Is faithful invisibility the antidote to church decline?
Nobody knows better than New England Baptists how ministry is changing in America. And that shouldn’t surprise us. They’ve been at least a generation ahead of the rest of us for a couple hundred years. They practically invented evangelicalism in the 1740s. That was nearly a century before my home state (Arkansas) was admitted to the union. And while many of us west of the Mississippi fear the creeping influence of secularism, our New Englander brethren minister in the least religious states in America.
Fortunately, they are also a generation ahead of us in recovering the critical ministry value of faithfulness.
Earlier this year, I spent a long weekend with a group of Baptists from Vermont and New Hampshire. Before an evening session, one pastor reflected on the fact that the Bible only records three years of Jesus’ life and ministry. If Jesus died at 33, then we only know about ten percent of his life. Or, as this pastor put it, that means Jesus’ life and ministry was “ninety percent obscurity.”
That’s a feeling with which he and his fellow shepherds could relate. The Baptists were once the leading spiritual lights in New England. Following the Great Awakening, Baptist churches grew in massive numbers. Within about sixty years of the revival, Baptists grew from just dozens to nearly twenty-five thousand in New England. Those swelling ranks had influence beyond the church world. They carried with them considerable cultural clout. The Baptists did a lot to see the first amendment added to our constitution, for example, to ensure religious liberty for dissenters like themselves. They were a thriving, culturally relevant force.
But now the region’s churches are shrinking. Several of the pastors present that weekend hold services in church buildings erected in the 1740s which, on the one hand, testifies to the longevity of the movement. On the other, it speaks to a certain stagnation, a leveling off of 200 years of growth. Many pastors are bi-vocational, because their membership can’t support a full-time minister. And instead of being a shaping influence in the broader culture, the churches are fighting to prove their relevance in their profoundly secular environment. They labor in obscurity.
At the risk of sounding like a forecaster of doom, their story is our national story. It’s how we often tell our story, anyway. There were days when people went to church—most people, maybe. When the church was a cultural force for change for the better. Times have changed and are changing. If we want to know what awaits us in a generation, we need only look at New England.
But this is not a cautionary tale. It’s a story of hope.
What's ahead for the The Gospel Coalition and the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
D.A. Carson is the author and editor of numerous books and commentaries. Since 1978, he has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, currently serving as research professor of New Testament. Dr. Carson is also the co-founder of The Gospel Coalition. Dr. Carson was kind enough to stop by for some questions about The Gospel Coalition, Christian higher education, and his latest book, Jesus, the Son of God.
You recently released a book, Jesus, the Son of God. Why the emphasis on son-ship for pastors and theologians today?
The title “the Son of God” is one that is repeatedly applied to the Lord Jesus, so there is a perennial responsibility to understand it. There are two factors that make this responsibility more urgent at the present time. First, sometimes the world of biblical interpretation and the world of systematic theology do not mesh very well. In this instance, how do we move from the various uses of “Son of God” in the Bible to the meaning of “Son of God” in Trinitarian theology? There are important ways of making the connections, but not many Christians these days have thought them through. To restore such knowledge is a stabilizing thing, and an incentive to worship. Second, certain voices are suggesting that we can do away with “Son of God” and other familial terms in new translations for Muslim converts. In my view this is both bad linguistics and bad theology, and needs to be challenged.
You're one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition. As you approach the sixth year of its existence, what do you see as the future for the organization and for the "Young, Restless, Reformed" movement?
Embracing uncertainty, the good side of dogma, and the blessings of not leading a church.
interview by Skye Jethani
What is Rob Bell talking about when he talks about God? A lot of people would like to know. Bell sparked a nationwide conversation with his last book, Love Wins, by challenging popular Christian assumptions about heaven and hell. He's ready to do it again with his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I was able to read an advanced copy of the book and ask Bell a few questions about it. Although he draws a lot of attention among evangelicals, and his roots are within that stream of the church, Bell's theology and cultural messages seem increasingly in sync with more liberal traditions of the church. That was affirmed this past weekend when, for the first time, Bell openly endorsed same-sex marriage. As he continues to move farther away from conservative theological and social positions, will evangelicals follow him?
Early in the book you write, "God appears to be more and more a reflection of whoever it is that happens to be talking about God at the moment." How have you seen this tendency to project your ideas onto God, and how do you guard against it?
