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:


A Comprehensive List of Scot McKnight’s Commentary Recommendations: The Pastor’s Bookshelf

Scot McKnight often lists his recommended commentaries on various books of the Bible in what he calls the “Pastors Bookshelf”. Here are the ones he has done so far all in one place. This is an invaluable resource for selecting the best of the best commentaries on each book of the New Testament. Thanks Scot for taking the time to assemble this over the last few years. If Scot has already compiled this somewhere let me know.





Acts of the Apostles


1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians




Colossians & Philemon

1 & 2 Thessalonians

Pastorals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus)



1-2 Peter & Jude

1-3 John



Scot McKnight’s Take on the Louie Giglio Inauguration Prayer Situation

First, if you don’t read Scot McKnight’s blog (much less his books) you really should give it a try. Second, his take on Louie Giglio’s backing out of the Inauguration Day prayer is extremely insightful. For those who aren’t up to speed on this. Giglio was asked to pray at the inauguration. Once he was selected a LGBT group dug around a bit and came up with a sermon from the 1990s where he made a few comments against the homosexual lifestyle and its impact on our society.

Here is an excerpt from Scot McKnight on stickiness of the Gospel, politics & political parties,

This is what happens when you enter the political forum. When you enter politics you risk sullying the gospel. In DC everything is political. Who speaks, who stands where, who gets to be in the parameters of the photos, who speaks when and when one speaks where… To agree to the political space is to agree with the politics. It was noble of you to back off; it was good to say “This isn’t worth it to the gospel.” But who could have been surprised that the caucus for same-sex marriage would find Louie objectionable? Rick Warren experienced this four years back. The debate has increased, not decreased.

There were two approaches left once the opposition’s rhetoric got going: back down, which Giglio did, or endure it, which Warren did.

Neither approach is worth it. If you don’t agree up and down the platform of the Democrats, don’t pray on their platform. Evangelicals will give anything to get some power back, or to be seen with power, to be the leader of the nation. That’s not our job, friends.


Randy Alcorn’s take [HT Tyler Ellis]

Scot McKnight Tackles “No Creed But the Bible”

Scot McKnight’s post No Creed But the Bible is of particular interest to those of us who have a background in the Restoration Movement. In this post, McKnight reviews Carl Trueman’s book The Creedal Imperative where Trueman sets out to show that approach really isn’t possible or helpful. McKnight draws the distinction that we all may not have written creeds but we all do have theologies through which we view things. McKnight does think creeds are helpful and necessary. In the Restoration movement, the common teaching and old popular slogan (author unknown) was “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no law but love, no name but the divine.” Now, I may be off on this one but my impression was that the early Restoration leaders were pushing back against a highly denominationalized Christianity where they felt creeds were actually taking the place of scripture in some instances. I doubt men like Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone would reject the theological content of The Apostles’ Creed


Problems with Missional

There have been some posts addressing the problems with the missional movement. Here are a few you may want to read:

Scot McKnight’s post Test Your Church. Scot’s post is not so much a slam on missional as a whole, he endorses much of what is good about missional church. In the process he does offer some critique of those who talk more mission than are actually engaged in any form of mission.

Mike Breen’s Why the Missional Movement Will Fail (HT: Eric Brown). Breen says the problem with missional is that it is like a car without an engine. You are trying to spin the wheels without anything powerful pushing the process along. He says the engine that should turn the wheels is (as would be expected from Mike) none other than discipleship. He says this,

If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples…

If you’re good at making disciples, you’ll get more leaders than you’ll know what to do with. If you make disciples like Jesus made them, you’ll see people come to faith who didn’t know Him. If you disciple people well, you will always get the missional thing. Always.

We took 30 days and examined the Twitter conversations happening. We discovered there are between 100-150 times as many people talking about mission as there are discipleship (to be clear, that’s a 100:1). We are a group of people addicted to and obsessed with the work of the Kingdom, with little to no idea how to be with the King….

Look, I’m not criticizing the people who are passionate about mission…I am one of those people. I was one of the people pioneering Missional Communities in the 1980′s and have been doing it ever since. This is my camp, my tribe, my people. But it has to be said: God did not design us to do Kingdom mission outside of the scope of intentional, biblical discipleship and if we don’t see that, we’re fooling ourselves. Mission is under the umbrella of discipleship as it is one of the many things that Jesus taught his disciples to do well. But it wasn’t done in a vacuum outside of knowing God and being shaped by that relationship, where a constant refinement of their character was happening alongside of their continued skill development (which included mission).

