringing people to Christ. If you can do that the church part will naturally flow out of it but if all you are concerned about is church attendance then you are winning them to the wrong thing. I give Eric Brown credit for opening my eyes to that point. Eric and I talk about these things pretty frequently and I am very appreciative of his perspective on this.
The second underlying issue is how do we define church and is there is discrepancy between how the older and younger generations view and define church? That question has to be followed up with this question – How is “church” defined by scripture and how do both “sides” need to adjust to have a more biblical approach? Both generations will have some helpful points in defining church and both will have areas where they need to adjust their view to something that is more biblical as well as cognizant of people who are of another generation.
How we define church is a combination of our scripture and worldview. For example, the older generation has a love for teaching. Teaching is just as biblical as community. Teaching is a part of their DNA due to the combination of worldview and what they gravitate to in the practices of the early church. What I mean by that is this…the early church did many things that we can read about in the Bible. We are all reading the same Bible but different generations gravitate to different aspects or practices of the early church. Worldview influences the parts we pick and the parts we ignore or discard. The older generation has a modern worldview. They value information and grew up in doctrinal debates where they had to “study to show thyself approved.” They also value church attendance as a marker of the faithful. Church attendance for them is defined as being at the building at a particular time on Sunday. Nothing else counts (I am overgeneralizing here…I understand that). What ends up happening is “church” ends up being defined through two lenses: what we read about in the Bible (the culture of the first century church) and contemporary culture (influences the traditions we develop and the scriptures we emphasize as our reading of the Bible is filtered through what we already value/believe to be important).
Being the 21st century church
We all have to be aware of how our worldview/culture influences the way we view and define “church” and we all have to realize that our view can always be improved. At the same time, we can get so caught up trying to be the first century church that we fail to be the 21st century church. In other words, we get so caught up on the forms of how we do things and imitating them, that we fail to personally develop and embody the heart of Jesus in our communities today. Eric Brown said this really well at the Spiritual Growth Workshop this year when he said, “The first century church was not trying to be the first century church. The first century church was trying to be Jesus.”
There is more I would like to say about this but I am curious what you guys think so far.