What makes the difference between a teenager staying connected to the church or straying from it? If we can identify what the church can do—or do differently, can we stem the tide of those who give up or drift away from the Christian faith, and more specifically the church community? I recently heard David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, address the concept of sustainable faith—something that Barna has been researching. The organization is still in the midst of the study but he did share several key observations at the LOGOS Live Conference in San Antonio, Texas in October.
First, he believes three things define what makes this next generation different:
The long shadow of the 60s–skepticism is greater, there is less trust, and more social change particularly in the family make up.
The digital world–kids are digital “natives” and information consumption has moved from passive to interactive.
The post Christian environment–increased cultural criticism of Christianity.
These three factors help explain why this generation is more alienated (from institutions, public schools, manufacturers), has more access (to information and the world), and has new questions about authority.
This isn’t all bad news! It means that for this generation, relationships count (because institutions don’t), they learn how they want and when they want, they are willing to take risks and take action, and they are interested in the “common good.” Are we “back to the future” with the early church? Sounds like it, doesn’t it? The issue for us as “the church” becomes what changes do we need to make as a community to be more inclusive of and inviting to this generation? David also observed that the central challenge to this next generation is being “in the world” but not “of the world.” He believes that challenge will be critical to how we work with this age group.
He was emphatic that church leaders need to pay attention to the reasons why even those 18-29 year olds who have grown up in the church may not be calling themselves “Christian.” Kinnaman identifies some of the things being said about the church from the surveys–noting it’s not as simple as we would hope.
Doubtless: The church doesn’t deal with doubt.
Anti-Science: The church is perceived to be this.
Shallow: Church is boring, God is not experienced in church.
Too safe: All talk, no action.
Meaningless: Faith is not relevant to real life.
Too institutional: The church ignores the problems of the real world.
Talking heads: The church talks at rather than with youth.
Uncreative: Not interested in the ideas of young people.
David did offer up some hope for the church if we pay attention and make some change. Two of the areas he suggested that need addressing are:
“Age buckets”–stop segregating all we do by age group
Ministry to parents—a need to step this up
At The LOGOS Ministry, we teach an approach that allows for all generations to be in ministry together—with a focus on building up young disciples of Jesus Christ. Parents partner with other parents as well as older (and younger) adults in the church to minister to children and youth. We’re not the only organization helping churches move in this direction and we believe that when churches do it well there might be a better chance of stopping the loss of what Barna calls “spiritual engagement” of the next generation. What are the roadblocks that your church is experiencing? What makes getting past some of these barriers so difficult?