5 Reasons We Need to Rebrand Evangelism – Part 4

In a January 13, 2012 article posted on christianpost.com, guest columnist Greg Stier of Dare 2 Share Ministries listed 5 reasons why the practice of evangelism needs to be “rebranded.”

This is the fourth of a 5-part series where I will examine and evaluate each of the five reasons listed.

4. This generation is looking for meaning and Biblical evangelism provides it.

The goal of Biblical evangelism is to engage the lost, not enrage them. It is the process of sharing the good news, asking questions, listening deeply and making “a case for Christ” with humility and love. This is what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote to his young protege’ in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”  In a way Paul was seeking to rebrand evangelism even in his day. He reminded Timothy that it wasn’t about winning an argument but wooing a soul to Christ.

Young people today are hungry for purpose and meaning in their lives.  They’ve grown up in a culture that has told them that they are the chance product of evolution, a meaningless natural force devoid of purpose.  According to research by the Pew Research Center, 18% of Americans under the age of 30 describe their faith as “nothing in particular.”  They are looking for meaning in their lives, but not finding it.  Many jump from one “cause” or religion to another, and develop a mismatched set of beliefs acquired from many sources.  The philosophy of relativism has taught them that all beliefs are equally valid; therefore, none are actually true.

This worldview clashes with what the Bible tells us.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John14:6).  The truth of the Gospel message, in part, is that the meaning and purpose for life that was lost at the Fall can only be restored through Jesus Christ.  Young people today value meaningful relationships.  No relationship can be more meaningful than a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Too often, when Christians try to share the Gospel with a lost person, it turns into an argument.  The Christian argues that the Bible is the truth; the lost person argues it is not.  While apologetic arguments are often valuable in answering the questions people have, at other times, they can become a hindrance.  Many times, the lost need to experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ through their relationships with Christians, not hear another argument.  This has been a difficult concept for me to grasp, since I came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of apologetic arguments.  However, the culture and worldview of young people has radically changed since I was saved in 1979.  There is far more emphasis today on experiences than on logical reasoning.  As a result, the apologetic arguments that worked well in evangelizing the baby boomer generation are less effective in trying to reach Millennials.

Consider how Jesus evangelized.  In John 4:4-26, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.  Rather than giving a rational presentation of the Gospel message, Jesus starts by building a relationship with her, despite the cultural taboos against such a relationship.  Only after showing the woman grace and love does he explain grace and love to her.  Many young people today are much like this woman.  They need to see the change a relationship with Jesus Christ can have in the life of the Christian before they are able to hear the Gospel message.

Evangelism based on the fiery preaching of Peter in Acts 2, and the rational arguments of Paul in Acts 17, worked well in previous generations; the relational method used by Jesus is usually more effective today.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been slow to change their methods for evangelism to meet the changing culture.  This does not mean we change the message; only the delivery should change.  Nor does it mean we abandon the old methods completely, but rather, that we adapt them to more effectively reach the lost of the current generation.  It also means that we need to look ahead to the next generation that will arise, and adapt more quickly to methods that will enable us to effectively reach them as well.

The rebranding of evangelism in part means adapting how the timeless truth of the Gospel is communicated in order to win the souls of the lost of this and future generations.

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 6

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the sixth and final in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Let’s face it; there are many difficult to believe things in the Bible:

  • Talking snakes and talking donkeys.
  • The parting of seas and walking on water.
  • The creation of the entire universe in 144 hours.
  • People being swallowed by a fish and thrown in an oven, and surviving
  • A world-wide flood that wipes out everything except for one large lifeboat.
  • Virgin birth.
  • Resurrection.
  • God becoming a man.

The list can go on and on.  The claims of Christianity often defy our senses and experiences.  Our limited, fallen minds are going to naturally question the validity of the fantastic accounts of God’s miraculous interventions recorded in the Bible.

How does the church respond when young people express doubts about their faith?  One unfortunate response is to reinterpret the Bible to try to explain away the difficult parts.  Some teach that the Genesis creation account is some sort of allegory or story that contains spiritual truth, but no historical facts.  Others teach that Hell doesn’t actually exist, that the virgin birth never actually happened, or that the flood of Noah’s day was just a local event.  The problem with these types of responses is that they undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, and they make God out to be a liar.  If some parts of the Bible aren’t actually true, then why trust any of it?  If the Bible is the Word of God, but the Bible isn’t completely true, then God is either a very poor writer, or else He hasn’t told us the truth.  Most young people are smart enough to figure out that if the Bible isn’t accurate, then there is no rational basis for Christianity.  No wonder so many are leaving the church!

