Project August: Day 27 – Wherein I Talk about a Problem Many Churches Have

I think I got an actual suggestion of a post on another blog. A pair of posts actually. It is an odd suggestion for this blog, but I am going to take it as a suggestion anyway. I would not have chosen these posts or their topic, but what the heckity darn? Why not? Stretching things a little never hurts. Unless you pull or overextend a muscle. That hurts. Anyway… Where was I? Oh yes… For the Tuesday, August 27, 2013, entry in Project August the topic is…

…why young adults don’t go to church. [insert grandiose musical flourish here]

Huh? Yeah, like I said, an odd suggestion. But I am plowing ahead anyway. So everybody stand back and give a man some fightin’ room. (Not actually going to be fighting, but I felt like throwing in an obscure cultural reference anyway. Ten points* to the first one to identify who said it and in what context.)

The suggestion comes from someone going by the name Destree Plummer. (I like the way that name sounds. And now I have an image of a young Christopher Plummer playing the role James Stewart played in “Destry Rides Again” [1939]. I know, different spelling. I’m weird. Get used to it.) This person left a link and a title and little else. Is it really a suggestion? I hope so because I am treating it as such.

So, the pair of posts that were suggested belong to a blog that at first seems to have no title, just a photo of a guy with wide goatee. (And by goatee, I mean an actual goatee, not a Van Dyke that people too often confuse with a goatee.) But when I check the tab at the top of my browser, I see that the title of the blog is My Thoughts. And the posts themselves are titled “Why Young Adults Don’t Go to Church” and “Why Young Adults Don’t Go to Church Part Two”.

So let’s see what the posts have to say. From the first one:

The format of most Sunday morning morning church services is heavy on preaching.  There’s nothing wrong with preaching per se, but it’s not a format many young adults connect with.  Don’t misunderstand me, there are times when preaching is the best format to download information to a group of people, but a less didactic technique should be pursued more often than it is.  Teaching and discussion helps the typical person retain much more.

[…]

People like to feel like we belong.  We are social creatures, and we usually seek out those that are most like us.  The fewer and fewer less adults there are in the church as a whole means that fewer and fewer young adults are going to take themselves inside the four walls of their local church building.  There are plenty of activities for the elderly, for men and women, for families, for youth and children, but the young adult demographic gets skipped over.

[…]

This one area that I know for certain I have contributed to in a negative way while serving as a youth pastor.  In America, we like to segment our ministries.  We have a children’s ministry.  A youth ministry.  A men’s ministry.  A women’s ministry.  Singles, convalescent, and, occasionally, a young adult’s ministry.

[…]

This one is a biggie, which is why I’ve saved it until last (for today, at least).  It’s also one I deeply identify with.  Some people feel rejected by the church because they’ve been ostracized for dressing differently, not knowing enough of the secret, Christian language known as “Christianese,” or asking too many of the difficult questions.  Maybe they’ve had doubts or been unsure of themselves and were met with ridicule instead of a friend to listen to them and help sort everything out.  Maybe a well-meaning individual responded to a deep, traumatic issue in a way that devalued that person during a time when they already felt vulnerable.  Maybe they were abused in one way or another.  Who knows.

And from the second one:

With a 2 1/2 year old, I don’t get out much on Saturday nights anymore.  Before her though, it was pretty regular to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. playing cards, risk, or guitar hero.  I’d get what essentially a nap before I had to drag myself out of bed to start set-up for church.  There were plenty of mornings when I would finish up my task, try and find a quiet little corner, and take a nap.  It doesn’t surprise me that Sunday mornings have such a sparse population of young adults.

[…]

It wasn’t that long ago that atheism was looked at as laughable or intellectually unfulfilling.  But that’s not the case anymore.  Now, to many people, Christianity seems laughable and intellectually unfulfilling.  To many people, it seems as if you have to check your brain at the church door.  Too many church leaders expect the members of their congregations to take what they say as truth; not enough time is spent on apologetics, the study of why we believe what we believe.

There is more, but you get the idea.

