During a bit of research into something else entirely, I stumbled across a September 28, 2011 article from Barna.org called Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. The article was obviously a teaser for their book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church, why I intend to review sometime this year. Barna.org states that a “five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman… was comprised of eight national studies” which focused on young adults who were “regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.”
The study revealed that there was no single reason why our kids decide to quit church. So much for a magic bullet! Instead, their research “uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”
The given reasons, in the order they were presented in the article, were:
- Churches seem overprotective
- Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
- Churches come across as antagonistic towards science
- Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
- They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
- The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
That’s a pretty interesting list. This post will concentrate on their first reason, with posts on the remaining reasons to follow.
Barna.org claims that young Christians leave our churches in part because churches seem overprotective. The article elaborates that:
“A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).”
It is true that this generation has an unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews, thanks in large part to the Internet and new portable, interactive technologies. Kids today carry around stuff we only saw in sci-fi movies back in the 80s. It’s awesome, but there’s a bit of danger to any new technology. Even without the technology, there’s a danger to unguided access to non-Biblical worldviews… which is what makes this generation’s “prodigious consumption of popular culture” so troubling to many Christians. Popular culture is not worldview neutral. Granted, most movies and TV shows aren’t as overt in their worldview as the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix trilogy or the Joss Whedon’s Firefly series [both of which I enjoyed immensely, by the way; I wish Christian films were as adept at conveying our worldview!], but that’s precisely what makes them so pernicious. You aren’t even aware in many cases how cultural saturation is gradually changing your worldview. Of course, the reason that teenagers can’t be President is because wisdom comes from experience. As you get older, you begin to notice these things. The reason that 18% [almost in 5] of our churched youth don’t see what the big fuss is over movies, music and games is that to them it’s just movies, music and games. It’s just entertainment. They’ve no idea of how the messages they consume, consciously and unconsciously, eventually affect their worldview. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that most of what we consume from the media is antagonistic towards a Biblical Christianity.
But does the Church demonize everything outside the church, as ¼ of the churched youth surveyed believe? I was considering this question thoughtfully when I ran across a new post by none other than Bruce Gerencser [the fellow who inspired me to begin researching why folks leave the church]. Bruce’s post was on the subject of culottes, a sort of ill-thought-out cross between pants and a dress. There’s simply no way to put the “cool” into culottes. They’re just that bad. There’s an Old Testament law against cross-dressing and, back in the day, some fundamentalists decided that a woman wearing pants was a violation of this particular Thou-shalt-not. I’ve also heard arguments for modesty made on behalf of wearing these silly-looking things. Oddly enough, Bruce’s post reveals that he had an occasion to see more than he bargained for despite Baptist endorsements of a modesty factor second only to the burqa. The post was both amusing and painful.
You see, culottes could be something of a poster child for the idea that the church demonizes everything outside the world. In this case, pants on women. As a matter of historical irony, the word culottes originally denoted knee-breeches for MEN. During the Victorian era, culottes came to denote a long, split riding skirt that allowed women to ride a horse like a normal human being rather than side-saddle. From there, culottes [also known as skorts] were developed for a wide variety of purposes including gardening, bike riding, house cleaning, and attendance of religious schools, with the faintest appearance [dare I say, hint] of wearing a skirt. No, I’m not a fan. Yes, I speak sarcasm.
The problem with culottes is that they help engender a Christian ghetto of sorts. It’s life in a religious bubble. We read Christian books, buy Christian movies, and yes we even have a Christian dress code. I hear we even have Christian breath mints! We seem to be trying to be neither in the world nor of it. Because we’ve demonized the world, we are forced to create a Christianized version of it as a safe haven. Yet our Lord commanded us to go out into the world and make disciples. Certainly, He who was called the Friend of Sinners would not condone or approve of the strategy of the separationists. Separationists aren’t interested in adding to the church, but simply preserving it against loss. They had best look to the fate of that fellow in the Parable of the talents who thought as they do!
Do not get me wrong here. This is not a blanket condemnation of fundamentalists or even people who wear culottes. I’m a card-carrying fundamentalist. I believe in modest. I don’t believe in cross dressing or that culottes are the answer. I mean, where did we get the idea that modesty means frumpy? Yet I often joke that I’m trying to put the fun back into fundamentalist, because – let’s face it – the duh and the mental are pretty much covered. We forget that we are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not merely conformed to a code of dress and conduct. This transformation is what separates us from the moralizations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Moonies and Muslims. I would submit that this fundamentalist preoccupation with rule-mongering is actually detrimental to the Church in two ways:
- It most often comes across as judgmental and grace-less, and
- It makes it difficult to determine the truly transformed from the cleverly conformed to the point where we often give folks false assurances of salvation based on how well they can follow the dress/speech/conduct code.
And here I must make a critical observation: the reason these churched youth are able to complain about the way Christians seem focused on what media they consume or that they seem to demonize everything outside the church is because Christians are not leading transformed lives. Transformation is difficult and requires dedication, commitment and submission to God’s will for us. There may be an ugly period while your caterpillar faith transforms into a creature capable of flight. The horridness of your transformation will be naked for the whole world to see. Conformation is a varnish, a touch of make-up, a suit that can be put on or cast off with relative ease. You’re still you in the end. Like a chameleon, you change your colors but not your essence. Nothing internal, nothing of substance has changed. You can hide what’s beneath under a shiny veneer. No one has to see what’s really there. The chameleon Christian is what I run into more often than not. A truly transformed Christian, even a Christian in the messy process of transformation is painfully rare; but it is the difference between Christ in you, the hope of glory and Church on you, the pale reflection of glory. No wonder they complain about what we warn against, rather than asking us a reason for the hope within us!
In my next post, we’ll discuss further why the church seems so disconnected from the world it is called to reach for Christ.
God bless you, especially you who strive for true transformation,
Rev Tony Breeden