Hot Topic of the Week – Why are Young Adults Leaving the Church?

This topic has been brought up for every generation of young adults since after the Vietnam War. It has received a lot of attention over the last several years especially and has been something I have spent a good deal of time writing about, speaking about and actually ministering to people from this “missing generation”. So this is of great interest to me and I know it is of great interest to many of you who read this blog. I want to point you to a couple of key reads that have come out recently so that you can enjoy some of the great conversations that are going on out there and also point you to a few of my own past posts on this topic:

A few recent posts you should read on the subject:

  1. Scot McKnight’s post Millennials are Leaving Church: really? is a brief review of Brad Wright’s Book “Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media.” which takes the record for world’s 10th longest book title and also challenges the idea that young people are actually leaving church at a faster rate than any other age group. Richard Beck of ACU posts in the comments and is cited in the book. If you don’t read Scot or Richard you should.
  2. Rachel Evan’s post Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church where Evans talks about what young people are really after. They want substance. They don’t want the old stuff spiffed up to seem knew and hip. They want roots. They want deep meaning. They want relevance and community and belonging. Getting below the surface is vital and sadly few churches know how to do that well, especially with a generation they just don’t understand.
  3. Richard Beck’s response to Rachel Evan’s post What Does Rachel Evans Want? is a very thoughtful post about a generation that desperately wants to be heard and the struggle of staying with a faith tradition that you think needs to change or jumping ship to another tradition and leaving your roots behind.

Note to Church leaders
You have to figure this one out. Forget everything you learned in seminary about how to do ministry. Forget everything you ever heard about what makes good worship. Forget everything those old books say about how to create community. Stop studying. Stop looking for the next quick fix. Stop scouring the web for the next ministry that is sure to get them in the door.

Instead, here is what you do…

  1. Pray for them daily
  2. Pick out a few young adults and actually get to know them outside of worship times
  3. Ask them questions
  4. Care about their answers
  5. Ask about their friends…and meet their friends (then do steps 1-4 for their friends too)
  6. Take what you learn from them and make that your textbook…let that shape your approach
  7. Involve them in leading the church in what comes next. Give them a seat at the table. We wait until people are 60 to put them in “leadership” positions and fail to develop new people while still in their 20s & 30s.

You aren’t going to like or agree with everything you hear them say. Get over it. The church will die because we were too proud to listen to them.

Here are some of my previous posts on why this group is leaving:

How to Have a Christ-like Response to Homosexuality

There were two really well written articles on Christians and Homosexuality that were posted yesterday. The first is by Bobby Ross at the Christian Chronicle. His article, “Homosexuality and the Church” highlighted a lot of churches that are giving attention to this issue and engaging in discussion on how Christians should view this from a biblical perspective and how Christians should treat people who are homosexual. Then Wes Woodell, who was interviewed in that article put out his own piece also called “Homosexuality and the Church” where Wes gives some additional thoughts that are well worth reading. If you haven’t read these two articles you should take a few minutes to read them.

How does the church/Christians respond to this issue? Here are a few thoughts to help answer that question:

