“Insanity” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Desperate times call for desperate measures—and these are desperate times. We do have an epidemic on our hands. Survey after survey has revealed that over 60 percent of the children who grow up in our churches will leave them as they reach the threshold of young adulthood. The empty and obsolete churches of England foreshadow the future in America. Where England is today, we will be tomorrow1—unless we take strategic action now. We don’t need a remodel; we need a complete renovation. We don’t need a Band-Aid; we need radical surgery. It’s time for a revolution; it’s time for a new Reformation in the Church—to call the Church back to the authority of the Word of God, beginning in Genesis.
No, the numbers are not good. By surveying a thousand young adults who have left solid Bible-believing churches, we have gotten a much clearer profile of the lost generation. More sobering is the fact that the current Sunday school is doing very little (at best) and can even be significantly detrimental to the beliefs and the faith of the children we send there.
We have shown that those who leave the Church can be broken into two categories: Group 1, which never comes to church during the holidays and has no plans on returning to church after they have children. This group has serious doubts about the relevancy of Scripture. Group 2, on the other hand, comes to church on Easter or Christmas or both, and will likely return to the Church after they have children. They have a relatively high level of belief in biblical truth, but they find the Church to be irrelevant.
So what is to be done? We have already established that we need to defend the Word and we need to live the Word. What does this mean for the young adults who are already gone? David Kinnaman points out a sobering challenge:
There is considerable debate about whether the disengagement of twentysomethings is a lifestage issue—that is, a predictable element in the progression of people’s development as they go through various family, occupational, and chronological stages—or whether it is unique to this generation. While there is some truth to both explanations, this debate misses the point, which is that the current state of ministry to twentysomethings is woefully inadequate to address the spiritual needs of millions of young adults. These individuals are making significant life choices and determining the patterns and preferences of their spiritual reality while churches wait, generally in vain, for them to return after college or when the kids come. When and if young adults do return to churches, it is difficult to convince them that a passionate pursuit of Christ is anything more than a nice add-on to their cluttered lifestyle.2
Strategic search and rescue efforts need to continue helping those who have wandered from the flock find their way back. Many times a sincere invitation from a friend is all it takes. But even if they agree to come back, unless the Church is standing on the authority of the Word of God in an uncompromising way, teaching them how to answer the skeptical questions of the age, and challenging them to build their thinking in every area on God’s Word—they will probably not stay.
The obvious remaining question, however, is this: How do we curb the epidemic in the flock that is still under our care—the high school, middle school, and elementary students who are still coming in almost every Sunday?
We believe that a four-pronged approach is in order. Parents, Christian educators, youth pastors, and pastors all have a role to play in the solution. All of us in the Body are called to defend the Word and live the Word. Our specific mandates, however, are unique, and our strategic action points vary depending upon where God has placed us. And teaching creation and biblical apologetics is a necessary part for all!
Defend the Word.
Live the Word.
Be diligent to present yourselves approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
Southern Baptist Convention researcher Ed Stetzer noted:
There is no easy way to say it, but it must be said. Parents and churches are not passing on a robust Christian faith and an accompanying commitment to the church. We can take some solace in the fact that many do eventually return. But, Christian parents and churches need to ask the hard question, “What is it about our faith commitment that does not find root in the lives of our children ?”3
That’s not a rhetorical question. Why isn’t our faith taking root in our children? First, it’s possible that the parents themselves do not have a “robust Christian faith” to start with. Christianity is contagious, but children won’t catch it unless the parents are infected. If your children aren’t following Christ, you must first check to see if they’re following your lead! Your first priority as a parent is to live the Word of God in a natural, sincere way. If you try to preach it to your kids without living it, you’ll only add to the hypocrisy that turned so many of them away. Consider this challenge:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4–9)
Parent, it’s time to search your own heart and know your own ways and see if there is any hurtful way within you (Ps. 139:24). Do you love the Lord our God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might? Do you take the words of God and treasure them in your heart and teach them to your kids by talking to them about God’s Word as if it’s a normal part of your life? Is it your life? The faith of your family starts with you. The Barna Group explained it this way:
It’s not entirely surprising that deep, lasting spiritual transformation rarely happens among teenagers—it’s hard work at any age, let alone with the distractions of youth. And, since teenagers’ faith often mirrors the intensity of their parents’, youth workers face steep challenges because they are trying to impart something of spiritual significance that teenagers generally do not receive from home.4
Second, you need to realize that our society is no longer “Christian.” Our kids are living in a culture that is saturated with counter-Christian messages built on a foundation of evolutionary secular humanism. It’s your job to protect your kids and prepare them for life in this post-Christian society. You need to teach them how to answer the skeptical questions of this age. Show them that you do not compromise God’s Word with man’s fallible word (for example, by allowing millions of years or evolutionary ideas to invade Scripture and thus undermine biblical authority).