Mostly, I agree with the guy, whose name (by the way) is Chris D. Hall. Young, single adults are often overlooked by churches, and even when they are not, churches often do not know what to do with them.

One thing I think Hall misses in his posts though is that often as youth move from being raised in a church to living at a university, they find their faith challenged and are unprepared to defend their faith. So they tend to drift away from church because it loses relevance to them. He is right that churches should have more apologetics teachings, and specifically more apologetics for youth so that the youth are prepared to defend their faith when they are away from the church.

Many churches these days have a major problem in reaching young adults and the modern society in general. Church is increasingly being seen as irrelevant. (I am about to mention politics here, fair warning.) Part of the reason for this is, I think, that the government keeps taking on the tasks that should be the responsibilities of congregations of believers. The government is taking over helping the poor, providing aid to single parents and the ill and elderly, taking care of widows and orphans, et cetera. One need not turn to the local community any more. Just fill out some form and the federal government will help you out.

But other things which used to be done almost exclusively by religion are now available on a secular level. Hundreds of scores of self-help books are available. Learn how to live a good life by watching Dr. Phil or Oprah. There are thousands of different sources now for people to tell you how to be happier or improve your self-esteem. And we place so much emphasis on self-esteem these days that going to church to hear about how we are sinners who need a salvation only God can provide can seem out of place.

Not to mention the fact that many churches have a difficult time adapting. Despite the fact that churches even fifty years ago were nothing like first century churches, many places of Christian worship today insist they they do not need to change they way they do anything. Changing the way the church does things, they often will argue, is to let secular society determine what the church should do. And that, they argue, is something churches should never do. They are half right. Churches should not be molded to the whims of secular society. But that does not mean churches should not adapt and grow and try new things.

One thing I especially dislike about many churches is that everything must be decided by committee. And not just one committee, but often several committees. And so they talk and talk, and get almost nothing done because they end up trying to appease every issue or objection raised in every committee meeting. This is not the way young people want to get things done. (It has never been the way I want to get things done either.)

Basically, the overabundance of committees to lead churches has led to a deficit of actual leadership. This is something that turns young people off from churches. “Come be part of the church,” the churches say. “Come and help us serve the community.” But to what end? I was once at a committee meeting to discuss the church I attend adding a third service. That was… ten years ago now. Still we do not have a third service. And church attendance for this particular congregation is about the same as it was ten years ago. Who wants to be part of committees that get nothing done? Apparently some people do, but most if not all young adults I know do not.

No, I am not arguing that churches should turn to gimmicks or copy the way world does things or eliminate all church leadership structures. I am saying that churches should stop letting themselves get so bogged down in procedures and the traditions of men (of men, i.e. not of God) that they become no longer relevant to the world in which they exist.

Do church choirs or worship bands need to copy secular pop bands to be good? No. But they should be striving to be better than just a bunch of amateurs that get by doing a half-assed job. When worship seems to be led by a band of lousy amateurs with no style or cohesion, that is not quality worship. When a church choir sounds like a bunch of folks who were rejected by good choirs, that is not quality worship.

Do churches need gimmicky, feel-good sermons that only tell people what they want to hear? Absolutely not. But when preachers cannot make their sermons relevant to people who live in modern society, young people will not want to listen.

Do churches have to do everything with the polish and style of a major media event staged by a a super wealthy corporation? Of course not. But that is not an excuse for not striving to achieve quality. God does not expect everything we do to be perfect, but He does expect we should strive to do what we do for Him with quality. We Christians are supposed to reflect His glory to the world, and half-assed, “good enough” jobs do not accomplish that.

“Wow,” you might be saying, “that is an awful lot of judgement of churches coming from a guy who talks about D/s and sometimes posts some awfully smutty stuff on his blog.” Yeah, you are probably right. But I have spent a lot of time in church. Far more than most of you who read this blog regularly probably suspect. I have seen good and bad churches. I have seen what happens when a church works on doing a quality job, and what happens when a church decides it can slide by on less than quality work. One engages the community and draws people in, and the other becomes a giant clique of people who spend a lot of their time convincing themselves they don’t need to do quality work because they are righteous.