We guard against such things by always coming back to what Jesus came back to: How does your understanding of God shape you? Is it making you more compassionate and courageous and honest and less judgmental and more likely to love your neighbor? For Jesus this wasn't an interesting intellectual exercise in which we get our mental furniture properly organized, this is about the kind of people we are becoming right here and now. Some ideas shape us some ways, some ideas shape us another. That's one of the central themes of the book: I began to realize in the depths of doubt that some beliefs made me a better person and some didn't...because we all believe something. The question is: What is that belief doing to you?
You reference Helmut Thielicke's statement that those who speak to the hour's needs will always skirt heresy, but they'll also gain the truth. How can you tell when you're "skirting" heresy and when you've crossed into it? And does that even matter.
This is why I find Eucharist so powerful-you gather with others to center and ground and remind yourselves of the body and blood given for the healing of the world. The Christian faith is ultimately an incarnated reality in which the mystery of God is born in flesh and blood--love your neighbor, as Jesus would say. Jesus comes to give us actual lived life in a whole new mode of being. So yes, it matters. Certain paths are destructive and others make the world a better place.
I'm interviewing him this week. What should I ask?
by Skye Jethani
In case you haven't heard, Rob Bell has a new book being released next week. Will it be as controversial as Love Wins? Here's a preview video in which Bell lays out the premise of the book.
I'm going to be interviewing Bell about the book and other matters. As I pull together my questions, I'm curious to know what you'd ask him if you had the chance. Share your questions here and maybe I'll use them in the interview which will be posted on LeadershipJournal.net soon. Stay tuned.
Can we bring the presence of Jesus Christ back into the debate?
by Skye Jethani
*NOTE: This message was delivered at the Q Cities conference in Denver on September 27, 2012. My actual comments may have been slightly different from what is written here. Q restricts presentations to a maximum of 18 minutes, so this message could only skim the surface of the complicated intersection of gay rights and religious liberty.
When I was a freshman in college, the GLBA–the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Alliance–organized an annual Gay Awareness week. What I remember most was “Jean Day.” The student leaders of the GLBA posted signs all over campus announcing that students could express their support for gay rights by wearing jeans on Thursday. Of course denim is a second skin for most college students, and it was obvious the GLBA was seeking to inflate their perception of support. The tactic was so transparent few people paid attention—until a conservative Christian student group began putting up their own signs. Their flyers called students who did not support gay rights to “wear a shirt on Thursday.”
The battle lines were drawn. The silliness of the GBLA’s scheme was matched by the stupidity of the Christians’.
Thursday came and members of the GBLA went to class in blue jeans and topless. (Some women wearing only bras.) The conservative Christians marched to class wearing khakis and in some cases multiple shirts, proudly doing their part to “uphold righteousness.” Eventually the two groups got into a heated shouting match. The shirts accused the skins of being godless and immoral. The denims accused the khakis of being bigots and homophobes.
As I watched the scene unfold, the voice of my high school teacher echoed in my head. “Just remember,” he’d told me, “college isn’t the real world.”
Sadly the real world has proven to look more like my college experience than I would have hoped, only now the shouting between the gay community and Christians happens on cable news, talk radio, outside courthouses and in school board meetings. Still there are many of us–both gay and straight, Christian and non-Christian, supporters of same sex marriage, and those like myself who hold to the church’s traditional definition–who do not identify with the culture war rhetoric emanating from either side. We stand on the periphery wondering: isn't there a better way?
Media, mission, and why the church needs to grasp the power of humor.
Skye Jethani interviews Phil Vischer
Back in the 1990s, Phil Vischer achieved success with the creation of CG Protestant produce. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber were the stars VeggieTales, the kids video series that smashed sales records and taught a whole generation that God is bigger than the boogie man. The winning combination of CG, catchy tunes, and Monty Python-esque humor proved Vischer's company, Big Idea, could teach Biblical truth to a generation raised on NIckeolodeon and Mtv. But by 2003 the ride was over. Vischer lost his company and control of his farmstand friends. The story of Big Idea's rise and fall is told in his book,Me, Myself, and Bob.