  1. Be Jesus to people. Scripture tells us over and over again that we are to be Christ-like and that means we must treat people as Christ treated people: 1 Cor 11:1, Philippians 2:5-8, 1 John 2:6, 1 John 3:16, 1 Peter 2:21 (context there is suffering), 2 Cor 3:18. In those verses we learn that we are to both be like Christ or be made like Christ and to then act/live/behave as Christ did. So if we want to know how to deal with people who are struggling with sin examine how Jesus treated people in similar situations. It is so disheartening when you see Christian organizations responding to sin in our world in ways that are uncharacteristic of Christ.
  2. Be the bride of Christ to people. The Bible talks about the church being like the bride of Christ. The bride doesn’t do things that bring dishonor to her own husband, neither should the church do and say things that bring reproach to Christ.
  3. Be transparent and honest. There is nothing worse than someone shouting you down because they don’t have a good answer. This is a very difficult issue to deal with well so we typically avoid it. In today’s world, to avoid it is to bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. It won’t. Don’t run from it. We want those in the congregation to be biblically informed on this. If we don’t teach on this their opinions will be solely shaped by a thousand other sources outside of scripture. If you really believe this is sin, be in the business Jesus was in…reconciling struggling people with the God who loves them unconditionally.
  4. Know what you believe and make sure it is actually from scripture. Remember, we don’t have authority on our own. The authority our words carry only go so far as our words are words from scripture. As Fred Craddock has said we are just the messengers. We are “as one without authority”. So study, study, study to know what you believe about this from scripture. Study, study, study to know how to communicate with people in ways that are in line with Christ. Too often we study to know what we believe but do a terrible job communicating it in Christ-like ways.
  5. Don’t be afraid to call a sin a sin. If you are convicted that something is sinful, don’t be ashamed to say that. We see in the ministry of Jesus, Paul, and others that there are times to call certain behaviors sin (Read Wes’ point #1).
  6. Understand the difference between rebuke to those inside the church and those outside the church. 1 Cor 5:9-13 says this, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” Is anyone listening to that? I see few Christians on television who take that seriously. Why? Because taking that seriously won’t result in you getting much press. When Christians go ballistic on the world they get press because it makes us look stupid and confirms the pre-existing narrative that Christians are harsh, closed-minded, bigots…which, by the world’s standards, is the worst sin you can commit in the world today.12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
  7. Dealing with our own heart issues. Let’s be honest, there are going to be some Christians in the church who have serious heart issues on this matter. We won’t reach people we don’t love. That will be uncomfortable for some but Scripture never gave us an excuse or rationale to be unloving, ever. So if you have a heart issue on this, you are going to have to deal with it and ask God to forgive your unloving spirit. Sometimes the first person who really needs reconciliation is ourselves.

This is a discussion we are going to have to engage in. Know what you believe, based on scripture. Throw away any ungodly attitudes you may have about this issue or people who struggle with this. Treat people like Christ would.

Multi-Generational Q & A Audio

Our theme at Northwest this year is “Bridging the Generations”. On Summer Sunday nights we have been doing Question & Answer sessions with various age groups within the congregation. It has been such a blessing to listen as each group shares their wisdom. Each group was made up of 4 people from within a specific age range and included both men and women. The reception to this has been fantastic. It is vitally important that our younger Christians have a voice and understand that their voice is valued. If you are looking for a way for the different generations to get to know each other, this might be a good step in the right direction.

Listen here…
80s & 90s
60s & 70s
40s & 50s
20s & 30s
Teens – they are on August 11


Assurance in the Face of Danger

William Wallace challenging his troops to beat the odds

Martin Luther King Jr on the night before he was assassinated

Great leaders know how to inspire people to do the seemingly impossible. What gives people this kind of boldness? For Wallace it was the hope of freedom. For King it was also the hope of freedom but also the assurance that God had something better in store for him, come what may.

Then we come to Jesus in Matthew 10. When he sends out the 12 he is up front about the difficulties ahead (both immediately and some decades later),

“16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” – Matt 10:16-20

Jesus said there would be difficult days ahead. He was right and continues to be right. The question for us is, do we trust that he is going to provide for us what he said he would provide? The only way for us to be a willing witness for Christ (“witness” comes from the Greek word “martyr” comes from) is if we are willing to die to ourselves because we have full assurance of new life through Christ. Once you have died to yourself, you don’t really mind facing death a second time because you know that Christ has rendered death itself impotent. So follow Jesus having full assurance in the face of danger. Do the bold thing. Say what needs to be said. Trust that God sees a brighter future than the world can envision.

Karate Kid, Discipleship, and Why Some Are Leaving Christianity

Mr. Miyagi knew discipleship. He knew what it took to train someone to be able to do the things he did. Miyagi trained Daniel this way, not because cars needed to be washed but because these were the moves Daniel had to repeat enough times that it became natural to him (think muscle memory). When you do something enough times, your body is able to do it nearly instantaneously, almost without thinking. Daniel had to learn this…not just head knowledge alone . He had to learn how to act and react if he was going to succeed and grow. He had to learn this because there was a fight coming and he had to be ready.

