I recently read an article about the changing viewpoints of young Christians in America, and the effect that it is beginning to have on churches across the country. It is one of the best written, and insightful articles on the current state of young adults in the American church. Here is a link to that article:
The problems that we are facing as church leaders are many, but I believe that there is one key issue here that is at the heart of it all. That is the Abandoning of Youth and Children in ministry.
Now, some of you may be scratching your heads thinking, "We invest a ton of money in our youth/kids programs, and have large facilities and staff dedicated to running it all... I guess we can be exempted from this discussion?" Absolutely not... And I might add that this could be the very heart of the problem.
Churches in America, especially churches in the southern part of the United States, have fallen into the "If you build it, they will come" trap. Don't believe me? Drive around and look at the churches near you. Multi-million dollar facilities that could easily double as a university theater department, mega-complexes with gyms, workout facilities, ball fields, laser and LED light shows, smoke machines, and the list goes on. We employ (meaning pay) people to play instruments, run lighting/sound, and set up the vast technical a/v show that has become our weekly worship service. We run sports leagues in our churches, even schools and daycare centers. We do all of this under the banner of what we call "Ministry" and then sit back and wonder why things are as they are described in the above mentioned article.
You see, the problem is not simply doing all of the things I just mentioned. There is nothing wrong with having a nice building, running programs, or even having a nice A/V presentation. To really see the issues here, you have to look a bit deeper.
The problem is that we as churches have been working so hard to become all things to all people that we have let the church become a product. We advertise it, tweak it, and try to sell it in the same way that advertising agencies and soap companies try to sell us shampoo. Nearly every time I purchase a bottle of shampoo, the label has been changed, and the term "New Look" is printed on a banner at the top. Why is that? It is because marketing gurus have decided that we humans are too dumb to realize that we like a product for what it is, and that our buying decisions are solely dependent on what we see at the moment of purchase. Sadly, we in church leadership have taken the same approach to how we lead churches. Constant updating of websites to be more current, constant changes in programming and even in the worship service each week. Spending the vast majority of the man-hours of church employees to produce a 1 or 2 hour production each week that we title a "Worship Service." Friends, this is simply NOT working.
In our quest to be the next Willow Creek, Saddleback, or North Point, it is entirely possible that we have put the methods before the ministry. Don't believe me? Sit down with a group of teenagers or children and begin to ask them basic questions about doctrine, theology, or the Bible. You will be surprised by the answers that you get. Our children have grown up without something that many of us Gen-Xers did not... a solid Biblical foundation.
THIS is where the abandoning of Youth/Children's Ministry has occurred. We may have large numbers in the seats, enrolled in programs, and wearing our t-shirts, but we have failed at the very thing that Jesus tasked us with in Matthew 28:19-20
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to open everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
We have become so focused on the "how," that we have forgotten the "why" in ministry. We are supposed to be forming disciples (or followers) of Jesus, which should be vastly more important than acquiring followers on social media.
Fellow pastors and lay-leaders, we need to take a hard look at the way we do ministry. Are we investing in the lives of of young people in order to help them become grounded in the Christian faith, or are we just wanting to be the largest group in town? Are the people in our churches growing deep in their relationship with the Lord, or just checking off the church box each week? Changes probably need to be made in how we all do ministry.
We can no longer afford to be castle builders... We need to be Kingdom builders. It is time to get back to teaching our children and youth the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We then need to teach them how to help others grow in their faith. Paul talks about this in 2 Timothy 2:2,
"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others."
Studies have shown that most people that choose to follow Christ do so before they turn 18. Instead of throwing money and activities at our young people, we need to invest in quality leaders that will guide them into mature faith and knowledge of the Scripture. Programs are fine, facilities are fine, but if we do not show them how to keep "The Main Thing... The Main Thing," then we are abandoning our responsibility to our younger generations. May God make a change in us all!