Having learned the peril of seeking big impact rather than small faithfulness, Vischer began his next venture, Jellyfish Labs, just as the media world was being transformed by iTunes and digital platforms. He created a new stable of characters led by anchorman Buck Denver (think of Ron Burgundy as a Muppet), JellyTelly- an interactive website for kids, and a DVD series called What's in the Bible? that walks kids through every book of Bible. But now Vischer has his sights set on an older audience. Realizing his humor resonates with college students and older adults, next month he will begin "The Phil Vischer Show"--a talk show focusing on the intersection of faith with culture, politics, science, theology, and anything else that flows through his mind. Featuring guests and a live audience (and the occassional puppet?), Vischer hopes his show will bring some silliness to conversations about the serious topics of our day.
Skye: When did you sense that God was calling you to engage the media/entertainment world? How did this fit with the ministry legacy of your family?
Phil: My family legacy was all about missions and the pastorate. I had relatives who faced down cannibals. My great grandfather was a radio preacher, and I grew up at the missions conference he founded, hearing amazing stories about the amazing things amazing missionaries were doing for God. I couldn't figure out how a shy kid like me fit into that picture. I preferred playing with Super8 cameras and my Atari 400 computer at home in the basement. Then MTV turned on when I was a sophomore in high school. I loved the creativity, but was very concerned about the values. Definitely not what I had learned in Sunday School. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe God could use someone like me to bring biblical truth into creative media. Suddenly I had a picture of how I could be on mission with God without ever getting on a plane, or facing down a cannibal.
Retaining young adults begins with getting the gospel right.
In January, Skye spoke at the Lumen conference at Mariners Church in California about the exodus of young people from our churches. Rather than focusing on the sociological data, he used his time to talk about how the way we understand the gospel may actually be inoculating young people to genuine faith.
When the church presents a less than biblical understanding of how to relate to God, it leaves young people with a powerless form of Christianity predicated on fear and control. When this way of life proves ineffective, they may abandon both their faith in Christ and the church. So, our first job is to get the gospel right. Check out the talk and the brief Q&A afterward. Much of the content is based on his book, WITH.
Want to reach the next generation? You can't ignore the role of politics.
by Skye Jethani
As I get around the country there is one question I hear from pastors more than any other: How do we reach young people? They don’t need research from Barna, Lifeway, Pew, and Gallup to tell them young people are leaving the church. They see it every Sunday as the congregation gets a little more gray.
But the evidence is mounting that reaching or retaining the young is going to take a lot more than new music styles or even a systematic rethinking of church leadership and organizational structures. There is the larger cultural matter of politics.
“The best evidence indicates that this dramatic generational shift is primarily in reaction to the religious right. And Millennials are even more sensitive to it, partly because many of them are liberal (especially on the touchstone issue of gay rights) and partly because they have only known a world in which religion and the right are intertwined.”
"I have the opportunity to hang out with a number of younger evangelical influencers, and sometimes it's breathtaking how little we think about, talk about, or seem concerned with personal evangelism."
-Jonathan Merrittquoted in "Outlooks on Outreach" in the Winter 2012 issue of Leadership Journal. Check out the quote in context by subscribing to LJ in the left column.
Merritt is on the staff of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia, and the author of the new book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.
Why the church must talk about "vocation" and not just "mission" if it hopes to engage young adults.
by Skye Jethani
Newsflash…Young adults are leaving the church. Ok, it’s not really news to anyone familiar with church attendance trends. For generations we have seen young people raised within the church depart during their later teens and twenties. But most returned once they married and had children. It’s sometimes called the “driver’s license to marriage license hiatus.”
What is new is the mountain of recent research by respected groups like Barna, Lifeway, and Pew indicating young people who leave are no longer returning. The hiatus has become an exodus. Why? David Kinnaman at Barna outlines six reasons in his research. And others have pointed out that young people are waiting much longer to get married than in the past, thereby delaying the felt-need to return to church. (Al Mohler’s solution to declining church attendance is to convince young people to get married sooner despite the much higher rate of divorce among young marriages. Kinda like motivating people to get a physical by breaking their legs.)
Books and blogs are filled with recommendations about how to reverse the exodus of young adults, and I have no silver bullet solution to offer here. But I do want to explore one area I believe many churches have overlooked- vocation.
This past semester my students and I have been educating each other. I’ve been introducing them—at warp speed—to the major world religions. They’ve been candidly expressing their perspectives on faith, religious practice, and what any of that might have to do with their daily lives. In two previous posts, I summarized a few common themes—some surprising, some not—that emerged from their written reflections. Below I comment on the implications of their responses for those ministering to the enigmatic twenty-something.