So what am I saying? I am saying if churches want to grow and bring in more young adults, then they need to strive for doing things with quality. Quality matters. When God told Moses about the creation of the parts of the tabernacle in the desert, He did not say, “Just get whoever is available and tell them whatever they make is fine.” Instead, God had specific instructions for what should be done and said the work should be done with skill. One of the parables Jesus uses to talk about the Kingdom of God is the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14–30 (or alternately the Parable of the Ten Minas, Luke 19:11–27). Those who did quality work were were praised and rewarded; and the fellow who was chastised was the one who tried to get by without doing much of anything and to excuse his lack of performance by saying, basically, he thought he did not need to do anything.

Getting by with half-assed work is not what Christians are called to do, especially when it comes to things spiritual. And yes, churches using good design and churches having good music and churches striving for quality are all about serving God and drawing people to God. And if churches want to grow and to draw young adults into church and to reach the world around them with the Gospel message, that striving for quality is necessary.

I will go further than that. I will say it is a spiritual duty for churches, and that sadly many churches are letting that slide in the name of “we can’t compete with big churches” or “no one really cares about that” or “we can’t let that interfere with the message”. Here are some clues: not having quality is what is going to interfere with the message; yes, people do care about quality; and churches striving for quality is about serving God, not about competing with other churches.

And I now have a really long post. You may have noticed, this is not the first time I have thought about churches being relevant to people or churches doing quality work. And yes, I do have an opinion about almost everything.

Thank you to Destree Plummer, whoever you are, for the suggestion. You get ten points.

Now if only some of you other readers out there would bother to suggest a post on another blog to which I can respond for Project August. Seriously, suggest a post already!

* Yes, these points will be worth something once (if?) I sort out a contest idea I have. It is not ready yet, but I am working on it. Yes, there will be point system and a prize or two.

4 Responses to “Project August: Day 27 – Wherein I Talk about a Problem Many Churches Have”

  1. Oh, the problems with churches. I’ve been a Pastor and have been in church leadership for a long, long time. I find many churches err due to trying to be all things to all people, taking Paul completely out of context. Our current church has so many ministries they cannot get anything done and everyone is spread thin. It’s not uncommon for someone to be involved in 4-5 ministries. How can you possibly do anything well? Church attendance is at an all-time low and they have morphed into the world by adopting an entitlement mentality. But his church is so much better in so many ways that others I’ve belonged to. A few years ago, at a church we belonged to for quite some time, I was asked to take over the drama ministry (or the melodramatic ministry as it was called). I used to be an actress in NY and everyone thought we would have some serious dramatic productions. Oh, how wrong they were. Together with my husband we brought in improv, sketch comedy, musicals, and dramatic performance art. We began to grow and had a large base of actors, many of whom had experience, in the age range of 18-25. We all had to participate in the writing process and young people were flocking to us in droves, one of the reasons we could put on musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof, Godspell, and The Sound of Music. There wasn’t formal bible teaching as we studied the scriptures together through writing and performance and encouraged any and all questions. Our favorite performance was the story of Joseph done with only movie lines and each new scene you had to be a different character. Each performance was heavily laced with improv so each time we performed it was unique. We had an inordinate amount of lines from the Godfather. It was truly one of the best times of my life, those 4 years, and to this day I miss it terribly. You have to spark imagination and have goals laid out and a plan to achieve them…that’s how you get anyone of any age to attend church. I am still in close contact with the core base of 10 actors, who now are starting families of their own and many of whom want to perform again. I don’t say any of this to toot my own horn. I think this was a special time in a special place, but when people don’t have vision they get lost.

  2. Sir, was it from ‘The Great Race’, Texas Jack in a bar fight?

    • Ding, ding, ding! Correct. You get ten points. Unfortunately, the contest idea got sidelined because there was not much interest at the time. But if I come up with another one, you are already ahead by ten points.

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