The truth about discipleship is that it’s never hip and it’s never in style…it’s the call to come and die; a “long obedience in the same direction.” While the “missional” conversation is imbued with the energy and vitality that comes with kingdom work, it seems to be missing some of the hallmark reality that those of us who have lived it over time have come to expect: Mission is messy. It’s humbling. There’s often no glory in it. It’s for the long haul. And it’s completely unsustainable without discipleship.

This is the crux of it: The reason the missional movement may fail is because most people/communities in the Western church are pretty bad at making disciples. Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable.

I can’t think of any better way to say it. I had a hard time knowing when to cut off this quote because I just kept saying, “Yes, yes, yes” through his whole post.” Also see his followup post, “Why the missional movement will fail Part 2”.

Jason Coker’s “The Problem with Missional. He points to several problems in missional movements including: too much decentralization, too much branding and marketing of missional as a cookie cutter or overlay to put on top of existing churches (I would add without addressing the underlying issues that run counter to the very missional culture they are trying to foster).

Coker believes missional is “fading fast” due in part to a cultural shift in America that just isn’t interested in what new flavor is being taste tested at the local church. What is more Coker says that our approaches to discipleship appear weird to outsiders and that the solution is to speak to what “irreligious people” care about the most…

What regular, irreligious people care about passionately are their families and friends, their recreation and entertainment, and their dreams and goals for a better life. They also care about the local issues, institutions, and policies that make their lives more difficult. Beyond that, if there’s time to think about it, most people care about the turmoil in the world too – most just don’t know what to do about it.

Here are some specifics about how he sees that conversation taking place that includes a radical change in how we see “church”,

Here’s one idea: what if we stopped seeing our pet versions of church and the gospel as products to sell, and embraced “church” as a social strategy instead? The gospel would become the message about who we are and what we’re doing and the church would become the means of organizing. We wouldn’t be constantly strategizing about how to get people in to church and how to keep them in church – because the church becomes the strategy for affecting radical social change. This would allow for churches of all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of short-term and long-term of missions, full of people with all kinds of beliefs. Some of these church would intentionally end after a period of time, other would likely last a lifetime. Some might be locally rooted, others might transcend location.

Just one idea. Maybe it could work. After all, the Christian ecclesia – gathered in response to a herald of Christ’s new commonwealth and empowered by faith in the same – has been the single most dynamic and effective means of positive social change in history. Maybe it would be smart to get back to that.

Whatever the solution, if the American Church is going to thrive beyond the next generation, we’ll need a coherent translation of the gospel that captures people’s imaginations about what’s possible in and around the issues they care deeply about. But to do that, the gospel itself will have to be liberated from it’s own Modern cultural and sectarian moorings (and some of our Christian mores too).

Will that change come through the mission church? I hope so. Probably not. But one way or the other I suspect most of us will live to see the utter decimation of the American church in its old form and a breathtaking resurgence in a new one.

I think Coker is on to something here. The first is that our definition of “church” is changing and the definition you assign to that term will play a huge role in how you move forward. Do you view church as static or dynamic? Are we to be stuck in the 1st century or have the freedom to be Christ’s community in the 21st century? Is it about a facility and a specific hour each week or about a community? How we define church and what flows out of that definition is vitally important and it is imperative that we allow scripture to inform our definition. Second, I agree with Coker that “church” as past generations have understood it is being “decimated” and believe something more biblical and powerful is going to arise from the ashes. Young people today have a great zeal and will do some crazy things for God…they need to balance that boldness with wisdom and knowledge of God and His Word.

Where I have some disagreement with Coker what drives the content of our conversation. I agree that we have to be answering questions people are actually asking, I don’t believe that our talking points need to be based on what people in the world believe are most relevant to their lives. Now, I am all about relevance and think you have to be relevant but I am also keenly aware that non-Christians don’t know all the things that are most relevant or needed in their lives. The Gospel is entirely relevant but it often runs counter to the thoughts and ways of the world (appearing even as foolishness, Paul would say). My only point being, what is more relevant to lost people won’t always be received as relevant at first but that can’t keep us from talking about what they most need to hear. Words like sin, right/wrong, and moral absolutes are not always popular…but they are biblical.

Last, my fear for the missional conversation is that it will run the route of the emerging/emergent conversation (when was the last time you discussed that with anyone?). The nail in the coffin of that conversation was the lack of a unified definition. Everyone defined it however they wanted to such an extent that the conversation came to a screeching halt because there wasn’t a unified vision for what was even being discussed. Seems to me that is what is happening with missional to some degree.

For a third post on this see David Fitch’s Is Missional Doomed?

