I have hesitated a while to bring this article into the public domain for quite a long time. It hasn’t been because of the content, per se. Rather, it has been over being convicted on whether or not what has been on my mind is making bold assumptions that are otherwise not true, or could possibly distance myself from friends I love dearly. In examining my own heart, and hoping those who gloss over this will give it a charitable read, I am not so convinced any longer that they are bold assumptions. To be sure, much of what I say is observational, though there is data to support the “Millennial Flight,” i.e. leaving the organized Church.
The bottom line is this: There is a problem with young people, particularly Millennials, leaving the Church. No one would dispute that. The question is why. Why are young people leaving the Church? Honestly, I am not sure a straight answer can be given. It is a very American thing to want straight answers where straight answers cannot be given. However, it may be helpful to boil it down to this: worldliness. Many young people, and older folks, are incredibly worldly in the Church today. This has been the case for decades, but I do wonder if anyone has actually listened. I recall a short clip put out by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals featuring James Montgomery Boice, in which Dr. Boice nails down what I think to be the problem in many of our churches: Many Evangelical churches have used worldly means and worldly methods to attract a worldly people. Can we see where this will lead? A still worldly people.
Let’s think about it for a moment: If a church’s worship service on a Sunday morning looks rather familiar to a rock concert, what makes church any different? If a church has stopped preaching the Gospel of Christ and begun preaching the Gospel of Social Justice, what makes church a better institution than the ACLU? If a church is openly embracing the new phase of the Sexual Revolution, why go to church when I can go elsewhere? Thus, the very reason for adopting these, relevance, turns out to make going to church rather irrelevant. The Mainline Churches (i.e. the PCUSA, UMC, EC, etc.) have long ago embraced these things and have suffered as a result. Now, we are seeing similar trends with Evangelical churches because most young people today care a great deal about injustice, the environment, and so on. One would think the 20th century would have been a learning curve for Evangelicalism on what not to do in terms of evangelism. Yet, here we are.
This is not just spouting off, it’s reality. According to a recent Pew Research poll, Christianity in America has reached a new low in Modern American history to just 65%, down from 78% just a little over a decade ago. This alongside a growing percentage of nones to 26%, up from 16% in the same time. The driving force is the growing unaffiliated status of Millennials stands at 40%, compared to 25% of Gen X, 17% of Baby Boomers, and 10% of the Silent Generation. This would not be so unprecedented, only to show that Millennials are not returning to religious faith at the same rate previous generations have. This also in a new century in which Evangelicals supposedly figured out how to keep young people in Church.
1. A Stern Rebuke.
Paul wrote to Titus, a young preacher, not to let anyone “disregard you” because he was young, rather to preach with all authority given to him by God (Titus 2:15). Titus was preaching to older people, with more years and experience. Who was he to call out his elders when they were wrong? Who gave him one authority as a young man? Well, I am not preaching, but let not older Evangelicals turn a blind eye because I am young, but actually consider something: What is with entertaining Millennials? In other words, why has it been for so many decades that the older generations have resorted to worldly means and worldly methods to keep young people in church? Why did you abandon expositional, Christ-centered preaching for trendy one liners and topical, felt-needs “preaching,” if it can be called that? Why did you abandon worship full of depth and spiritual meat, for repetitive mantra-like songs that could be no more described as spiritual milk?
Paul rebuked the Corinthians saying how he gave them spiritual milk, not solid food, because they were not ready for it. Indeed, he said they were “still not ready for it, for you are still worldly” (1 Corinth. 3:2). And the Apostle’s writing makes clear this was not a good thing. As of today, we have an entire generation of young people leaving the church, for one reason or another, because no one has taught them adequately from the Bible what matters most, having first things first. In other words, we have adult Christians still on spiritual milk, unable to wean off to solid food. In a world that is growing more secular and antagonistic to orthodox Christianity, what’s going to look better in response: Weak and milk-fed Christians, or strong and well-fed Christians?
Let’s be clear: we are sending baby sheep into a pack of wolves. This will not end well; in fact, is not ending well with more and more Millennials leaving church. They simply have not been taught by their elders the things of God from the Scripture. This is not true in all cases. I know of several faithful, godly ministers who I love and respect very dearly who preach the Word every Sunday. I know several Elders who lead humbly and honestly. However, this certainly is not the case for a significant number of people. And those elders who have not preached the whole counsel of God will have to answer for that. Why were God’s people not prepared well so that their faith may not fail?
- Millennials Are Not Off The Hook
It is easy to blame those in power with not upholding their responsibilities with sound teaching. Yet, young people are not off the hook either. Recently, a pastor from an area church preached to a Christian ministry I am apart of. He exhorted us to seek after God, to seriously cling to him, and to abandon worldliness. While I wish he could have given concrete examples, he was nevertheless absolutely correct. There is a plethora of resources available to young people at just the click of a button, or a search on Google, or a video on YouTube. What frustrates me to absolutely no end with my generation, but also what saddens me to no end, is the utter apathy and lukewarmness toward the things of God. Christ says in Revelation 3 that he would spit such a church out of his mouth. Has anyone tried lukewarm food? It’s quite disgusting actually, and you have a natural reflex to spit something like that out. How much more for the lukewarm Christianity that does exist among young Evangelicals.
Younger Evangelicals do, however, have legitimate questions on mind. How do we minister to our LGBT neighbor? How do we deal with social injustices? How do we deal with the poor and destitute? In a TV and Internet ridden age, they’ve listened to the loudest voices, and it has not been the pastors in the pulpits. It has been those Critical Theorists, Progressives, and Socialists. They have given answers pastors have not. Yet, many young people have not really searched for other answers as well. One thing still creeping in Evangelical churches are these Progressive, Leftist movements. The church is becoming less distinct from the world. History shows once churches become 100% worldly, they never return to their orthodox roots. But, young Evangelicals have no knowledge of this history, and have no desire to learn this history. After all, history is boring and irrelevant. Simply opening one’s history book would show clearly to younger Evangelicals that the things they are synthesizing with orthodox Christianity will have the opposite effect they desire it to have. As a former Progressive and Socialist who tried to do the same thing, it is simply impossible to synthesize two worldviews competing for the same turf. Whether we like it or not, we will have to choose one or the other, and Pew seems to indicate younger Evangelicals are choosing the world over Christ.
- A Plea
My plea to older Evangelicals is this: Stop entertaining us. Stop trying to make Christianity relevant. The Church of 2,000 years up to today has done a relatively fine, though not perfect, job spreading the Gospel in a biblical way, and does not need your innovations. It’s time to stop and return to faithful evangelism, expository preaching, and serious worship, i.e. hymns over pop music. But most of all, pray for serious revival among the young.
My plea to younger Evangelicals is this: Stop synthesizing godless ideologies with Christianity. For your own sake and the life of the Church, please stop. It does not work, and it will not work just because you have not seen it tried before. Again, history shows the embrace of the Social Gospel did not lead to actual Gospel preaching, it destroyed great denominations. Seek Christ, and you will find him. Flee from youthful passions and “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). Your hope and identity is in Christ. Christ will renew the world, and Christ is the real Savior for the marginalized. Neither of those things can you do. Look to Christ!