It’s not just an issue of homeschooling; it is an issue of true biblical home education. If our survey should teach you anything, it’s that you can no longer depend on the Sunday school and youth ministries in your church to educate your kids in the things of God. In all honesty, this was never their responsibility in the first place. This is your job; this is your responsibility; you need to step up to the plate and take charge.
Humble yourself before God: submit yourself to Him to be used as a tool in His hand for ministry in your own home. The strength and power of your ministry must come from the presence of the Holy Spirit working through you according to the Word of God. Trying to do this by yourself, rather than allowing God to work through you as He chooses, will eventually lead to failure.
If you now realize you have compromised God’s Word (for example, in Genesis), then ask the Lord to forgive you, and admit to your children you were wrong and then diligently teach them how to answer skeptical questions and not compromise God’s Word. Let your children see you have a high view of Scripture as you should.
Make the Word of God a natural presence in your home. Follow the command in Deuteronomy chapter 6 to talk about the Word with your kids and spouse. Write them down and post them in prominent places in your home. Ask God to create inside of you a love for Him that flows from your whole heart, mind, soul, and spirit. If you need to study up on how creation relates to the gospel and the rest of Scripture, then read Genesis 1–11, the Gospel of John, the Book of Romans, and the last two chapters of Revelation. This will give you a good overview to start with.
Evaluate your church. Is your church defending the Word and living by the Word? Chances are you’re going to have to make a decision to either stay as a committed agent of change, or leave and join a church that already shares your stand in these areas.
Whatever you do, don’t punt your responsibilities to somebody else. God has placed you in your family for a reason. He will give you the strength and wisdom that you need to carry out your mandate—if you humble yourself before Him and allow Him to work through you.
For a list of recommended resources, see appendix 4.
To the Christian Educator
Defend the Word.
Live the Word.
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)
Christian educators—those of you who serve in Sunday schools and elementary Christian schools—our hats go off to you for your sincere devotion to this next generation. At the same time, we have to make an honest evaluation of the effectiveness of your efforts. What you are doing is not working as it should. It’s not getting through and it’s not doing the job. We know you are in a key position to make major changes in the lives of your students. You are the M*A*S*H unit on the front lines of this disease. You are the nurses and the doctors that are positioned to counter the epidemic, and you must begin to defend the Word with your pupils at a very young age. You must teach them how to defend themselves and the Word of God in a secular world and show them how the Bible connects to the real world.
Students are not being taught how to defend their faith, how to answer skeptical questions, how to answer the questions of this age concerning the age of the earth/evolution, etc. We know that many of you are handed pre-made lesson plans. We know that you probably haven’t been trained in how to teach apologetics yourselves. We know that many of you may even be harboring doubts of your own. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Humble yourself before God. Ask for His guidance and place your dependence fully on Him to lead you and empower you for the ministry that He entrusted to you. Shine the light of God’s Word into your heart and test whether you have stood on the Bible as the absolute authority, or whether you have compromised. The Lord forgives. Pray for the courage to take the stand you need to, always remembering:
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:6)
Make your own spiritual life a priority. Far too often, faithful Christian educators are trying to feed their students when their own plate is empty. Take the time to pamper yourself spiritually. Read the Word for yourself. Prioritize nurturing times of prayer and meditation with the Lord. Study carefully the Word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul. Relevant books dealing with how to understand apologetics arguments for today’s world, and how to logically argue the Christian faith against the skeptical questions of this era, are now available. Diligently prepare yourself for the task. Take care of yourself first and then God will work through you to take care of your students.