The second common response is to give a shallow, superficial answer.  “Why?  Because the Bible says so,” or “Good Christians don’t ask such questions” are typical responses.  Many, if not most, Christian teachers and leaders have not equipped themselves to adequately defend the Christian faith.  They can’t explain the difficult things in the Bible and in life because they don’t really understand the issues themselves.  In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are commanded to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  Too many Christian leaders have not sanctified the Lord God in their hearts; their relationship with Jesus Christ is not the true focus of their lives.  Too many Christian leaders have no idea how to give a defense of the Gospel.  They have not diligently prepared themselves to give reasoned, rational explanations for the truth of God’s Word.  And, too many Christian leaders do not approach these issues with “meekness and fear,” but with pride, arrogance, and indifference.  Then, they wonder why young people leave the faith!

What should the church’s response be to the doubts expressed by young believers?  Over a third of the young people surveyed in the Barna study said they can’t ask the “most pressing life questions” in church.  We need to encourage questioning!  But, we also need to be prepared to give solid, insightful, Biblical answers to the difficult issues facing young people today.  When young believers express significant intellectual doubts about the Bible or their faith, we need to listen.  We need to be able to help people work through their doubts and struggles, pointing them toward understanding and reasoned answers.  God tells Isaiah in Isaiah 1:18, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord…”  God encourages us to use our minds to find reasoned understanding of the difficult issues of life.  The church has the responsibility to help young people to reason out the answers, based on the Bible.   When young Christians say their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems,” the church needs to listen!  Too often, we tell people suffering from depression that their illness is because of a spiritual problem, which only makes them feel guilty, and serves to reinforce the depression and doubts, rather than resolving the issues.  Rather than judging people for having emotional issues, we need to help them work through their doubts, fears, and depression by providing support, love, and solid Biblical answers.

The church must never compromise the authority of the Bible.  Nor should we give superficial or judgmental answers when young people express doubts or ask difficult questions.  Rather, we need to listen carefully and empathetically to the issues young people bring up, and provide solid, Biblical answers.  If we fail to provide answers to the questions young people have, they will seek answers elsewhere, and the answers they find outside of the Word of God will only lead them to destruction and despair.

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 5

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the fifth in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority. Most young adults want to find areas of common ground with each other, sometimes even if that means glossing over real differences. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).

Most younger Americans have been taught to embrace relativism.  According to thefreedictionary.com, relativism is “a theory, especially in ethics or aesthetics, that conceptions of truth and moral values are not absolute but are relative to the persons or groups holding them.”  In other words, what’s true for you may not be true for me, and we are to accept all views as equally valid.  Absolute, universal truth does not exist.

First, to claim that “absolute, universal truth does not exist” is self-contradictory, because the statement itself claims to be absolute, universal truth.  But, this is irrelevant to those who hold to this philosophy, because it’s true for them, even if it’s illogical for others!  Relativism leads to absurdity of thought; but, relativists don’t care if it’s absurd, because it’s not absurd to them.  Which is absurd, and gives me a headache.

The point is, our young people have been indoctrinated with a philosophy which holds that all religious viewpoints are equally valid.  Mormonism, Hinduism, Communism, Islam, Wicca, and atheism are just as valid and “true” as Christianity, despite the fact that the claims of each of these worldviews are vastly different and mutually exclusive.  All worldviews are equally valid, and all must be accepted as truth; otherwise, we are being “intolerant” and “hateful.”

This totally contradicts the Biblical view.  In John 14:6, Jesus stated, ““I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus also stated in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  In Acts 4:12, Peter, speaking of Jesus, stated, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  There is no relativism in Christianity; there is only one truth, and all other viewpoints are false.

What can the church do to reach those with a relativistic worldview with the exclusive message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Almost a third of the young people surveyed stated that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths.”  This is probably true, although it shouldn’t be.  Christians should not operate from fear, but from love.  1 John 4:18-19 states, “18 there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.” Rather than fearing other religions and worldviews, the church should face them head-on, in love.  We should be teaching our young people what other religions believe, why these beliefs are wrong, and how to reach people with other worldviews with the love of Jesus Christ.  Rather than fearing people of other faiths, we need to embrace the opportunity to share Jesus, and the church needs to teach this to our young believers.