Know why they’re coming.
Even though we know we shouldn’t, many of us still consider attendance a victory. If they show up at church, we think, it’s because they’re looking for something only the church can offer. Maybe. My students’ responses make me think we need to find out why people come to church. The reasons might surprise us.
For example, many of my students expressed an interest in having their children in church (or temple or synagogue), even though they themselves are not “believers” of any sort. For them, religious service and education are a great means of instilling a sense of tradition and a moral foundation in kids. In other words—and this is the important point—adults may not be attending our churches because they believe they’ll find something of value there for them. They may be attending only for their children’s sake. And not because they want their kids to come to saving faith in Jesus or learn to hear God speak; rather, they want them to be nice people, good citizens. And they figure church isn’t a bad place to start.
Service, tradition, and morality are good. But actual belief? Not so much.
By Brandon O'Brien
In a previous post, I described a few trends I noticed in responses of my students in a community college world religions course to prompts about the role of religion in their lives. In that post, I listed the responses that came as no surprise to me. Here I list a few recurring things I did find surprising.
Tradition and morality are valued more than belief.
Regardless of their religious background, a majority of my students expressed that they plan to take their own children to church (synagogue, temple, etc.) or have them attend religious education. This was true even of students who do not consider themselves religious. They liked the traditions, they said. Or they want their children to have a strong moral foundation. Or they want their children to be baptized or bar mitzvah. These students weren’t concerned, necessarily, that the content of the faith be true; it seems they simply want their kids to share memories and a heritage they themselves were raised with.
Are churches failing, or are our expectations too high?
by Skye Jethani
Let's be honest for a minute. Most churches expend the vast majority of their resources on weekend worship gatherings. It's when facilities are most utilized, when programming is most robust, when volunteers are most required, and what many pastors spend the majority of their time preparing for. This great emphasis on Sunday is often justified because it's when people gather to meet with God.
But new research released this week from Barna reveals that most churchgoers rarely experience God in worship services. While most people surveyed can recall a "real and personal connection" with God while at church (66%), they also reported that these connections are "rare." Among those who attend church every week, less than half (44%) say they experience God's presence. And one-third of those who have attended church report never feeling God's presence in a worship gathering.
Christian and non-Christian students sound off on the role of faith in their lives.
Last semester I assigned the students in the community college World Religions course I teach a series of writing exercises that (I hoped) would help them personalize and internalize the subject matter we were reading about and discussing in class. There were four assignments total, one every four weeks or so. And each was a little more probing. My goal was simply to get these students from diverse religious backgrounds thinking about their experience with religion, assumptions about religious claims, how they understand the role religion plays in their lives.
The projects were enlightening for many of them. Several told me they’d never thought about these things before, and they’re glad they did. What I hadn’t expected was how enlightening their responses would be for me.
Discussions about why young folk leave the faith and how to get them back continue to generate a lot of heat. My observations here are anecdotal, not scientific. But I found it useful to reflect on the general trends that emerged from my students’ reports. They have a lot to say about this ever elusive demographic.
First some trends I did not find surprising.
Spiritual but not religious.
Consistent with the conventional wisdom about young people—and maybe even older people—in America, the vast majority of my students were quick to identify as spiritual—as believing in something out there bigger than themselves—but were hesitant to identify as religious.
Why youth ministry is the cause of, and solution to, all of the church's problems.
by Skye Jethani
What I find most interesting about Tony Jones’ thesis is the way it can explain far more than just the Emerging Church Movement. I think contemporary youth ministry may also help us understand the rise of the megachurch movement in the late 1970s and 80s (and perhaps other movements as well). The number of megachurches exploded in that time from just 10 in 1970 to over 500 by 1990, and most were led to mega status by baby-boomers with youth ministry backgrounds.
The whole notion of a youth culture really emerged after World War II. Television, Rock ‘n Roll, and the economic boom after the war resulted in a generation of young people with disposable income and the opportunity to express themselves in ways foreign to their Depression-generation parents. To reach this new breed of adolescents, first parachurch ministries and later churches started “youth ministries” that mimicked the styles and forms of the secular youth culture but with “safer” Christian content. Contemporary Christian music emerged, Jesus merchandise, and concerts. By the mid 60s, the church youth group became the preferred safe alternative to the popular youth scene marked by drugs and casual sex.