The same is true with our faith. We disciple people in times of peace to ready them for times of trial. We lose credibility when we fail to make the Miyagi connection, letting people know that there is more to all they are doing than what they see. When we don’t make the connection between what we do “at church” with real life (relevance) all we leave people thinking they are doing is washing cars and painting fences. That is one of the biggest reasons young people have left the church is because we haven’t always made the obvious connection of how what we do is preparing them for significant things that they must be ready for.

It is crucial we help people make this connection.

Bible Class Archive: 1000 Free Bible Study Lessons, Over 3000 Pages of Free Material

I haven’t mentioned the Bible Class Archive in a long while. It is a page on the blog where I compile many of the lessons for Bible class and small groups that I have written over the years. I have also included some of my co-laborers in the kingdom in the collaborative process and have added in their lessons as well. So if you haven’t ever been on that page of this blog, have a look…

Bible Class Archive

To date, over 70,000 pdf’s have been downloaded! I intend to add more material very soon.

Microsoft, Facebook and Fixing Things That Aren’t Broken

We recently upgraded all of our computers to Office 2013. The biggest problem we have run into so far is with Powerpoint. Older versions of Powerpoint had something called “Presenter View” where you could see what slides were coming up, click on any of them and get their quickly. Well, Microsoft just ruined it all. The new Powerpoint has something by the same name, but that function has been stripped out. Now you have to click a button mid-presentation to see all the slides, click on the one you want, and it will go there. That is an eternity when people are left gazing at the wrong song or wrong verse on the screen. It really made me wonder if the guys put in charge of updating powerpoint had ever actually used powerpoint in front of real people before. If you haven’t experienced an encounter with meaningless change with Microsoft products you have undoubtedly experienced this with Facebook.

Sometimes in congregational life, things get changed for the sake of change. There isn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason for it, we just thought it might be nice to snazz something up a bit or maybe the change occurred because no one was paying attention and it just happened. Change is healthy. Change is necessary. But change needs to get us closer to the win, not further from it. What is more, a change can be great and needed but poorly communicated. When that happens, what would have and could have been a tremendous win gets tossed out by people who weren’t ready for the adjustment. That’s just poor leadership.

It is imperative that we lead people through change. It is equally imperative that we adequately assess why we do the things we do and whether or not it is biblical and functional. Change can be exciting but we don’t change for excitement’s sake. We change because we think we can do a better job embracing and accomplishing the mission God has given us in Christ.

Wanting the Growth Without Taking the Risk

JesusAppearsToThomasI have been reading through Acts and one thing that has jumped out at me was their willingness to take risks for the kingdom. It starts fast…Acts 2 Peter preaches a bold sermon, telling the crowd that they killed the Messiah but that God was still inviting them to repentance and reconciliation. The result? Three thousand are baptized! After that they challenged the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, disobeying the orders of the religious “authorities” of their day. They were imprisoned, flogged, and mocked.The result? They grew to five thousand! All that and you are only to Acts 5!

Why were they so willing to step out like they did? What was it about all that had lead up to this in the Gospels through Acts 1 that was so influential in emboldening these men to do these things? Two things are mentioned in Acts 1 that are pivotal to their boldness and risk-taking behaviors. 1) Their encounter with the resurrected Lord. Jesus underwent the worst possible treatment and experienced the most agonizing death imaginable. Even through all of that, God raised Jesus back to life. Experiencing the risen Lord would embolden you. It would ready you to take great risks for the kingdom. 2) The coming of the Holy Spirit. God equipped and empowered them through the Holy Spirit to take on the task of taking the Gospel message to the world.

One thing you will notice in the early chapters of Acts is that the church is growing and that growth is usually preceded by a risky presentation of the Gospel or a manifestation of the power of God (like miraculous healing) that results in the growth of the church but also further persecution. Each time they faced challenges, they prayed harder and God responded with further confirmation of their ministry and preaching by giving them grace (Acts 4:33) and growth (from a few hundred to over 5000).

