You’ve seen the statistics. Something like 70% of the next generation of Christians walks away from their faith once they leave their home and head to college. The specifics of the numbers and the reasons can be debated, but who can deny that the church has an “exodus” problem when it comes to the next generation?
I’m not a sociologist, or any kind of professional for that matter, but today I write as one of those 70% who walked away and, by the grace of God, came back.
The truth is that there are far too many variables that have caused this statistic for us to say that this one is the main cause. We could turn to the rise of skepticism, the liberalization of our institutions, the nominalism of parents, and on and on.
Today, I want to discuss a cause that I have contributed too.
We contributed to the problem with the best of intentions. As youth ministers, we thought that if we catered to the entertainment-driven culture of our youth, they would be more likely to stay within the church.
We were wrong.
We certainly tried our hardest. We amped up the music, watered-down the preaching, fit in more game time, and scheduled more fun activities. While none of these are inherently wrong, the effect is undeniable.
They still left.
We thought this would actually be a solution to the problem. The problem has been recognizable for awhile now and in an effort to turn the tide, we tried to entertain the next generation back to Jesus.
They still left.
Before continuing, I want to remind the reader that I consider myself to be a part of the problem and I am not condemning anyone who, like me, thought this was a good idea.
Nonetheless, it is wholly unsurprising to me that this tactic didn’t work. We held up entertainment in one hand, while hiding Jesus behind our back in the other. Once we drew them in the doors, we threw up our other hand and said, “Oh, you thought this was just for fun? Surprise, it’s Jesus time!” I jest. But is the illustration that far off?
The bait-and-switch tactic was not missed on the part of the youth. They could see. They aren’t stupid. While some came for Jesus, obviously, most didn’t. They came for the promised entertainment.
When they realized they could get entertainment elsewhere, and for cheaper, they took it. Why be bait-and-switched, when you can just simply have what you came for?
If they didn’t come for Jesus, it is no surprise to me that they didn’t stay for Him.
A Humble Solution
I really hope I’m not being too harsh. Again, I know we did this with the best of intentions.
I also don’t pretend to know all the answers or solutions to this crisis. My only hope is to look inward, question my motivations, and cry out to God that he would provide us with answers.
I think he has. I think the answer is the same answer it has always been.
The next generation doesn’t care about entertainment. At least, not as much as we think they do. They already have all the entertainment in the world literally in the palm of their hands. Still, they experience depression and anxiety at alarming rates.
They long for the same thing we all long for. Lo and behold, it is no mystery at all. They are exactly like you and me. And what do we all want?
We want life and we want it abundantly. So do they.
Jesus says in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
As the statistics have shown us, entertainment does not provide abundant life. But as any follower of Jesus will tell you, “He does!”
So bring them in the door with the expectation of meeting Jesus. Perhaps they’ll be inclined to stay. Perhaps, our numbers will decline, but perhaps not.
I’ll leave you with this consideration. If you were a young person seeking entertainment, would your fist choice be a church? Obviously not. So if you see a young person at church, I promise you they aren’t there to be entertained.
Give them the Gospel. Give them the Word.