My wife and I have had the privilege to visit a number of churches in the past year and we have become concerned with the state of our churches today. Whether we like or not, the traditional churches of our grandfathers are not reaching the youth. We attended a beautiful Easter cantata a couple of years ago in a beautiful building with dark wood pews and stained glass windows. Their 100 year tradition was displayed on plaques throughout the structure. The seats were all full. The music was rich. The message was clear. But the choir was singing to the silver haired saints. My wife and I were among the youngest in the crowd, and we are grandparents.
“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.” - Judges 2:10
At a growing church in Florida that is rich in diverse age groups as well as cultures, the pastor put it this way – “We are constantly updating the church. “ He used the analogy of a kitchen. While most of us remember the kitchens of the 60’s and 70’s with red Formica and chrome or burnt orange and olive green, most of us have upgraded since then. We still cook good food, hopefully with healthier ingredients, but we have updated the environment. And so it should be with the church.
I am of a generation that used to huddle around a giant console TV on Saturday nights. Many such devices had built in record players or 8-track tape machines. Ours had a reel-to-reel recorder. How many of those are still in use in our homes today? Even the old rabbit ears had to give way to digital antennas in the last few years.
Is it possible that we are losing our youth, because we are we still doing church the way it was 50 years ago? Some I have spoken to just proclaim it as the “great falling away” predicted in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. I think it because the church has dropped the ball.
A standard practice of the church that I believe started the trend of disappearing youth is the way we split up families as soon as they walk in the door. All the kids go one way and the adults go another. Have you ever attended a children’s’ church service? They are interactive, vibrant, clapping, jumping and sometimes loud. Kids are trained in this environment for 10-12 years and we wonder why they don’t want to attend the (boring) services with the adults!
When these children are old enough, they get to attend youth group, with the same pattern of vibrancy and relevance. Jeans and t-shirts on a Wednesday night become the norm, along with pizza and Twinkies. Music is“plugged in” and cranked up, but the message of Jesus Christ still rings out loud and clear. But when the born-again youth step through the doors on a Sunday morning, they feel like aliens because of the contrast in worship styles and the judgmental attitude of the saints.
And then these young people, who have been “trained up as a child in the way they should go,” find themselves in their 20’s, too old for youth group and unable to fit in with the worship style of the older generation – they leave the church of their father.
The pastor of the church in Florida we visited had several important points – Youth group should not replace Sunday morning worship with the whole body. The Sunday morning service should be constantly updated, relevant and vibrant, so the youth will not be alienated. The youth should also be trusted with service opportunities. He mentioned parking cars and even technical jobs like updating the web page, sound board operation or overhead display details. I’ve attended churches before where they had the high school aged members lead the Sunday worship once a quarter, with their favorite songs and even preach the message.
We should all be training up our replacements. Remember that Jesus picked Peter, James and John to be his closest associates. John was able to witness to many generations, because Jesus picked him as a youth. It’s no wonder that pastors point to John’s book for new believers to read first and rarely suggest Peter’s.
And this little tidbit for the younger generation – please allow us older folks to attend your new churches, by turning down the decibels just a little bit. We are FOR you and would like to be WITH you!
Pastor Jay Merritt