Take responsibility. Your pastor is probably burned out and distracted with other things. Your Christian education director is probably relieved just to have you filling a spot in the program. But it’s really God who’s put you in this position, and you need to take full responsibility for what you’re teaching and how you are teaching it. With sensitivity and determination you can also become a change agent in your program.
Get trained. I know that most of you are volunteers, but you need to become pros. A tremendous amount of dynamic and encouraging training materials are available to you, no matter what your specific responsibility is in the Christian education system. Find a book; watch a DVD; go to a conference . . . your ministry will be the better because of it. Learn how to communicate to the age group you are dealing with.
Get armed to the hilt with solid curriculum. With good materials, the devoted Christian educator becomes a very powerful influencer for truth. A lady who worked for a Christian publishing company that published Sunday school curricula once said to me, “You would love our Sunday school curricula. We teach the children that Genesis is true, and that there really was a global Flood. The students learn that Noah and the animals went on board the Ark and came off the Ark after the Flood. We make sure we tell the students this was a real event. Isn’t that great?”
My response shocked her. I asked, “Tell me, did the curriculum actually teach the account of the Flood as real history—or just a story? Do you know one of the most asked questions concerning Noah and the Ark? Did you explain how Noah could fit all the animals on the Ark? [That is one of the skeptical comments of our day by which people claim the account of the Noah’s Ark cannot be true.] Tell me, did you connect the Ark/Flood account to biology? Did you explain to them that Noah only took representative kinds of land animals on board the Ark? [He would only need two of the dog kind, not all the dog varieties we see today; only two of the elephant kind; only two of the horse kind; two of the camel kind; and so on.] Did you teach them answers to the skeptical questions of the day to show them that they can defend the Christian faith against the skeptics of this age? Did you teach them from a perspective of apologetics, preparing them for the age they live in, for what they will be taught at school, for the skeptical questions about the Bible they will be confronted with—or did you just teach it to them as a story? Did you connect the Flood to the fossils? Did you prepare them for what they will hear on TV and at school concerning millions of years? Did you teach them that the fossils could not have been laid down millions of years before Adam sinned? Did you explain that the Flood makes sense of most of the fossil record? Did you connect the Flood to geology . . . or did you just teach the account as a story?”
These are just some of the questions in relation to the topic of the Flood and Noah’s Ark—but one would have to do much the same sort of thing with every topic. In other words, for each subject:
- Define the skeptical questions of this age that are leveled against this particular account from the Bible.
- Teach students how to answer these questions.
- Find ways we can connect this account with the real world; for example, archaeology, biology, anthropology, astronomy, and geology.
- Explore the practical application that can be made.
- Ensure students understand historical events as real history, doctrine, etc., from this passage.
- Explain to students how it all relates to biblical authority and the gospel.
- Where possible, connect the topic back to Genesis—you may be surprised at how easy this will come to you once you begin to do it.
Teach Bible history, not Bible stories. The point is, most Sunday school material just teaches stories! Most Sunday school teachers don’t know how to answer the skeptical questions of the day. Sunday school is not preparing the children for what they will be taught at school; it is not preparing them to be able to defend the Christian faith. Most curricula ignores apologetics and just teaches (maybe in a more contemporary way perhaps) basic Bible stories—spiritual and moral matters. Most such teaching does not connect the Bible to the real world. And sadly, in most instances, children are either actively told to believe what they are taught at school, or by default, they are led to believe that this is what they must do.
