Ever wonder why young people are leaving the church today in mass numbers? Why do so many churches think that bright lights and pop-rock concerts will fix it? Churches are failing. It’s clear that many are failing because they are trying too hard to win back young members. Others are failing because there is no passion, no zeal. It’s just a bunch of dry bones preaching from the pulpit. It sounds harsh, but it’s reality and it needs to be addressed. Young people are leaving Christianity in droves because the real, authentic Christianity is not what’s being given to them. They associate real Christianity to the skewed version of it they discover in modern church services; and therefore, many reject traditional Christianity as a whole without ever having known it.
In today’s modern world, it seems that Christian leaders are attempting new ways to make Christianity cool. But, why in the world would anyone need to do that? Is the gospel itself not enough? The lights, loud music, nifty haircuts and outfits, entertaining speakers, and all the glitz that’s added to it cannot compete with the authentic Gospel shared with an authentic heart.
It seems that church leaders add the extra bling to church productions to generate more attendance. They are in competition with other speakers and churches to gain more popularity so that they can increase members and ratings. It’s about the numbers after all. I assure you that Christ never ministered to the multitudes while using a fog machine. With all the attention on entertainment, it’s no wonder that church has become so trivial.
My English professor recapped a chapel worship session that went horribly wrong. The lyrics to the song should have said, “Fill me up Jesus,” but instead said, “Feel me up, Jesus.” The worship team sang the chorus over and over again without any thought. The church world has been saturated by what makes them feel good and there’s not much thought about it — the sounds, the cinema spectacle and in-house coffee shops. What has the church become? And don’t get me started with the prosperity gospel– the idea that what God wants most for you is to be comfortable and extremely wealthy. Thus, all you have to do is believe and tithe to your local church.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing unethical with using lights, staging, comedic story-telling for preaching, etc., but we should question why these things are being used. It’s a matter of the heart. It reminds me of this verse I ran across today: “He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him, is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him” (John 7:18).
One of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer, wrote this brazenly honest comment:
“I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table” (The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer).
We need this type of honesty that leaders like Tozer provided. People are hungry for what’s real and meaningful. It’s often hard to find because it’s covered with so much extra. This type of sugar-coated truth becomes nearly unrecognizable and hard to stomach after you swallow. I tend to agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who said, “Everything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth.”
We are lost in a world of mass media with its quick, bite sized information and constant entertainment. We have almost everything ‘we need,’ except for what we need most. Everyone of us, especially young people, desperately need genuine love. Many have suffered abuse and major hurt by their own family. They have also been deeply wounded by those who call themselves Christian. People are tired of the fake. They are hungry for what’s real. Yet, often times, the churches are not providing it.
Oddly enough, packed mega churches feel very empty. They have everything a church is expected to have today: the music, digital presentations, entertaining events, and well-coordinated Bible study groups. Yet, it seems that no one cares to know or invest in the individual person. They have greeters at their doors who smile and welcome you, but you most likely don’t know a single one of them personally. Once you enter through the main doors, you are surrounded by people, but often feel alone. Hundreds of seats are bathed in multi-colored stage lights as music reverberates through the auditorium and jolts your body. Worship services evolved over the years. They now feel more like a rock concert than reverential praise for God. In fact, in some services you can even win a t’shirt plastered with a nifty church logo or a free Starbucks gift-card!
A friend of mine was a part of a worship team in a church like this. She told me that before they performed for a Sunday service, the leader yelled, “Time to rock their faces off!” My friend’s expression turned to shock. She immediately responded, “Excuse me? Rock their faces off? I thought this was a church service, not a rock concert.” Not long after this experience, my friend left the church. Her story is like many others that I hear.
It’s interesting that research from Barna Group and others show that 67% of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77% would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.”
Thankfully, I see authentic leaders rising up, hearts as well as churches being transformed, real churches that reflect traditional Christianity. They are built upon core Christian principles. They impart unsaturated, Christian ideals. They are places of love and acceptance, because Christianity welcomes all people from all walks of life, “For even as we were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is not a call for reformation, this is a call for revitalization. We need to accept the foundation of traditional Christianity, and allow for the love of God to present itself in the manner it was intended. I must add, however, that the church is not the sole answer. It grieves me to see church platforms being used to gain popularity. However, I never measure Christianity by these things, but only by Christ.
Many today walk through the doors of a church to seek not merely answers to burning life questions, but community. So, I challenge Christians today (myself included), to reach out to people, to love authentically, and to care. Because anything less than this is selfish and anything less than this is not Christ-like.
Pastors should stop asking themselves, “What do people like to hear,” and instead should ask themselves, “What do people need to hear?” They must be able to communicate hard truths — biblical truths. This may prove a difficult task, which may at first dwindle the size of churches. But in the end, it will provide a home to all those who are seeking truth and healing. Alternatively, if the modern church continues to pander to this generation, simply to grow their congregations, then it will be a ‘church’ of instantaneous gratification and mediocrity.
Everything pales in comparison to the fullness of the Love of God. How can pastors and churches continue to deny this to a spiritually deprived world? Churches must be firmly planted upon the traditional principles laid down by Christ, so that they can be a home to all those who are searching for truth, healing and genuine love.
Written by Jenn Beard