Why are Young Christians Leaving the Church? - Part 1: Overprotective and Afraid of culture and Creativity)
Recently, I was asked by someone why I thought that we were losing the "postmodern generation"--why younger Christians are leaving our fellowship. It is a good question, and a question that other fellowships are asking as well. David Kinnamon, in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking..., gives six reasons that young Christians are leaving Christianity based upon research.
In a series of blog posts I will share Kinnamon's six reasons, as well as my own thoughts on the subject.
In this first post, I will examine David Kinnamon's first reason that he gives for why young Christians are leaving church. According to Kinnamon, young people are leaving church because they find that the church is:
Reason #1 - Overprotective [Afraid of Culture and Creativity]. The impulses toward creativity and cultural engagement are some of the defining characteristics of the Mosaic generation that are most obvious. They want to reimagine, re-create, rethink, and they want to be entrepreneurs, innovators, starters. To Mosaics, creative expression is of inestimable value. The church is seen as a creativity killer where risk taking and being involved in culture are anathema.
My thoughts - In our fellowship, we are much more comfortable with a rational, left-brained faith. Churches of Christ were shaped during the 1800s in a time in which linear, deductive reasoning was prominent. Thus, today we still are much better at reaching or keeping engineers or blue collar workers than we are reaching or keeping artists/right-brained people. And with the rise of video, the Iphone and Ipad, movies, and music, we are increasingly becoming a right-brained world--a world which is leaving us behind.
Most of our churches and preachers still do not use video, use powerpoint to merely highlight "points" (linear thought) rather than show vivid pictures, have little creativity in worship, and ignore social media. Because our roots are rural and poor, we have not (generally) valued design in our presentations, our buildings (which seem to have all been designed by one architect from the 1950s), our publications (most bulletins are crammed and assault the eye), or our websites (which are generally terrible, if a church even has one). We view such things as being wasteful, or worse yet, unnecessary.
We simply have not understood or valued these things, and we mistrust anything that would evoke "emotion." We believe that emotion will always lead us astray (but strangely never seem to think that our reasoning could be doubted). Thus we have failed to engage the heart/emotion, which has been detrimental not only to younger generations, but to all of the generations. Emotion is a fundamental part of what makes us human. We cannot fully love God without this essential part of us. And by failing to fully engage the emotion, the right-brained part of us, we have left the increasingly right-brained, younger generations feeling that the church and/or God is dull and dry.
(Even our number one evangelistic tool, the Jewel Miller filmstrips, was never updated. I have tried to provide an updated evangelistic tool in the Story of Redemption-www.StoryofRedemption.com.)
As to involvement in culture, we have rarely looked to find truth in culture as Paul did in Acts 16 at Mars Hill. In this passage, Paul carefully examines the Athenians' objects of worship, and he somehow finds something in their culture--the altar to the unknown god--to point towards the God of heaven. We often have either been only condemning of culture or merely ignorant. Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, the Passion of the Christ, the Matrix--these are just a few examples of recent movies that all have powerful biblical themes. And yet, I would guess that fewer than 10 percent of churches used these movies as outreach or inreach opportunities. That means that on any given week, most preachers probably reference almost nothing from culture, providing no guidance for younger Christians to "redeem" popular culture.
And as for music, we provide no cultural relevance. And yet, the gospel can be found or illustrated in even artists that are not noted to be Christian. Take, for instance, the lyrics of the young singer, Avril Lavigne (pictured above), in her song, I'm With You.
I'm standing on a bridge
I'm waiting in the dark
I thought that you'd be here by now
There's nothing but the rain
No footsteps on the ground
I'm listening but there's no sound
Isn't anyone tryin to find me?
Won't somebody come take me home
It's a [very] cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Won't you take me by the hand
Take me somewhere new
I don't know who you are
But I... I'm with you
I'm with you
Within this song there is the human longing for friendship, companionship, community, value--all of which can be found in Christ and the church, which is his body. But few preachers are quoting Avril Lavigne. If we showed up at Mars Hill, would we have been able to preach Christ from the altar to the unknown god? Today, we are surrounded by Mars Hill, with all of its artists, its paintings, its sculptures, its music and its images. We need to learn how to engage these artists, interpret their world, and use their gifts to share Christ. Through these beautiful pictures, healing can be brought to a broken world.
Do you think that Churches of Christ (or your fellowship) are good at reaching or keeping "artists"/the increasingly right-brained, postmodern generations? Why do you think this is? How could we better reach this group/generation?