I’ve heard it time and time again. The church is losing its young people. If this trend continues, within a few generations, the church will be dead.Devoted Christians are losing their children to the world. As soon as they go to college, it seems, they fall away. Why? Why is this happening to us?
Well, to start with, it is absolutely a fact that the church is losing its young people. Some statistics in polls of youth groups show that as many as three-fourths of teenagers intend to leave once they are out of their parents’ home. That’s not even the highest statistic. J. Warner Wallace in 2012 collected a lot of good data about this, and in one of the studies he cited from 2002, 88 percent of children in evangelical homes left at the age of 18. There is a case to be made that these children are not leaving, but that instead Jehovah never had them, as a minister said in an article from the Christian Chronicle in 2007. So in that case, let’s rephrase the question. Why aren’t the hearts of our young people, who grow up knowing and seeing so much of the grace of Jehovah, being led to Him?
Christians have seen this problem for a long time. And what’s the proposed solution been? More youth groups, pizza parties, movie nights, and amusement park trips. Instead of filling them with the love of God, we fill them with entertainment and teach them that church is the place to get it. And we’re so ignorant, so short-sighted, that we don’t realize that we’re adding more fuel to the fire. Because the root problem in some of these situations is that their heart is given to fun, not to Jehovah, and by adding more fun in the name of God, we’ve just driven them even farther away from Him.
Our culture emphasizes fun for children. It says that children’s purpose is simply to have fun and to be served. So when Junior wants to pick up a job to make a little extra cash at age 15, instead of valuing his hard work initiative, we say “Oh no, Junior, this is the time of your life that you’re supposed to have fun. You’ll have to work your whole life, have some fun right now!”
So guess what? That’s what he does. He lives to have fun, as he’s been told to do. And what’s fun? Pizza. Laser tag. Movies. Music. Pop culture.
You’ll notice that Bible study, prayer, and serving others as Christ served us isn’t on that list. Why? It’s simple. Those things just aren’t fun.
Fun is about me. It’s about me enjoying myself. That’s not inherently wrong in all instances, but it’s self-focus when it becomes the point of your life right here right now. And that self-focus becomes a downward spiral, because as they go to the fun things, the entertaining things, they go to entertainment. Big surprise, right? And what does entertainment teach them? Several things, but the prevailing film topics at present are be yourself, don’t let anyone control you, live sexually unrestrained, and do what makes you feel good.
So we’ve told them to go have fun. So they go have fun instead of seeking Jehovah. And as they seek fun instead of Jehovah, they’re bombarded with messages that are the opposite of those they receive in the pew on Sunday morning. Contrast this with what Paul says we’re to do:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Phil 2:1-8
Entertainment isn’t always wrong. But to make your life all about it is.
But that’s only half of the problem. The other half is illuminated by J. Warner Wallace in the same post. This is Warner’s findings based on the book The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others to Create Social Change:
“More teens are embracing a nebulous belief in God. Yet there’s been an ‘explosion’ in youth service since 1995 that Lewis attributes to more schools emphasizing community service.”
This illuminates what is a problem not by outside sources influencing those inside the church, but rather a problem within our own ranks of Christ-believing men and women. We’ve created an entire Christian pop culture, which is not very much different except we take out sex and paste God’s name across it, but it’s still fun-focused. And within that realm, when we try to create serious Christian works, such as books and movies, they’re less a thoughtful exposition of serious and adult themes and more a message to “just have faith and everything will be wonderful.”
Look at popular Christian films. In Facing the Giants, we see several miracles that never happen to most Christians. Fireproof tells us that going to Christ will save any relationship (and turn any unwilling partner into a cooperative convert). There are wonderful things in these films that we should appreciate. But they also promote the idea of the world that Christianity is shallow and has no real cognition to it. Why don’t we ever see a film about an atheist studying his way to faith? Or a book about keeping faith while being persecuted for it in Africa? Because those wouldn’t be feel-good films, and if Christian media these days is about anything, it’s about endorsing the feel-good moments and ignoring absolute evil that needs to be confronted.
So the end result, then, is that while we’re telling our young people to just have fun, they look for fun in places away from God instead of seeking God with all their hearts. And then, in those moments that they do think on more serious things, they aren’t going to look to God, because we’ve taught them, even if unintentionally, that Christianity is for the shallow and ignorant, not for serious thinkers.
The remedy is two-fold, and simple. Push our children and peers to seek God instead of living for fun, and start confronting head-on the difficult questions of theology and truth instead of pretending following God makes all of your problems disappear. That’s the call, and it’s the way to reverse this trend.
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