In this age of communication and networking, nothing is more important than connection. We are bombarded all day long with advertisements based on our Google searches, music suggestions, “friend” suggestions, marketing, branding, and sales pitches. And if you know anything about marketing, it’s all about demographics. A life insurance salesman most likely won’t target a pre-teen. A college student will be showered in credit card offers. An elderly person will receive brochures from assisted living communities.
In the next few blogs, we will explore how the business model concept has crept into our churches, specifically in the way the church “connects” with young Christians, and how young Christians “connect” with their peers in the world.
Dealing With the “Youth” Gospel
Christian Millennials have a problem. When we go to church, all we want is real teaching and substance, no fluff or filler. But the American church culture oftentimes seems convinced that we’re little kids who need to be entertained in order to be taught. From the high school student to the college graduate, the gospel we’re offered in many church settings is packaged very differently than what the more “grown up” Christians receive. As if they expect us to not be interested in the gospel unless it’s dressed up or watered down to appeal to our immaturity.
We’ve seen it over and over. Look at almost any church website and you’ll see the pitch: “We’ve got everything for everyone! Here’s a thing for the kids, here’s a thing for mom and dad, and here’s a really cool thing for college students!” This is often accompanied by a picture of a group of attractive young adults, or of the youth group lounge (complete with foosball table and bean bags), or of the youth rock worship band in action. (“Look! We’re cool!”) It promises Wednesday evenings of fun, fellowship, cool stuff, challenging five minute talks from the cool young youth pastor, youth retreats to the beach, youth retreats to Six Flags, another cool thing over here, and another cool thing over there, and look! Another cool youth thing! We’re so cool and radical and on fire for Jesus because we know what kids like these days!
So, where’s the teaching? The discipleship? The doctrine? Where’s the substance of the gospel?
There’s nothing wrong with these things in themselves. Worship bands, youth group activities, and innocent fun are all good things and have been used by God to draw young people close to Him. The problem is that they’ve become necessary, as if gospel teaching wasn’t enough by itself with nothing added.
The church leaders are well meaning. They genuinely want to reach out to the young people in their community for Christ, because they love Him. But as young people ourselves, at least those of us who want to follow the Lord, we look at what they’re offering us and are confused. We don’t want “cool stuff for young people.” We don’t want a worship band. We don’t want fun and games. We don’t want to find our soul mate through an awkward singles event. We don’t want entertainment. We don’t want some youth pastor trying to dress and talk in a way so he can relate to us (it’s painful to watch sometimes). We don’t want the American culture repackaged under a Christian label (Let’s be honest, the culture does “cool” so much better than the church.) If we wanted all that “cool stuff” we definitely wouldn’t look for it at church!
We understand that they want to connect with us, but they way they’re trying to do it is, frankly, a little patronizing. We want Christ, and the truth of Christ is the same whether you’re six or sixty. No one needs stoop to our level or “speak our language.”
Basically, we’re not dumb. We’re tired of being treated like we aren’t able to handle the real, substantial doctrines of Christianity. And it’s time for us to respectfully decline the lesser, childish version of church-life and Christianity, and let our well-meaning church leaders know we intend to be adults.
How can we do this?
1 - Don’t give us a reason to believe we're still not ready for “big church.” When you speak of church matters, Christianity, or God, be thoughtful and not flippant. Don’t handle the holy things of God like a kid playing with toys. Nothing says “immature” as much as someone who says he or she is a Christian yet has no problem treating the whole thing as a joke.
2 - Break out of the age-group cage. We’re missing out on so much because of our self-imposed age segregation. Wisdom comes with age and experience, and we young people don’t have much of either. Why do we spend all our time at church with people our own age? Befriend the older folks and leaders in your own church. Not only will you be able to glean precious wisdom from them, but also they will see you as a serious minded, mature Christian.
3 - Be careful of the kind of people you’re friends with. We are told in Proverbs 13:20 that “…he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with people who like to have fun, but remember that your friends will influence you. If you want to be treated like a mature Christian, then nurture that maturity by being careful of those who have influence over you. If you habitually spend time with immature young people, older Christians will assume that’s the kind of person you are.
4 - Lastly, show some initiative and seek out real teaching and doctrine on your own. You’re not a baby, so don’t wait for your pastor and teachers to spoon-feed you doctrine. Be proactive! Listen to sermons. Read the Scriptures. Spend time in prayer. Don’t leave those things to the older, “more serious” Christians, because one day they’ll be gone and you’ll stand in their place.
(Come back soon for Part 2!)