A while back I was at the mall looking around at the Apple Store. I had a few questions for the folks at the Genius Bar (this is the Apple Store's version of customer service or a help desk). While I was waiting my turn, I was reading David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith.
The guy who ended up helping me was named Nate. He was a twentysomething who had gauges in his ears the size of a quarter, tattoos all up and down his arms, and a beard that extended down to the middle of his chest and ended in three points. After I asked my questions and got the info I was looking for, he noticed the book I was reading and asked about it. I could tell by the way that he was asking the question that something in the title resonated with him.
Only a few chapters into the book myself, I gave Nate the best summary I could. It's a few years old, but it's the findings of a study done as to why twentysomethings and millennials, who have grown up in the church are now disconnecting or “dropping out” even though some still claim to hold on to their faith.
And with that brief explanation, Nate raised up his tattooed forearm and said, “Yup. That’s this guy.”
He had other customers waiting for him but quickly told me how he was raised in the church with a mom who was, and still is, a worship pastor, but he no longer attends a church. However, there was something about his response that indicated that being a part of the church wasn’t a closed-door issue for him.
So again, as quickly as I could before the customers behind me could start a Genius Bar revolt, I told Nate a little about some of what I'd been reading lately. Books about the church being more incarnational (that's just a fancy term for present and accessible to people), and what it could look like if the church were a place where people could experience true community and wondering if there is a way for the church to become less produced and showy and more transparent and authentic. And as I was saying all of these things there was a slight smile that started to emerge on his face and a slow and steady affirmative head nod.
At that, I could tell my time was up. He was feeling the pressure of needing to tend to the people behind me and I had another place to be and was running behind. But as I walked out of the store and through the mall, I had a moment of confirmation. I thought to myself, “The reason the church still matters, and the reason why some of the current forms of church need to be re-imagined is for people like Nate.”
In the first chapter of the book I was reading, the author said,
“The drop out problem is, at its core, a faith-development problem; to use religious language, it’s a disciple-making problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ in a rapidly changing culture.”
My brief conversation with Nate was evidence of that. When I talked about the church being "less produced and showy," that’s when his expression was most responsive, as though to communicate that’s where the big disconnect was for him. His experience seemed to be more about impressing and attracting people rather than passing on a genuine faith that has substance and conviction.
Where does the future of the church lie if there is no development of the next generation? How will we be a light to the world and a city on a hill if we can't connect with our own youth? What sort of church will there be in another 50 years if more and more generations drop out?
Are we as church leaders willing to do the hard work necessary to re-think and re-imagine who God is calling us to be and what he is calling us to do? Is there any sense of urgency and compassion for this generation and the ones to come?
I believe in the church. I'm hopeful. I am optimistic about the future of the church. But we're also at a critical moment for the next generation. The question is will we develop ministry in a meaningful way to help people follow Jesus wholeheartedly? Or will we simply "do church," go through the motions, hold "nice" services, and maintain the status quo?