Three out of every ten surveyed stated that they feel “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.”  Again, this should not be.  Young believers need to be taught to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) and share it with their friends.  Christians should not live isolated from non-Christians, but need to develop relationships with non-believers in order to have opportunities to lead them to a relationship with Christ.  I do understand that there are times when young, spiritually immature Christians may need to separate themselves from the influences of non-Christians, lest they be tempted and fall away from the faith.  However, if the church did a better job of discipling and equipping new Christians to grow in their faith, and to defend it, this would be far less of a problem.  And yes, we are forced to choose between faith in Jesus Christ, and faith in the world.  Again, the church needs to do a better job of encouraging, teaching, and equipping young Christians to grow to spiritual maturity.

The fact that 22% of those surveyed said, “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” is a serious indictment against the church.  Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”  This isn’t a suggestion, or a recommendation – it’s a commandment.  And, too many churches do not take this commandment seriously.  No wonder so many young Christians see the church as hypocritical, and decide to leave.  In the song “My Jesus” by Todd Agnew, there’s a part that says:

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd

How many of us actually reach out to the lost, hurting, “different” people around us?  Or, are we afraid of them, or too arrogant to care?

The message of the Gospel is exclusive.  John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Eternal life is exclusive to those who believe on Jesus Christ; those who do not believe are destined to Hell.   This is the message we need to help young people to understand.  There aren’t many ways to get to heaven; there is only one way, Jesus Christ.  This is the message the church must teach, but more importantly, it is the message we need to learn to live.

CHRISTIAN:  Does your life demonstrate the exclusive nature of your relationship with Jesus Christ, in a fearless, loving way that will attract others to the Gospel?

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 4

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twentysomething Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.” The issue of sexuality is particularly salient among 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, among whom two out of five (40%) said the church’s “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.”

This is a tough subject.

Let’s face it, we live in a sex-crazed society.  The perverse concept of sex that saturates the culture appeals to our fallen sin natures at the basest level.  The world’s concept of almost-anything-goes sex on demand is totally contrary to the Biblical concept of sex as a gift limited to marriage between one woman and one man for life.  Not only are teen and twentysomething Christians struggling with the concept of God’s plan for sex, many older Christians, including many church leaders, struggle with this as well.  Sex is often a very uncomfortable topic to discuss, so churches usually avoid discussing it at all.  This has left a huge gap in the church’s teaching about the Biblical concept of sex.  Too often, the negative “thou shalt not” legalistic approach is all that is conveyed, rather than focusing on the positive benefits of waiting for marriage.  Also, with so many divorces and examples of marital infidelity among Christians, I think there is often a credibility gap when young Christians are told one thing, but they see another.

I find it disturbing that “most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers.”  This tells me that the church has been extremely ineffective in how we have approached the topic of sex.  Too many young Christians acknowledge intellectually that extramarital sex is wrong, but their actions show that they find it acceptable to compromise in this area.

In many cases, it is undoubtedly true that young people “have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them.”  Rather than extending grace and healing, the church too often extends judgment and hurt.  Pride often makes it impossible to follow Jesus’ admonition to “first remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).  Let’s face facts:  Even for those of us who are more mature Christians, sex is a powerful temptation.  And even though we might not actually act on our sinful sexual impulses, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Many times, the church is judgmental, because we see the same sin in young people that we struggle with ourselves, although our pride keeps us from seeing it.

How should the church tackle the issue of sex?  First, we must be honest about the struggles that most of us have ourselves.  If church leaders fall into sexual sin, they must be confronted, removed from positions of authority, and not allowed to return until repentance and restoration have occurred, according to Scripture.  We cannot be hypocritical; young people can see right through our hypocrisy.  Second, we need to be straightforward and blunt, yet respectful, and tackle the issue head-on.  We can’t continue to simply avoid the issue, because if the church does not teach young people about a proper attitude toward sex, they will adopt the world’s perverted attitude.  Third, Christian parents need to step up to the plate and properly teach their own children the Biblical truth in the area of sex, rather than leaving it up to the church.  Fourth, the older men of the church need to be the ones teaching the younger men, and the women need to be the ones teaching the young women.  Lastly, when young Christians fall into sexual sin, we need to lovingly confront them, not in condemnation, but in love, for the purpose of leading them to repentance and restoration.