But what the young people engaged in these ministries learned indirectly was that the church should takes its cues from the secular culture; adopt the popular culture’s forms and simply fill those forms with Christian content. It was the youth groups of the 50s and 60s that formed the ecclesiology for the megachurches of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Bill Hybels may be the clearest example. His vision for Willow Creek emerged directly out of his experience leading a youth ministry in the suburbs of Chicago in the 70s.
Tony Jones tells youth ministry profs to blame themselves for the Emerging Church movement they criticize.
by Skye Jethani
Did the modern youth ministry movement create the Emerging Church? That’s the question Tony Jones addresses in a recent blog post. While presenting a paper at an academic conference, Jones fielded questions from professors of youth ministry primarily from evangelical colleges and seminaries.
Jones said to them, “You all have strong feelings about the emerging church movement, most of them negative. Well, you are directly responsible for the emerging church movement.”
He went on to describe how contemporary youth ministry shuns the “accoutrements of power (vestments, titles, special roles and rites). Instead, youth are encouraged to engage all of the practices of the community equally.” In other words, the rejection of structural authority and the focus on a flat structure of relational authority which has marked the Emerging Church Movement was learned in youth groups. Jones noted how many ECM leaders first had lengthy youth ministry experience within evangelical churches: Tim Keel, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Tim Condor, and Chris Seay.
To the youth ministry professors who may have a negative view of the Emerging Church, Jones said, “You taught them relational youth ministry, so what kind of churches did you expect them to plant?”
Boys' brains are being rewired by video games and online porn.
by Eric Reed
"Please, sir, may I have some different?" It's not "more" the average young guy wants today, it's different.
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo describes drug addiction as "wanting more," but guys today have what he calls arousal addiction, always "wanting something different." This never-ending stream of stimulation is behind the growing failure of males to connect with women socially or to succeed academically. They're dropping out of life.
Zimbardo cites excessive internet use, video gaming, and online porn as causes of this new addiction. By age 21, boys spend 10,000 hours gaming, two-thirds of that time in isolation. The average young man watches 50 porn clips per week.
"Boys' brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal," Zimbardo says. "They're totally out of sync in traditional classes, which are analog, static, and interactively passive. And they're totally out of sync in relationships, which build gradually and subtly." This is creating a generation of young men who do not connect well in traditional teaching situations and who lack social skills especially with women.
Skinny jeans, black-rimmed glasses, and faux hawk. Are you ready for Catalyst?
by Url Scaramanga
The Catalyst Conference is later this week in Atlanta, and we'll have some reporting from the event here on Ur. But first a quick lesson in how to be a Christian hipster...a species commonly found roaming the arena at Catalyst.
a review of 'Sticky Faith,' by Kara Powell and Chap Clark
By Brandon O'Brien
“My parents were very religious when I was young. We went to church (or temple or whatever) every week. My parents never, or seldom, prayed or talked about faith at home. As I got older and things got busier, we started attending only at holidays. I do not consider myself religious today.”
This is a good summary of about 80 percent of the personal reflection essays my Intro to World Religions students handed in last week. I asked them to describe their experience with religion to date. I was surprised (and pleased) by their candor. I was surprised that their accounts were so similar. I was surprised, too, by how clear the correlation was between the importance of religion in the parents’ lives over time and the importance of religion in my students’ lives as they enter adulthood.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised. Like everyone else, I’ve heard all about the dismal attrition rates among Christian young people, who are active through their teen years only to leave the church--and very often the faith--when they head to college. And I think deep down we all suspect that parents play an important role in making sure their kids’ develop lasting faith. But I was surprised by how conscious my students--and not just Christian students, but Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist students--are about the role their parents play in their faith.
Is the rise of Calvinism among the young helping or hurting evangelicalism and the church's mission?
by David Fitch
Fundamentalism is characterized by:
A.) Insularity. There’s a mentality of insiders over against those who don’t believe.
B.) Distrust towards culture as a place where God is at work.
C.) An “us against them” mentality. Because of the previous two characteristics, fundamentalists typically reject open dialogue. Engagement with culture takes the shape of winning arguments and confrontation. As the insularity builds, there is less and less wiggle room to associate with other Christians who disagree. As a result, a certain form of arrogance tends to infect fundamentalism.
These are the marks of classic fundamentalism. For all the obvious reasons, these characteristics tend to set Christians over against our neighbors. Its dynamic works against a missionally engaged Christianity.
