Saturday, August 6, 2016

How to reach a lost generation?

You have probably read the headlines heralding startling statistics of teens and young adults leaving the church.  36% of young Millennials (18-26) and 34% of older Millennials (27-34) self-define as religiously unaffiliated, a number up significantly and which appears to be growing.[i]  Nearly six in ten (59%) young people who grew up in the church will leave the church or their faith for at least a significant amount of time, if not for good, in their 20s.[ii]  

These are words which appeared on the Leader Blog of the LCMS and I have no reason to doubt the statistics.  One of the things we need to pay attention to is why these young people who grew up in the church have left or will leave.  At least in part, the issue here is catechesis.  We have for years dumbed down the curriculum of Sunday school and catechism programs to the point where these seem to be more about interest and fun than schooling people in the faith.  We have also done the same for adult instruction.  If the statistics are to be reversed, clear and consistent catechesis must be restored for all ages in the church.  We are only so strong as the catechesis into which our youth are imparted the doctrine and practice and the already confirmed are renewed and refreshed in what we believe, confess, and teach and how this is lived out in the life of the church and the faithful.

We do no one any good by trying to simplify the faith and we should not diminish the power of our youth to understand and experience the fullness of the mystery of the incarnate Lord who suffers and dies in our place upon the cross, rises to life death cannot overcome and then delivers these gifts to His people in the means of grace.  We do them a grave disservice by trying to shield them from the great paradoxes of the faith, by making doctrine simplistic, and by treating grace as cheap and easy.

Second, we must admit that the first line of catechesis is not in the church building but in the home.  I do not intend simply to blame the parents here but to rally the family to the deep and profound influence moms and dads and their extended family have on their children's faith and life (and not simply while they are under their parents' roofs).  In every study I have seen, the parents are the clear and most significant role models for faith and life for their children.  When we sit down with parents prior to their child's baptism, one of the most important things we talk about is how significant their example is and their role as models and mentors of the faith is for their children. Our children certainly encounter other conflicting and competing influences against this godly example but none of them is as deep and powerful as what happens in the home, learning the faith from mom and dad.

Third, these did not leave because they did not find worship fun or exciting but because they found nothing in sermon and liturgy to compel them to remain.  In other words, when we diminish the content of the faithful proclamation within the Divine Service and when we treat the liturgy as if it existed to entertain the faithful as spectators, we diminish the character of mystery that is inherent in the means of grace as we are confronted with the presence of God and with His rich gifts of mercy and grace.  Millenials will surely not be retained by adopting another style for an empty confession and me centered focus but they have demonstrated that they are interested in and compelled by true liturgy that is the other side of the coin of faithful confession.  What does arrest the bleeding off of our young people is nothing short than the most serious and faithful liturgical expression of what we believe, confess, and teach.

Finally, I would suggest that those who have the greatest power to call these young people to account are their peers who have not abandoned the faith.  I am constantly impressed of the young adults in my own parish who reach out to the curious and even to the lost and address them with their own experience of faithful worship, catechesis, and confession.  They are constantly bringing their friends and peers to the church to hear faithful sermons and to experience catholic liturgy and reverent music because this is where their own faith lives and these are the fonts from which their own continued faith and life in Christ draws sustenance.  We should discount or diminish the power of faithful Christian peers to speak to those within their own generation.  These folks are some of the most important means of addressed the unchurched with the Gospel and reclaiming those who have fallen away from their faith and life within the church.


Anonymous said...

An interesting book is Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean.
"The bombshell that the book unleashes upon the Christian world is that Dean asserts teenagers are learning very well the kind of beliefs and faith that their parents and congregations actually espouse and model—a feel-good replacement of Christianity called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Dean agrees with the authors of Soul Searching that MTD has infiltrated a large number of American churches and has wooed us into believing a self-serving, feel-good, do-good gospel that is a far cry from the self-giving love of Christ. The lackluster, less-than-consequential faith of American teenagers is directly the result of teens seeing their parents and faith communities practice a kind of faith that is often a thinly veiled self-help moralism. "

David Gray said...

When I child receives confirmation from the pastor it should be just that. The pastor should be confirming what the child has already been taught in the home. The material, generally, should not be new to the child. Family worship and teaching at home are how Christian parents are to receive and believe the promises of God for their children.

Anonymous said...

Tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
(1) A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.

(2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

(3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

(4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

(5) Good people go to heaven when they die.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget the power of Satan, sinful flesh, and the world which exerts upon young Christians. Our Lord Jesus taught us that some would believe for awhile and then fall away. This is nothing new, but the same matter which has always affected the church. Thank you for pointing out some salient points. In addition to young people, anyone is susceptible to falling away from the Lord. The solution? More of the same faithful teaching, as you indicate. Thank you.

Kirk Skeptic said...

Pr P: if your church is how you say it is then you are to be complimented and thanked for your faithful labor. Sitting in my funeral club cum shark tank, I envy you.

Janis Williams said...

For those who attend GLC: Kenda C. Dean's book is in our library, and "moralistic, therapeutic deism" is a phrase coined by Chistian Smith in his 2005 book co-authored by Melinda L.Denton, Soul Searhing: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. It would be interesting to compare Millenials from other countries (especially global South). I am suspicious that this problem is mainly Western, white, and First World. Of course, the world, the devil and our sinful flesh are always working in tandem against the Faith of everyone.

Anonymous said...

Challenges to the 21st Century Church: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, Narcissism & Gnosticism
Issues Etc Broadcast