Cool Christianity

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In this past Friday’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal (I can’t link to it, as the article is accessible only through an online subscription; though, we have one through our AiG library), an article entitled “The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity” appeared.  The article began by talking about the recent “oil gusher” in the Gulf of  Mexico that has been greatly affecting the Gulf Coast states, and then stated the following:

Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.   As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.   Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.
Answers in Genesis deals with why these young people are leaving the church in the book Already Gone.  We contracted with America’s Research Group (led by respected researcher Britt Beemer) to find out why these young people are leaving the church.  We found out why and when, and then dealt with remedies.

The Wall Street Journal article continues:

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn't megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) piece continued with examples of attempts to be “cool”:
There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated "No Country For Old Men." For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.'s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).

"Wannabe cool" Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an "iCampus." Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services.

Now, you’re going to find it shocking about some of the techniques used by some churches, as the WSJ item mentions:
But one of the most popular—and arguably most unseemly—methods of making Christianity hip is to make it shocking. What better way to appeal to younger generations than to push the envelope and go where no fundamentalist has gone before?

Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like "Sex God" (by Rob Bell) and "Real Sex" (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.

Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle's Mars Hill Church—who delivers sermons with titles like "Biblical Oral Sex" and "Pleasuring Your Spouse," and is probably the first and only pastor I have ever heard say the word "vulva" during a sermon.

But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

In his book, "The Courage to Be Protestant," David Wells writes:"The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

So what does author Wells then say about the effectiveness? He’s quoted further in the WSJ piece:
"And the further irony," he adds, "is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them."

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that "cool Christianity" is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. It's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same.

So—what is the solution?

If only the Wall Street Journal would publish a summary of the content of the book Already Gone where a renowned researcher (respected in both the Christian and secular worlds) found out why and when these people are leaving the church.  As a result, we were able to offer real solutions.  The real issue gets down to defending the Christian faith, giving answers to combat the secular attacks of the day, teaching apologetics, and standing uncompromisingly on God’s Word beginning in Genesis.  Rather than me give another summary of the results and recommendations from this research, I encourage you to read this recent review below of Already Gone by a Christian leader in West Virginia, who will be attending our Answers for Pastors national conference near our Creation Museum next month, September 21–23 (see www.AnswersForPastors.org)

Already Gone Review

Let me just cut to the chase. This book is shocking on one level. On another it’s really quite unsurprising – expected even.

It’s been said that upwards of 80% of church kids graduate from church when they graduate from high school. A lot of reasons have been thrown out for this horrid trend: things involving worship styles [are we not entertained?], small groups [we had such hopes!], sermon lengths [sound byte theology or filler material for the music program?: you decide], “relevance” [It took me 6 months of enthusiastic research to realize that the relevant movement is pretty much embarrassed to be a part of the church and that the movement as a whole is trendy but in the end mostly irrelevant to the question] and whether or not the idea of a youth group as it’s done today is even Scriptural much less effective [are we just providing them with a more or less safe place to socialize and play with a little bit of Bible thrown in?] – and so on and so forth.

Ken Ham and Britt Beemer surveyed 1,000 former church kids from conservative churches [so presumably the numbers would be hideously worse in liberal, devil-may-care, biblically blase' mainline churches, especially if the authors' uncovered reasons for this mass exodus are accurate!].  The expected outcome was that just over 10% of those former church kids were still going to church during college. 90% had flown the coop by high school. OK, to be redundant, we expected that. But we didn’t expect to find that while 95% of these kids attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years, only 55% were still attending during high school.

Waitasec! Aren’t they supposed to be graduating from church as they grab their high school diplomas? What happened to the middle schoolers? About 40% of the kids in our churches are already gone before high school [and of course this this where the book takes its name]. By the way, about 90% of those kids went to public school. Guess what they start teaching hot and heavy in middle school? Evolution and millions of years – the latter being the key issue here.

You should read this book. Or at least watch the DVD version. [Of course, the State of the Nation with Ken Ham'09 DVD is by all accounts an extended version of the Already Gone DVD, so why not get more bang for your buck, eh?] This isn’t a dry survey. If you care about our kids, this thing will grip you. You won’t put it down. You’ll keep picking it back up. You’ll stew over it. You’ll wish it said something else. You’ll look over your congregation and survey those kids and mentally erase 90% of them and beg God to show you how to keep that from actually coming true in your own church [IF your church still has any kids...]

Ken Ham and Britt Beemer call this an epidemic. I’d call it a pandemic. And it’s not very well understood.

Some surprising results: Kids who go to Sunday School are MORE likely question the Bible and have unbiblical views on homosexuality, abortion and a range of other hot button issues. Those who GO to Sunday school are MORE likely to believe that evolution is true and the Earth is millions of years old. Those who go to Sunday school are even more likely to see the Church as hypocritical and see church attendance as irrelevant to Christianity than those who DON’T go to Sunday school.

Why? A few reasons. In Sunday school we get Bible stories [compare this with the way the same passages are treated if they come from the pulpit] but we get history, curriculum and science in school. The schools teach about rocks, fossils, dinosaurs and history. Too often, the Church doesn’tspeak of these things at all. Kids are more likely to hear an adult say that you can believe God used evolution in Sunday school.

Read this book. We need solutions to this pandemic. Church as usual won’t cut it when the cost is 90% of our kids. It’s time to re-evaluate how we’re doing God’s work. These kids showed a trend of questioning whether they could trust the Bible. We need to give these kids the tools they need to defend the Bible.

And we need to start making some changes NOW, because some of them are, well, already gone.

Christian clergy need to network, pool together resources and exchange ideas to give churches and Christians the tools they need to defend Genesis, to defend the Gospel, to defend God’s Word. We hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity that this group affords in that regard. Our enemy is engaged, motivated and organized. It’s time to step up to the plate and take it up a notch.

God, let our lamp stands blaze with truth and holy zeal! . . .

Rev Tony Breeden

The review can be found at:   http://bookwyrmslair.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/already-gone-by-ken-ham-britt-beemer-with-todd-hilliard-master-books-2009/

So many articles and books are being written about the exodus of the young people from the church—the church needs to wake up and understand the real reason why this is happening. Already Gone has already greatly impacted many churches. Help us get the message out.  Get your pastors and Christian leaders to read this book, so they can understand what is happening and what to do about it.  You can order Already Gone from the AiG online bookstore, and you can also order discounted bulk copies.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

Ken

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