Young People Hate: Shallow Churches

Jason Micheli —  August 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

According to his survey data, David Kinnaman in his book, You Lost Me: Why Young People Are Leaving the Church, reports:

1/3 of young Christians describe their church as boring.

1/4 answer that faith not relevant to their life or career interests.

24% respond that their church has not prepared them for real life.

Even worse: 1/5 young people say that God seems to be missing from their experience in church.

What may appear as small percentages (at least it’s not 80% right?) represent millions of young people who’ve written off the faith.

A major reason why they’ve done so, Kinnaman says, is that there’s a thin-ness to the Christianity offered by many churches that unavoidably leads to disinterest: ‘To many young people who grew up in Christian churches, Christianity seems boring, irrelevant, and sidelined from the real issues people face. It seems shallow.’

This shallowness, he says, has two aspects. One, young people have only a superficial understanding of the bible or their faith. They Christianity they (dis)believe is only about an inch deep. Two, churches spend much time, energy and resources communicating a lot of information about God but do not disciple believers into living in the reality of God. Knowledge may equal power but it doesn’t necessarily equal discipleship.

What churches have given young people then is a faith best described by Christian Smith as Moral Therapeutic Deism, which Kenda Dean describes as ‘God as a cosmic butler’ religion. Tellingly, it’s a faith that doesn’t believe in a living, active God who calls-demands- we give our lives to him. Consequently, it’s a faith that has no need for a church community. It’s no wonder young people write off church; we’ve given them a version of Christianity that doesn’t require it.

Kinnaman not surprisingly takes the Church to task for how its neglected its mission: valuing attendance #’s over spiritual growth, lacking meaningful rituals to develop young people’s faith as they age, failing to provide real-life application, forgetting to foster a culture of vocation in congregations, and expecting too little of young people.

Beating up the Church on these counts is too easy, though.

Kinnaman also take aim at the culture, parents and, yes, youth for the shallowness problem. He argues that from all sides, all the time, young people are catered to. Ads tell young people they’re beautiful, cool and their desires implicitly justified. Helicopter parents tell their children they’re center of the universe. Churches fall all over themselves just to have youth show up. ‘All this,’ Kinnaman says, ‘leads to a faith that lacks one essential ingredient: humility.’

If you’re convinced you already know everything and are good just as you are then ‘there are not a lot of compelling reasons to sit in the dirt at the feet of Jesus and live the humble life of a disciple.’

But maybe all is not lost.

Maybe there’s hope in the very problem.

If young people think church is shallow then that means they’re also likely cynical. What else could such a me-centered advertised world produce but cynicism. And if they’re cynical, then that means, on some level, young people must know that everything they’ve been told by their parents, churches and Madison Ave is, in some sense, a lie. And that, I think, makes them ripe for someone like Jesus to come along and co-opt their lives.

Jason Micheli

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