There have been two recent articles about young people and Christianity. The first was in the Wall Street Journal, and the second was a CNN article. The two articles:
- The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity – Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2010
- Author: More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians – CNN, August 27, 2010
Both are worth reading, and both are based on recently published books. The first article is based on a book entitled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide, and the second article is based on a book entitled Almost Christian.
There are a few interesting points from each article. A few highlights are below.
From the Wall Street Journal:
“But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before?”
“‘…the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.'”
“If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”
WSJ takeaway points: Some churches have moved to a modern worship service approach along with very contemporary messages. The objectives were to stay relevant and attractive for younger people. What the younger generation really wants, however, are real, deeper, and more meaningful messages and approaches.
“Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls ‘moralistic therapeutic deism.’ Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a ‘divine therapist’ whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.”
“The study included Christians of all stripes — from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.”
“Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called ‘moralistic therapeutic deism.'”
“No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.”
CNN takeaway points: Churches have unwittingly facilitated a therapeutic adoption or approach to religion for younger people. Few younger people can explain their faith, yet they are volunteering at higher levels than ever before. Teens want the tougher questions; they want to be challenged in the development of their faith. Youth want “steak and potatoes,” not just “cake.”
What now? It is always challenging for anyone who is a member of a church. If their church is not embracing real change or is not becoming more real in their mission and actions, then do you try to change it from within or leave? It is easier to leave. The challenge with leaving is not finding what you are looking for and then staying absent from church and, consequently, your faith journey.
To a certain degree, this may be what is happening with our youth. The church is trying to figure it out. However, it is either going too far or not moving at all. I am not sure which is worse.
From my personal experiences, if I had to do my co-leadership responsibilities over with our youth class, I would drive to having two classes, so the classroom size was smaller. I would reduce the number of lessons covered by 25% so that more time could be spent in building connections between the youth.
We do a less-than-adequate job of building the personal connection between our teens. In my opinion, the personal connections develop the stronger faith ties. Maybe this will facilitate some of the personal stories about God. The bottom line is we need to work harder to keep our youth engaged.
For whatever reason, though, it is hard to make changes within a church setting. Some of the responsibility does fall with volunteer leaders, but more is with the church leaders on staff. There needs to be a stronger relationship between the volunteer and staff leaders to ensure the objectives are defined, refined, and achieved in a meaningful way.
The pastors and youth directors need to ask the youth and the leaders involved what is or isn’t working. They need to balance relevancy with meaning. They need to engage the leaders, not pass it off to their complete discretion. In my three years, I never had a conversation with one of our pastors about our youth class; there was no solicitation of ideas, no challenge in what we were doing. Part of my responsibility should have been to engage them more, to take the initiative and setup the discussions.
My point is we need more meaningful discussions between church leaders and volunteers in order to deliver more meaningful lessons and interactions with our youth. We need the attention applied to how we can make programs better, more engaging, and more real.
As one of the articles points out, it is more than the church. Families need to play a stronger role in the development of their children’s faith. It needs to be more than drop-them-off-and-pick-them-up-when-it’s-over mentality. Demonstrating by example and having faith-based discussions are essential at the family level. Some of it may not take hold for twenty years, but it will have a positive impact at some point.
From church to family to individual responsibility, we all need to take a step up in our roles. We need to challenge and be challenged.
I am glad these articles and books are highlighting what is taking place, and I am glad the subsequent discussions are happening. We need to move forward with meaningful, real action, because we do not want to lose a generation of proactive Christians.