After looking at the video inserted below, I see some early signs that Neo- Calvinism (also called the Neo-Reformed movement) is on its way to becoming a fundamentalism even in its edgier forms. It’s a video with many inner contradictions at work, so its not clear. Nonetheless, I observed 4 things from the video. I put these observations in the form of questions because I’m really asking if what I’m seeing is accurate at this point. Your input is greatly appreciated.
"Souls in Transition" offers cause for congratulations and consternation
by Collin Hansen
If you want to rile up the evangelical masses, drag out dubious statistics about how many Christians fall away from the faith after high school. We fear for our youth, that they’ll rebel against what their parents and churches taught when they leave home and the youth group.
Young adults undergo intense transitions during these tumultuous years. And broader social forces have reshaped this expanding interim between adolescence and full adulthood. Emerging adults are delaying marriage, enrolling in college and graduate school in record numbers, hopping from career to career amid economic instability, and relying on financial support from their parents. Such trends have been well documented. Yet several myths about these adults’ spiritual lives persist.
Myth #1: Emerging adults serve out of concern for the common good.
College campuses are wallpapered with fliers promoting service opportunities. Churches send their youth on local and foreign mission projects. Political analysts credit youth volunteers and voters with helping to elect President Obama in 2008.
Research shows most pastors think significant changes are coming in the next 10 years.
by Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer recently presented data to the attendees of the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. Much of that data was shared in the Winter issue of Leadership journal. In this post, Ed Stetzer explores additional information that was, until now, only available to the attendees at Catalyst.
Change. It’s happening at such a pace it has become cliché.
Joel Barker is so 80’s. Yet Barker is still around. A self-described “futurist,” Baker popularized the term, “paradigm” to describe our behavior patterns. Our recent Lifeway Research findings inspired us to go back and consider one of his most famous warnings:
"You can and should shape your own future; because if you don't someone else surely will."
Influencing the future begins with assessing our current realities. Predictions of radical change are nothing new. Walt Disney made a nice living imagining the future since the mid-1900’s. Two futures are critical for the church to understand and embrace. Although our ability to control the future is questionable, our influence and response to the future is critical to our effectiveness in God’s mission.
The first future is “inside” the church.In most churches, Boomers will continue to be firmly in leadership.They will work longer and live longer (including pastors, staff, and lay leaders). As difficult as it seemed for previous generations to pass on leadership in the local church (still in process), Boomers may find it more difficult.
Boomers are the “better idea” generation. The technology revolution was spearheaded by Steve Jobs (born 1955) co-founder of Apple and Bill Gates founder of Microsoft (born 1955). The contemporary church movement led by Rick Warren (born 1954) and Bill Hybels (born 1951) inspired a generation of church leaders. Dissatisfied Boomers decided to “go west” to a new contemporary church world. Now, subsequent generations have gone in new directions—too numerous to list here. Things in the church change.
A researcher argues that the future of youth ministry will require bringing the generations together.
The statistics are grim. Rainer Research estimates that 70 percent of young people leave the church by age 22. Barna Group argues that the figure increases to 80 percent by age 30. The Southern Baptist Convention recently observed that growth in their churches is failing to keep up with the birth rate. Taken together, these findings suggest a startling fact: not only are we failing to attract younger worshipers, we're not holding on to the ones we have.
As executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary and a former youth pastor, Kara Powell has her eyes on the youth drop out trend. She is currently in the midst of a three-year College Transition Project, a study that involves over 400 youth group graduates and is focused on understanding how parents, churches, and youth ministries can set students on a trajectory of lifelong faith and service.
Where did the now popular age-segmented paradigm of youth ministry come from?
In the 1940s and post World War II, there was a real burst in parachurch organizations focused on ministry to teenagers and young adults, such as Young Life, InterVarsity, and Youth for Christ. In many ways, they led the way for the church in realizing that we need to focus on specialized discipleship and teaching for teenagers.
Why did the church adopt this age-segmented model of ministry?
Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, liked to say, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel." So he developed some amazingly creative models of youth ministry that took root and bore fruit. I think a lot of churches saw the success of groups like Young Life and started thinking, If the parachurch folks are tailoring their ministry toward young people's interests, then we can—and probably should—too.
