Canada doing missions during the "youth building" explosion. For seven years we were in churches that had no buildings, no gyms, no resources. We were on the outside of the contemporary church culture. I temporarily forgot about the bigger-and-better mentality, until we returned to the south and were smacked in the face with it.
There was a brief time of coming home to visit a friend who was a youth minister, and being toured around their youth facility. I distinctly remember (keep in mind, we were youth pastors as well...in Canada) being in awe of the space, technology, games, entertainment, snack bar and worship space, and at the same time being extremely disturbed by it. Thinking it was an anomaly, I got back on the plane and headed back to the pioneer world.
Fast forward to today where that building I was toured around would be extremely dated. Sad even, compared to some of the others I'm acquainted with in the contemporary church youth culture. It's now normal. Normal. And the eyes of our youth look vacant and bored.
Vacant and bored. With church. With the Bride of Christ.
70% of youth stop attending church when they graduate. Let that sink in.
An article on the marc5solas blog last week had this to say: (by the way, you should read the whole article, I was literally shouting "yes!" out loud as I read)
There’s no easy way to say this: The American Evangelical church has lost, is losing, and will almost certainly continue to lose OUR YOUTH. For all the talk of “our greatest resource”, “our treasure”, and the multi-million dollar Dave and Buster’s/Starbucks knockoffs we build and fill with black walls and wailing rock bands… the church has failed them.What have they seen in us that would make them want to stay?
Curiously, from the different things I've read, the Amish have a retention rate in their youth of 80-90%. We are losing 70%, they are retaining up to 90%. It seems our "entertain them", "make them feel comfortable" world just isn't cutting it.
Raising children in this culture of 70% drop-out is enough to keep me up at night. We want to do everything we can to make sure that our kids leave our home with a faith of their own. Not mine or my husband's faith, not the youth pastor's faith, not the church's faith, but their own.
The "relevant" phase of church exhausts me. We as a church cannot stay on top of every trend, every culture sway, every new design gimmick and still have the time and energy to actually preach the gospel. There's no way. A pastor can't be a good dad, good husband, spend adequate time in the word and preparation during week while simultaneously keeping up with all the world's culture/music trends and making sure he's wearing the right jeans/shirt/flip-flop combo of the month.
We are in the world, and we are of the world. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference.
I've been digging into some Christian history lately and have been amazed to discover that when Constantine finally declared Christianity the state religion, it did make following Christ easier.....and that was what became the tipping point for the watering down of the gospel. It became the cultural "norm", like the world, and the actual Christians became watered down versions of the beautiful martyrs of the previous generations.
We used to be in the world, but not of it.
We become the cultural norm and we lose our young people to a watered down easier version of who we are supposed to be.
I suspect the change agent is, gulp, us. Parents. Will we shirk our Deuteronomy 6 duties and decide that the church is there to disciple our kids, or will we roll up our sleeves, get dirty and disciple them ourselves?
I think we'll know the answer to that in precisely one more generation.