Biblical truth about sex should never be compromised, but must be communicated candidly, yet appropriately.  We cannot just avoid the subject, or simply focus on sex as sin, but we need to include frank, maturity-level appropriate, positive discussion of the wonderful gift of sex in marriage.   We need to equip our young people to rely on the Holy Spirit to give them the strength and wisdom to avoid falling into sexual sin, and when they do fall, we need to help them to repent and be restored.

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 3

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the third in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

The creation / evolution battle has been front and center in the culture war that rages in America.  Those opposed to the Bible and Biblical Creationism have been very successful in redefining the conflict between evolution and the Bible’s teaching on creation as “science vs. religion.” This fallacious concept has infiltrated the thinking of much of the church.  Evolution is not science; it is an anti-Christian religious philosophy disguised as science.  Unfortunately, most Christian leaders do not understand this distinction.  Many recognize that atheistic evolution is incompatible with the Bible, but because they lump evolution and science together, many Christian leaders and pastors are also suspicious of science.  Then, this misinformed, anti-science attitude is preached from the pulpit and taught in the Sunday School classroom.  There should be no tension between Christianity and science; the conflict is between Christianity and evolution.

How should the church address the concerns expressed in the Barna study?  Over a third of those surveyed stated that, “Christians are too confident they know all the answers.”  Perhaps many in the church have a problem with pride?  I know I do not have all the answers.  But, I know where all of the answers can be found – in the Bible.  This is the message that the church must communicate:  the church does not have all the answers; pastors do not have all the answers; ministries like Answers in Genesis, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, and Focus on the Family do not have all the answers; only the Bible ultimately has the answers to all of the important questions of life.

The other issue with the perception that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” is the post-modern, relativistic belief that truth is ultimately unknowable.  Many young people have been indoctrinated with the idea that truth is relative, that whatever one believes is truth for them.  This illogical, fallacious belief has also infiltrated the thinking of many church leaders.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV), and “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32 NKJV).  Absolute truth exists; Jesus Christ is absolute Truth; and the Bible communicates the absolute truth.  Church leaders need to get this concept firmly ingrained in their thinking, and they need to communicate this clearly to their congregations.

How can the church change the perception that it is anti-science and out of step with the scientific world?  First, we need to properly frame the issues.  The church should not be anti-science.  God gave us science so that we can better understand and utilize the world He created for us.  Science has given us medical advances to cure disease, agricultural advances to produce better crops, and technology that allows us to share the Gospel to wider audiences in more diverse ways.  The philosophy and pseudo-science of evolution are anti-Christian; science is a gift from God.

Secondly, the church needs to stop teaching spiritual truth in isolation from the rest of reality.  Truth is truth; there is no distinction between spiritual truth and scientific truth.  Rather than avoiding scientific discussion, the church must embrace it.  Pastors and teachers need to be informed about the current scientific issues, and teach how to apply Biblical truth to these issues.  Young adults would have far less problem “staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries” if they were taught why there is no conflict between Biblical truth and real science.  1 Peter 3:15 tells us that we need to be prepared to defend the Gospel.  The church needs to equip science-minded Christians to stand up for the Gospel, and all Christians to defend the Gospel against the attacks of evolutionary pseudo-science.

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 2

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the second in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

I think this one nails the problem squarely on the head.  Most of modern Christianity has become shallow.  From what I have seen, most commercially available Sunday School curricula are very shallow; some barely mention the Bible at all.  Many church programs for children and teens focus far more on entertaining the kids rather than teaching truth.  In other churches, the children’s programs aren’t much more than baby-sitting, and the youth program consists of sitting around drinking sodas and playing ping pong.  No wonder so many young adults leave the church!  I’d leave, too, if that’s all I was getting.

Hebrews 5:12-14

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Very few church youth programs provide the solid spiritual food needed for spiritual growth and maturity.  Many don’t even provide spiritual milk – it’s more like spiritual “junk food.”  Then we wonder why the majority of our young people leave the church!

Nearly 1/3 of the respondents said church is too boring.  What a terrible indictment of the modern churches, many of whom have focused so much on entertainment that they’ve lost all focus on solid teaching – and they’re STILL boring!  We need to help our students understand that a relationship with Jesus Christ is an exciting, life-changing process.  If the focus is on building a love relationship with Jesus Christ, with growing in our understanding of the Bible and its application in our lives, and with investing our lives in the lives of others, then church could never be boring!  Sadly, very few churches have this focus.