The Sinner’s Prayer is Making the Rounds

I am seeing more and more blogs discussing the sinner’s prayer these days. There is this saying in the Churches of Christ that says we are usually about 20 years behind what other churches are doing. In this instance it seems they are 200 years behind us! I kid when I say that because it is not about who is “ahead” or who is “behind” this is all about people seeking God and the truth from scripture.

Churches of Christ have been asking where this is in the Bible for a very long time. I am glad to see people are understanding the lack of biblical support for such a prayer as a means to salvation. Obviously the only means to salvation is Jesus Christ. The question still remains, what kind of response is God looking for. I think what is really happening here is that those who are rejecting the kind of thinking that the sinner’s prayer is the means to salvation would also reject baptism as the means to salvation, citing that we are saved by Christ not by prayer or by baptism. However, it is clear which response is supported by scripture, not as a means to salvation but as humble obedience to the directives God has repeated placed in front of us in the New Testament.

Here are some recent posts:

Frank Viola (excerpt from Pagan Christianity) – Rethinking the Sinner’s Prayer
Frank gives the background & history of the sinner’s prayer as well as what the New Testament actually says about conversion and baptism.

Scot McKnight –The Sinner’s Prayer: A  Bye-gone?
Scot talks about the recent Southern Baptist Convention discussion on the sinner’s prayer that was brought up  by remarks from David Platt. As always, Scot has some great content and so do the comments!

Christianity Today’s article on the discussion at the SBC by Ted Olsen

How could I ever leave out – This one is only for you serious exegetes.

Some similar remarks from David Platt.

Book Giveaway One Life by Scot McKnight

When I get amazon referral money from those of you who buy books through links on this blog I always give the money back to you guys. I don’t take a penny. It is that time again. I want to give away one copy of One Life by Scot McKnight to one of you guys.

Comment on this post and I will randomly pick a commenter and send you the book.

Thoughts from Greg Boyd, who actually read Rob Bell’s New Book Love Wins

Thanks to Luke Norsworthy for pointing out this post on facebook. Maybe next time they will give advance copies to John Piper, Scot McKnight, and others…or they could just realize Philip’s point that what they produced was an amazingly powerful PR machine. Greg Boyd says that Bell is not a universalist but that the book raises some relevant questions and highlights God’s love for people and His hope for the salvation for all (obviously some people will choose otherwise).

Read Greg’s post here.

The New Testament Scholar Two Step

Line dancing…something they can all agree on! I tossed Piper in the mix. Maybe I should do one with all the trendy young ministers. Can you imagine Driscoll and Bell dancing hip hop together?

Elf Yourself – New Testament Scholar Edition

How to Study the Bible – Learning to Investigate

Investigators come on the scene to learn the truth. When they step onto a crime scene they come with hunches, suspicions, and a whole litany of preconceived ideas about how these things take place. Some of their background, education and experience will help them solve the case and other parts may get in the way. Regardless, a good investigator is looking for the truth. There are two things investigators must learn to do in order to arrive at an accurate conclusion:

1 – Investigators know how to listen. When you read the Bible are you really listening for God to tell you something or do you figure you already have it all pegged down nice and neat? If you don’t believe you need any answers you won’t ask any questions and certainly will not feel the need to listen. Any time we come to the Bible with an agenda other than really listening to what it has to say we are treading on thin ice. In the past I have gone to scripture to win a debate/argument with someone. So I looked up some key words ignored the ones that didn’t agree with me (and perhaps supported my “opponents” view) and wrote down the ones that confirmed what I thought it should say. That is not honest investigation, inquiry or study. That is dishonest at best. We don’t go to the Bible so it can speak our words/make it say what we want it to say. We go to it to listen to what it has to say that changes us.

I really like Scot McKnight’s three levels of listening from The Blue Parakeet, p. 99

  • Attention – when God wants us to get our ears open (1 Samuel 3:1-10)
  • Absorption – when God wants our open ears to take in what he wants us to hear and let it really sink in (1 Kings 3:9 – literally says he desires a “listening heart.”
  • Action – Listening and ready to respond (Mtt 7:24)

I am toying with the idea that you could actually have a Bible study method that employed these three phases. First, what gets your attention. Second, what does this passage want us to absorb and third, what action does it require. Each has to take place before the next one can be accomplished. Before you can take action you have to let it sink in. Before you can let it sink in God has to have your attention.

2 – Investigators then have to know how to ask good questions. Investigators have questions because they don’t yet have answers. In life the way we arrive at answers is by asking questions. This is true of scripture just as much as anything else. When we study the Bible one of the most important ways to engage the text is to ask questions of it and not just any questions…good questions that are aimed at two things. Our questions first seek out accurate information via solid interpretation of the text. Second, we desire to take that accurate information and move it into action. More on how to ask good questions of the text in a future post.