Often those kids who attend Sunday school will ask their Sunday school teachers (or pastors and/or parents) about millions of years, or dinosaurs and associated topics, wanting an answer from an authority figure who represents, in their eyes, Christianity and the Bible. And what do they hear?
Sadly, in the majority of instances, the Sunday school teachers will tell them that that is not a topic for Sunday school/church—and/or just believe the Bible regardless—and/or they can believe in millions of years and evolution as long as they trust in Jesus. The most important thing as far as the teacher is concerned is that the students trust in Jesus—those questions the students asked about origins issues aren’t that important. It doesn’t matter what one believes about Genesis.
Not only do I know this from years of experience in the biblical creation apologetics ministry, but it is obvious from the plethora of Sunday school curricula, Bible study and youth curricula, and children’s books. Most such resources either allow for millions of years of evolution, or just teach the Genesis account as Bible stories, not dealing with issues of the fossils, the age of the earth, and associated topics. Or they teach that there are different views on Genesis and it doesn’t matter what one believes, or they ignore Genesis altogether.
And by the way, the word story actually means “fairy tale”—and in today’s world, most people really do think “fairy tale” when they hear the word “story.” We have got to stop telling kids today we are going to read them or teach them a “Bible story.” We have to use different terms like “this account of . . .” or something similar to help them understand this is real history.
Remember, one of your major objectives is to help students make a link between their faith and fact. That’s going to require that you bring historical (and observational) science back into the Church and back into your Sunday schools. You can help your students make a connection between the Bible and reality. Whatever you do, don’t teach Bible “stories.” Teach Bible history. Use real maps, real artifacts, and real illustrations of what really happened. Most of the pictures we present to our children look like cartoon fairy tales. Even the pictures that we present of Noah’s Ark make it look like an overgrown bathtub with animals’ heads sticking out of the windows. We are not presenting Noah’s Ark as it really might have looked. We aren’t making it look like a real boat. Make it as real as it really was.
For a list of recommended resources, see appendix 5.
To the Youth Pastor
Defend the Word.
Live the Word.
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)
Still, one of the most striking findings from the research is the broad base of opportunities that Christian churches in America have to work with teenagers. Overall, more than four out of five teens say they have attended a church for a period of at least two months during their teenage years (81%). This represents substantial penetration and significant prospects for influencing the nation’s 24 million teens.
Those of you who work with teenagers are standing at the threshold of adulthood for teenagers who have grown up in the Church. Think about that for a moment. They are about to step out that door of the church, and approximately 60 percent of them will not come back after they leave your ministry. Are your students already gone? Kinnaman suggests a new test for a “successful” teen ministry:
Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul—not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school. There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. A new standard for viable youth ministry should be—not the number of attendees, the sophistication of the events, or the “cool” factor of the youth group—but whether teens have the commitment, passion, and resources to pursue Christ intentionally and wholeheartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest.6
That’s probably something you don’t get a chance to think about much. Many of you are fresh out of college and are thrust into churches that expect you to implement a “get them to come no matter what” approach. You’re being paid to bring kids in and to keep them occupied. Fun, music, and entertainment can quickly become the focus of your creativity. (Defending the Word and living the Word become secondary priorities.) You have more to offer than that. You’re strategically placed during a strategic time of life, and you can make a powerful difference that lasts a lifetime if you’re willing to look past your attendance figures on a Wednesday night.
Get on your knees and recommit yourself to effective ministry. You may have to repent for trying to seek the approval of other people rather than doing what you know God has called you to do. You may have to ask for forgiveness for compromising the Word of God in order to make your ministry attractive and fun for your students. Repent of all that, and ask God to lead you in a new and everlasting way.
Equip your parents. This might be the most important thing you can do. Make “parental training” part of your job description and then go for it. I know this isn’t a new thought, but how many youth pastors actually prioritize this type of strategic ministry? Work in conjunction with your Christian educators so that you can raise up an army of parents who can disciple and train their own kids from the cradle to graduation.