On my dad's side of the family, there were too many of us to fit in one room or around one table at family gatherings. So we adopted the two table system. The adult table had pleasant conversation, while the kids' table usually degenerated into a Jell-O snorting contest. Theoretically we were having the same meal; but we were having two very, very different experiences. That's what we've done in churches today.
Wanna reach young adults? McKnight says to just give them Jesus.
by Scot McKnight
The following is an excerpt from Scot McKnight's cover story in the summer issue of Leadership Journal. You can read the entire article at LeadershipJournal.net.
When I saw the title of Alan Mann's book, Atonement for a Sinless Society, I knew he was onto something. The intent of evangelism that focuses on preaching the law and God's holiness, wrapping those two elements into a vision of God's wrath and hell, is to stimulate a cry for salvation out of a sense of guilt over who we are and what we have done. This model still works for some. But it may not be the wisest model for iGens.
One of the most insightful elements of Mann's book is whether iGens feel guilt. For a person to feel guilty, that person must have a sense of morality. But morality requires a potent sense of what is right and wrong, and it needs a powerful sense of what is true and false. Contemporary culture does not provide the average iGen with a profound grasp of what is right and wrong apart from the conviction that assaulting the self is clearly wrong.
Yet deciding to stake one's life on Jesus and the cross requires a sense that we are wrong, that we need Jesus, and that his saving death and resurrection can become effective. Mann claims that iGens are neither moral nor amoral. Instead, because of trends like the self-esteem movement and the impact of relativism, he concludes that iGens are pre-moral. Mann suggests that they do not feel guilt as much as they feel shame for not achieving what they are designed to accomplish.
How modernity and postmodernity have conspired to warp the current generation.
by Scot McKnight
Leszek Kolakowski, a Polish philosopher who weakened Marxism’s grip on Eastern Europe, recently died. Few, I suspect, knew who he was. I consider myself fortunate to have read some of Kolakowski, one book being his scintillating sketch of the history of ideas by probing the central idea of twenty-three thinkers. That book is called Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? My own reading of it impressed me again with the connection of philosophers with their world. From Socrates to Kierkegaard, philosophers are products of their day.
So are we. Which raises the profound problem of blinders when it comes to perceiving what is influencing us, and which raises the other profound problem of needing to understand our cultural blinders in order to break through them with the light of the gospel. Kolakowski’s chapters are short, and everything short when it comes to the history of ideas risks simplicities that mask nuance. I risk the same in what I am about to suggest: the current generation emerges out of a toxic combination of modernity and postmodernity.
In another context (the summer issue of Leadership Journal) I called the toxicity of the current generation a “self in a castle.” Modernity’s singular contribution to the history of ideas is individualism. David Bentley Hart gets this exactly right in his new rant against the flimsy ideas in new atheism when he writes:
“We live in an age whose chief value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the inviolable liberty of personal volition, the right to decide for ourselves what we shall believe, want, need, own, or serve” (Atheist Delusions, 21-22).
What we've learned from the rise, fall, and renewal of "Gen-X" ministries.
by Collin Hansen
This article is from the Summer 2009 issue of Leadership Journal. You can read the entire article at Leadership's website.
When the willows sway in South Barrington, the evangelical world notices. So Willow Creek Community Church provoked headlines in 2006 when leaders said they would end Axis as everyone knew it. As recently as 2001, about 2,000 young adults had gathered on Saturday nights for alternative music and relevant teaching. But before temporarily closing in 2006, Axis attracted fewer than 400 twenty-somethings. How could a trend-setting ministry decline so severely in just five years?
Due in no small part to Willow's example, ministry leaders across the country once viewed separate, age-targeted services as the key to reaching a generation largely absent from the churches built by their Boomer parents. Little more than 10 years after Willow launched Axis in 1996, many of these once-prosperous twenty-something ministries have folded, spun off, or morphed. Leaders from these ministries have learned differing lessons from the experiment. Some are now advocating new messages for reaching the emerging generation. Others have changed their ministry's structure. Still more want better biblical preaching and radical discipleship. All have been provoked to think deeply about the nature and implications of the gospel and have seen their ministries leave lasting effects on the larger church.
Only one thing surprised Dan Kimball about the Axis reorganization: it took 10 years. Kimball, who teaches and oversees the Sunday gatherings for Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, has tracked many young adult ministries over the years. He estimates that 90 percent of worship services targeting a younger generation run into serious trouble after three years. One factor is the way these age-specific ministries isolate young people from the rest of the church.
