A common lament in many churches today is the lack of young people. It seems that many youth today can’t leave faith of their parents fast enough once they are on their own. This is true in Catholic churches and it is especially true in evangelical churches, at least according to this interesting article in the Broken Arrow Ledger entitled “Where have the Young People Gone?” Some excerpts (emphasis added):
“Nationwide polls and denominational reports are showing that the next generation is calling it quits on the traditional church. And it’s not just happening on the nominal fringe; it’s happening at the core of the faith.”
That’s the opening paragraph in a press release promoting a new book, “Already Gone,” by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, with Todd Hillard…
Two-thirds of young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches are leaving, according to Ham and Beemer.
Nancy Mabry, youth director at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church, agrees that evangelical churches are losing twenty-somethings, but she credits a reluctance to make any sort of commitment as the underlying cause.
If young people can’t commit to a skating party on Sunday evening until Sunday morning, they’re going to have difficulty making long-term commitments to anything else, Mabry said.
When she was in her 20s, she said “If you didn’t have a fever, you went to church. Some people say they don’t come to church because Sunday is the only day they have to spend with family. Why don’t they spend it with their family in church? Now, church is an option,” Mabry said.
What is the solution? There is a hint of it found later in the article:
There is an exception, however, according to Mabry. Traditional churches that are liturgical churches and smaller evangelical churches seem to be retaining their twenty-something members in greater numbers than larger and mega-churches.
The Rev. John Wilke, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, has read the book and said he found it to be a fascinating study.
He cited one of Luther’s writings as something for church leaders to consider: “A faith that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing.”
“I think that is where the church is today. I get too many things in the mail from churches that say, ‘Come just the way you are, you don’t have to change,’” Wilke said.
“While God loves you where you are, he expects you to change. We don’t put the fear of God in our churches, we don’t have that respect. We’ve made Jesus our homeboy. He’s not our homeboy, he’s our Saviour.”
Wilke said the only church he knows of that is experiencing growth in the 20-to-29-year old age group is the Greek Orthodox Church.
“The Greek Orthodox Church is a liturgical church. Kids want to return to something different from what they get from the world. If we want to reach these kids again, we are going to have to return to what the early church was doing. We need to raise the bar,” he said.
Read that last part again: a demanding, liturgical Church is actually attracting youth!
Over the past forty years, the goal of many Catholic parishes has been to make it as easy as possible to be a Catholic so that everyone, but especially the youth, would be willing to come. There has been very little preaching about sin and repentance or about the demands the Faith puts upon you. Furthermore, the underlying assumption for many has been to make the celebration of the Mass more “relevant” to the younger generations, so that they will be more attracted to coming. However, this study shows the exact opposite has occurred: kids have rejected the easy way and instead favor churches that are more demanding and more traditionally liturgical.
Youth want to be inspired; they want to be called to something above themselves. A demanding, liturgical church naturally does this and as a result attracts youth without even explicitly trying.