Develop teenagers’ abilities to contemplate and develop their own personal worldview. Most likely, your students are already being bombarded with secular influences. You can teach them how to defend the Word, and how to live the Word in an antagonistic, anti-Christian world.
For a list of recommended resources, see appendix 6.
To the Pastor
Defend the Word.
Live the Word.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His Kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:1–4)
For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God. (Eph. 4:12–13)
Okay, pastors, now it’s your turn. Its inventory time; it’s honesty time. It’s time to look inside your heart and inside your church and let God do a surprise inspection so you can face the statistical facts that came out of this study. Perhaps your church is one of the rare exceptions, but if it’s not, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. You must be willing to suck up your pride and take some responsibility. Two out of three of the teenagers who grew up in your church are already gone. Is that “just the way it is,” or is there something you can, should, and must be doing? Ask yourself these important questions:
- Am I preaching the Word of God?
- Am I defending the Word of God?
- Am I and my church living the Word of God or am I perpetuating a religious institution that is trapped in tradition?
- Have I compromised the Word, particularly in Genesis, and unwittingly undermined biblical authority to those who are already gone and those who will go?
- Have I ensured that all the teaching curricula in the various church programs really is reaching the kids and parents where they are today? Is it just reaching the “Jew” or is it reaching the “Greeks”?
- Have I allowed a philosophy to make the church look more like the world to try to attract people, instead of teaching relevant answers the world needs?
- Is music the priority in the church or is teaching the Word the priority?
The answer to the first question might surprise you. After all the churches that he has surveyed, Britt believes that, if you’re lucky, 20 percent of your congregation walks away feeling spiritually uplifted on a given Sunday morning. Let’s face it: most people are tired of milquetoast messages. They want the real thing; they want to hear from the Scriptures that are living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. The temptation is to back off the meat and potatoes and feed them sugar and spice—something that is exciting, dynamic, and entertaining. That might hold them for the moment, but in the long run it sacrifices your relevancy. People get bored; they wish for something that connects to the real world . . . and they fade away even more. When they come to your church hungry on a Sunday morning, do you give them a healthy dose of meat? Or do they only walk away with a temporary sweet taste on their tongue that will not last past noon?
All week long, those who attend your church are bombarded in their workplace and in the media by messages that undermine the authority of God’s Word, particularly the Genesis accounts. Do you regularly defend God’s Word from the pulpit? Have you equipped those sitting in the pews to give an answer for the hope that is in them? This is something that must be done. You may need to get out of your little Christian bubble for a while to understand what we are really talking about. Sit in a fast-food restaurant at lunchtime and listen to the high school students talking. Go stand by the water cooler in the break room of a major corporation and listen to the talk of the secretaries during break. It’s a rough world out there. The people who come to find some rest and relief on Sunday are fighting a major battle against ungodly influences the other six days of the week. Are you giving them what they need to survive and thrive in the world? Have you ever really sat down with the young people and asked them questions to see at what point they are, what they really believe, and what the stumbling blocks are to their faith? You will find (if you ask the right questions) that millions of years and questions about science and Genesis are major issues with them.
And, have you become a slave to man-made religious traditions that are imprisoning your congregation and dictating your ministry? I think there’s a good chance that you have . . . and I am so, so sorry about that. Countless pastors begin their ministry with the hope and the expectation that they will be a part of an authentic body of believers who experience the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. But usually the pastors themselves become casualties of burnout from man-made religious institutions that place huge burdens and expectations on their leaders. That’s reality, but thankfully there are things that you can do about it.
Reevaluate your call. The demands on you as a pastor can quickly destroy your vision and purpose in ministry. I would challenge you to back off a little bit and rethink who you are, what you are doing, and why you are doing it. It might be time to dust off those distant dreams you had for vibrant ministry back in seminary. It might be time for a sabbatical. It is definitely time to make some radical changes in the way you do church.