Almost one in four stated that ““faith is not relevant to my career or interests.”  In most churches, there is disconnection between “religious truth” and life outside the walls of the church.  Most churches are good at telling students what to believe, but not at explaining how to apply truth to their lives.  We typically don’t discuss science, history, social issues, or interpersonal skills in Sunday School.  We tell Bible stories, in isolation, without any teaching about why the stories are important to how we live out our faith.  This must change, if the church is to change the trend of young people leaving the church.

Another fourth of the respondents stated that the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.  This one is easily solved – TEACH THE BIBLE!  Teach it as literal history, not as “stories.”  Teach students how to study the Bible in depth, not just superficially.  This is why I’m so blessed to be involved as a writer for the Answers Bible Curriculum – an in-depth inductive Bible study that will take students through the Bible in three years, teaching students how to study the Bible, and teaching them how to apply it to their everyday lives.

Finally, one-in-five respondents stated that “God seems missing from my experience of church.”  How can this even be a possibility?  If churches were focused on teaching the Word of God, leading people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and discipling Christians to a mature relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, then this would be a non-issue.

Christian:  What are YOU doing to ensure your own church experience is not shallow?  And, what are YOU doing to ensure the young people in your church are taught how to have a deep, meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, deep relationships with others in your church, and solid, Biblical truth?

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 1

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the first in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Are churches overprotective?  As a Christian parent, my tendency is to want to protect my children from everything that is potentially harmful.  I don’t want my children to have any exposure to pornography, the occult, evolution, atheism, other religious ideas, or anything else contrary to the teaching of the Bible.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture where even the most carefully protected, homeschooled, and isolated young people will be exposed to all of these things and more, either as children, or eventually as adults.  We live in a relativistic, syncretistic, media-driven culture, and young people will be exposed to anti-Christian ideas and beliefs, whether parents and the church like it, or not.

Perhaps, rather than just trying to protect our children from the culture, parents and the church need to focus more on teaching children how to live out their Christian lives in the world that exists today.

Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

There is a very fine line between protecting our children, and failing to teach them how to live in the world without being worldly.  As Christian parents, we need to find ways to instill Biblical values and to contrast them with worldly values.  I think we too often just try to indoctrinate our kids with lists of “right” and “wrong” concepts, rather than teaching them to understand why some things are right in God’s eyes, and others are wrong.  The first approach is superficial legalism, which does not work, and is not Biblical; the second approach focuses on a deeper understanding of Scripture and its application in the world outside our homes and Sunday School classrooms.

I think the study is correct in its observations.  Many parents and churches do tend to “demonize” everything outside the church.  If something isn’t blatantly “Christian,” it’s evil.   We do tend to isolate ourselves and our children from the problems and realities of the world; and many of us do tend to focus on the negatives to avoid in the culture, rather than the positive things in the culture that we can use to change the world for Christ.

Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT suggesting that we give our children free reign to indulge in un-Biblical, sinful practices.  What I am saying is that most churches and Christian parents have a tendency to approach these issues in an isolationist, overly simplistic, legalistic manner.  We stay at the surface, rather than teaching young Christians to dig to understand Biblical truth in deep, insightful ways.  We teach “what” to believe, rather than “why” we believe, and “how” to apply Biblical truth in the sinful, fallen world in which we are called not just to exist, but to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Young people are expressing that “much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse.”  If this is how the Church is perceived, then we need to change.  A relationship with Jesus should not be “stifling;” it should be freeing.  In John 8:32, Jesus tells us, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” We should not be “risk-averse.”  Christian living is risky; but we can trust God’s sovereign control.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  The church should not be “fear-based;” it should be love-based.  John 4:17-19 tells us:

17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love Him because He first loved us.

If we are to keep the current generation of young Christians involved in our churches, the church must adapt to meet the changing culture that our young people live in every day.  In doing so, it is critical we do not change or compromise the truth of the Bible in any way.  However, how we communicate Biblical truth, and how we apply it to a changing culture, must change in order to make our young people understand the relevance and significance of the Gospel.  Our job is not only to protect our children, but rather to make them into disciples, prepared to share the Gospel with the culture in which they live.