Church growth doesn’t come easy. Many ministry movements have tried to provide riskless solutions that will draw people in but we learn in Acts that ultimately we are going to have to take some risks to see the kingdom grow. When we do, God will be right in the middle of it all. How many things do we start that if God doesn’t show up and bless it the whole thing is destined to fall apart? We all want the growth but few are taking the risks that are required to get there.

The Problem of Hot Button Issues Becoming Identifying Markers

There have always been hot button issues facing Christianity. One of the challenges that faces churches who take a non-status quo position on these issues is to change their practices without setting up their position as THE identifying marker of the congregation. Whether you agree or disagree with a church’s position, you can understand why churches who take a stand end up identifying themselves through the issue. They bucked the trend. They went against the grain and did something that probably cost them some people, hurt some feelings, alienated some people and may have resulted in lost contributions due to their decision and convictions. That is called trauma. When people experience trauma, all too often that trauma gets so ingrained in their thinking that it becomes their identity. It becomes nearly impossible to view your life outside of the pain you experienced. Churches go through that too. In their mind the change was so significant and challenging and the pain so hard to go through that it is hard to think about the congregation without thinking about that issue. It can become a part of their DNA, resulting in the congregation having great difficulty viewing themselves as Christians without reference to their stance on the hot button issue. I am not saying every congregation who takes a controversial position does this but it happens. It is one thing to see that issue as part of your identity and quite another to make the issue your identity.

We have to be very careful in how we view our identity. These issues don’t make us Christians. Following Jesus makes us Christians. Faith in Christ, our baptism, our participation in the Lord’s Supper are core identifying markers of the Christian faith. When we start placing other issues over and above more core/central parts of our faith it is too easy to become exclusive and take on an air of superiority. It is easy to start thinking real/serious Christians need to believe as they do or need to be identified with them on that issue. If taken to an extreme, Jesus is no longer seen as the central identifying marker of our faith and these issues end up as the focal point.

So if you are going to take a stand on a controversial issue, it may be traumatic in many ways. Don’t let that experience elevate the issue beyond what is appropriate in the life and identity of the church.

The Value of Collaboration & Team Teaching

PBL2013-classHave you ever co-taught with someone? Five years ago the Spiritual Growth Workshop director asked Donny Dillon, Eric Brown and me to teach a class on outreach to young adults. It was one of my first big tastes of collaboration and I really enjoyed it. Beyond just being an enjoyable experience, I grew a lot from that experience. Since that presentation I have been blessed to use that format on several occasions (like this picture from presenting on reaching and discipling young adults at the Pepperdine Lectures with Charles Kiser & Eric Brown last May) and each time it reminds me of the value of collaboration and sharing multiple perspectives.

When preparation and presentation are done in community it makes things a lot higher quality. You are able to filter out the things that don’t need to be in there and sharpen each other’s thoughts by running it by people with a wider variety of experiences than just one person before it is ever presented. When it is presented, each person sparks thoughts from the other that just happen naturally that wouldn’t take place otherwise. There is great value in hearing a few people who have experience in something publicly talk shop together about a relevant issue.

The reality is, most of our teaching isn’t done in lectureships. It is done on the local/congregational level. With co-teaching and collaborative preparation having the potential to be so effective it makes me wonder why we tend to only use this model when teaching children and rarely use it in adult education. There are mediums of teaching that are highly effective but often avoided often either due to tradition or just lack of considering alternative possibilities. I could see using this approach in a Sunday school education program. It would give teachers a little less prep time as they share the teaching responsibility and improve the quality of teaching as they are able to give each other feedback on past lessons and dialog with each other each week at different points in the lesson.

Last, have you ever thought about how collaborative the work and ministry was in the New Testament? There were a few lone rangers but you don’t run across them very often. I think there is a reason for that. There is power in collaboration in ministry. It makes me wonder even more why we don’t do more team ministry and collaboration in the church. At Northwest we have gone more toward pairs of deacons than stand alone deacons over various areas. When you do that the quality of the work goes up as accountability and support increases and the work load is able to be spread across more people.

Have any of you co-taught or use collaboration in sermon or class preparation? If so, I would love to hear about your experience.