Simplify and clarify your objectives. Your primary call is to defend God’s Word and live by God’s Word. Your mandate is to preach the Word and to equip others to minister and live by the Word. It might be time to take a day or two and get away with a blank legal pad and your Bible and rethink what that means for you and your church. Are you just teaching about heavenly things—relationships, spiritual, and moral things? Have you ignored the “earthly things”?
Draw some lines in the sand. If your ministry is driven by denominational and congregational expectations rather than Scripture, any changes that you make will expose you to pressure and complaint from those who feel safe with the status quo. It’s likely that a certain faction within your church will think it’s time for you to leave. You will likely need to draw some lines in the sand and say, “God’s taking us in a new direction here. If you don’t like it, it might be time for you to leave.” Only you can decide whether or not it’s worth the fight, but let me tell you that I’ve visited thousands of churches and I know that there are some things worth fighting for, and a vibrant new vision for unleashing God’s Word in the local church is always preferable to a slow, draining, inevitable death of a congregation that is stuck in its old ways. You’re likely to lose some people. But don’t worry; chances are there is another irrelevant, anemic church building with plenty of empty pews just down the block. Give them the freedom to take the hike.
And if you do take a strong stand on Genesis, and accept no compromise, and begin teaching creation and general biblical apologetics, you will most likely receive complaints. Certain people who have compromised on these issues themselves (maybe a scientist, or teacher, or doctor) will say they will leave if you continue with such things. There will be pressure regarding financial support for the church—but what is more important? Isn’t the priority the authority of Scripture and the teaching of the Word? God wants us to be faithful to the Word.
Defend the Word. If you haven’t taught good apologetics to your church, if you haven’t equipped your Christian educators to do the same, you’re in for a wonderful surprise: people love this stuff! It affirms their faith; it emboldens their witness; it helps them make a tangible connection between faith and fact. As many have said to us, “This makes the Bible so real!” Apologetics is one of the most life-giving things that you can inject into the veins of your church. A regular injection of Bible-defending, faith-affirming scientific and historical evidence will add new life to both you and your congregation. Don’t hold back. They really want to have answers to the questions that cause them to doubt.
Teach the Word. People want meat; they want something that is relevant; they want the Word of God. You need to understand that, and you are responsible for that. Period. Sure, you might lose some people who don’t really believe the Bible in the first place, but you know what? You might as well speed up the process, because they are already gone.
Teach about the Word. People want to know that “Jesus loves me.” But quite frankly, because “the Bible tells me so” isn’t going to be enough anymore. Before people will see the Bible as relevant, you need to teach them that it is authoritative and accurate. For example, does your congregation know what it means that the Bible is “inspired by God”? Some of our survey results would indicate that many people weren’t even sure what that means. Many seem to think that that meant that the Bible was “inspirational,” because many of them indicated that they believe the words of the Bible came from the wisdom of men and not from the declaration of God. You need to communicate to them what it means when we say that the Bible is “God breathed.” They need general Bible apologetics as well as sound exegetical teaching.
Teach about the Church. Our survey showed that 38 percent of the people who have left the Church still believe that the Bible is true, and yet the Church is not relevant enough to them to get them out of bed on Sunday morning. This reflects the failure of the Church to excite their young people by breathing life into the Scriptures. Christians need fellowship of other Christians in order to be able to grow spiritually and to be taught about Christian life. Too often, these young people view the Church through the hypocrisy of the Church leaders, and thus ignore those leaders’ teachings.
Back off on the entertainment factor. I recognize that you pastors are dealing with a number of different pressures. Fiscal responsibilities can place tremendous expectations upon you to bring in new people quickly and keep the ones that you have. The temptation is to go for the easy fix and focus on creating a church experience that is exciting, dynamic, and entertaining. Far too often this is done at the expense of legitimate community and the preaching of God’s Word. What is the long-term result of a short-term fix? You sacrifice your relevancy. Because you’re only feeding them sweet things that tickle their tongues, their hunger is rarely satisfied. They quickly come back expecting another bigger and better sugar fix. Deep inside, however, they really want some meat. And yet what do you do to keep their attention? You make your message even shorter and even more entertaining. Usually the emphasis turns more toward music, but that’s a mistake. (Only 1 percent of the 1,000 young adults that we surveyed left the Church because of the music. A significant portion of those who left reported that they really did miss the preaching of God’s Word.) Pretty soon this starts to spiral downward until you really are communicating nothing of substance and the Bible takes the back shelf in the church service.
Pass the torch. Rather than just hoping the teenagers are going to come back after they graduate, why not put them in charge? Let’s be honest, there are many things that we can do to make our churches more culturally relevant to the 20-something generation. Nobody knows how to do this more intuitively than they do. I would highly recommend commissioning a group of trusted elders who will walk alongside teens and mentor, disciple, and equip them to be unleashed in ministry to their own generation. While never compromising Scripture, they just might totally reinvent what “church” looks like for the upcoming generation. They will no doubt need training in apologetics so they can pass that information on.
Yes, desperate times require desperate actions. And the situation in the Church today, as we have shown, is critical and its future impact is at great risk. The exciting thing is that the decisions and commitment of a few can begin the healing process that stops the epidemic and infuses new life and vitality into the lives of 20-somethings and those who will follow in their footsteps. Parents, Christian educators, youth pastors, and pastors hold in their hands the medicine that can bring the cure to this spreading epidemic of apathy and disengagement.
One thousand 20-somethings have revealed the answer. They have shared why they have walked away. We now know what we can do. There is a solution. The question is now one of commitment to the “cure.”
Are you willing to administer the “medicine” to those who need it so desperately?
For a list of recommended resources, see appendix 7.
Britain has lost its Christian soul. In this post-Christendom Britain, we cannot afford to neglect prayerful and spirit-led strategies for long-term change, for there is much work to be done.
—The Rev. Joel Edwards, head of the Evangelical Alliance in England7
Recently I was made aware of another collection of photos of churches that had become “redundant”—useless leftovers that were not needed to fulfill their intended purpose.
There’s just one major difference between these churches and the ones we contemplated at the beginning of this book: these churches are not in England. They are in New England. As England is, so we will be if we don’t take strategic action now. American Christianity could be on the edge of obsolescence in less than two generations. The epidemic is continuing to spread and will do so unless something is done.
But may I leave you with a different kind of vision? Consider the possibilities of a revolution, a reformation, and a renovation of church as we know it in America today. What if our churches were to truly become gatherings of individuals who defend God’s Word and live by God’s Word? Imagine the potential as millions of Bible-believing Christians in this country evaluate their own lives, their own families, their own churches, and their own country, and begin to strategically do their part by allowing God to use them in any way that He sees fit to protect the vital Body of Christ and to reach out to those who have left her and those who meet her.
Throughout human history, the course of human events has been turned many, many times by those who see what is, who see what is coming, and who lay down their lives to alter the course of the future for the betterment of all. Our country has forsaken its Christian soul. We need to see that for what it is and take action in prayerful and biblically based strategies.
Again, we call for a new reformation. In a sense (symbolically), we need to be nailing Genesis 1–11 on the doors of churches (akin to what Martin Luther did), seminaries, and Christian and Bible colleges, to call the Church back to the authority of the Word of God. In this era of history, we really “lost” that authority beginning in Genesis; that is where we need to reestablish it. When the Church gets back to the authority of the Word of God, then it can be the salt and light to influence the culture with God’s Word to change hearts and minds—and consequently change the culture.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He cause His face to shine upon you and give you strength. Regardless of what the future holds for us, our families, our church, and our world, may we have the joy of knowing that we defended His Word and lived His Word for His glory and the sake of those He has chosen.