Is the church fixing or fueling the toxic cynicism of our culture?
by Skye Jethani
A poll conducted by Time has revealed that The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart is the most trusted news anchor in America. He beat Brian Williams, Charlie Gibson, and Katie Couric. Walter Cronkite, having just entered his grave, must already be turning over in it. Stewart won with 44 percent of the vote. Brian Williams came in a distant second with 29 percent. See the results here.
Like many others of my generation, I enjoy The Daily Show. I find Jon Stewart to be intelligent and his irreverence is often refreshing, if occasionally too snarky or foul for my palate. Still, I wonder what it says about my generation when we vote someone like Stewart to be the most trusted voice in American news—especially when The Daily Show makes no claim of being a reputable journalistic enterprise.
When Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, an argument ensued with Tucker Carlson about The Daily Show’s lack of journalistic rigor. Stewart responded, “I didn’t realize that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their queues on integrity…. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls. What is wrong with you?”
Is it time to welcome kids and youth back into the center of church life?
From "Is the Era of Age Segregation Over?" an interview with Kara Powell in the current issue ofLeadership.
"[The church] realized in the 1940s that we were not offering teens enough focused attention. So what did we do? We started offering them too much. All of a sudden churches had adult pastors and youth pastors, adult worship teams and youth worship teams, adult mission trips and youth mission trips. And there's a place for that. But we've ended up segregating--and I use that word intentionally--our kids from the rest of the church. Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to designated experts, the youth and children's workers.... I think the future of youth ministry is intergenerational."
Kara Powell is the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary and a former youth pastor. To read the rest of her interview in context, pick up the Summer 09 issue of Leadership journal or subscribe by clicking on the cover in the left column.
The economic meltdown may fuel the resurgence of urban congregations.
by Collin Hansen
What if your city never recovers from the current economic crisis? What if your entire region enters an irreversible long-term decline? Richard Florida dares to declare the downturn's winners and losers in his March cover story for The Atlantic. In his essay "How the Crash Will Reshape America," Florida incorporates insight from his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class.
Not surprising for anyone familiar with his earlier work, Florida believes that the big winners will be those burgeoning cities that have attracted a diverse class of sophisticated young professionals. So even though New York City has shed thousands of finance jobs, Florida believes the city's young talent will innovate and adapt. Detroit and other Rust Belt cities are unlikely to bounce back, even if the population loss is more like a slow bleed than a mass exodus.
But Florida doesn't just assess the economic effects on different regions of the country. He also observes how economic change will rearrange the relationship between cities, suburbs, and small towns. As I discussed last month, the brain drain in rural areas is making them a new mission field. Florida has little sympathy, because innovation depends on the best and brightest congregating together in dense, fast-paced cities. But Florida reserves his harshest analysis for the suburbs, the heartland of evangelical church growth in recent decades. He recommends that the federal government retract the tax incentives to homeownership that propelled suburban sprawl. In a post-industrial economy, Florida argues, the workforce cannot be tied down to mortgages. Mobility is the engine of competitive capitalism. In the megalopolis, Florida trusts.
The new president represents more change than you may realize.
by Dave Gibbons
It's just the beginning. With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president we are seeing what many consider a dream fulfilled. Of course there are still conflicts, and there still is racism, prejudice, and stereotyping - including in the church. But it is a new day when the most powerful political person on the earth is black. This is a historic moment for the world to celebrate, but before we simply see this as a race issue, or even just a political party's victory, we need to see it through the lens of culture - or rather cultures.
"Third culture" is used to describe the fusion of multiple cultures, the art of adaptation and dialogue rather than dictation. It's about diplomacy over strong arm tactics, and the embrace of discomfort as part of the journey toward real community. Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, to a White mother from Kansas with has Irish and English roots, and a father, from Kenya. He studied in Indonesia, Hawaii, California, New York, and Boston. His experience has both urban and surburban, he's engaged cities and villages, he been both rich and poor.
Apparently Christians aren’t the only ones feeling the urge to emerge.
While following a relatively uninteresting trail of research recently (which I won't retrace here), I happened upon Synagogue 3000 (S3K). This consortium of rabbis and other Jewish leaders is committed to offering "challenging and promising alternatives to traditional synagogue structures." They call themselves "Jewish Emergents," and their understanding of their mission is, in some ways, very similar to that of the Christian Emergent movement.
They are concerned, for example, with communicating authentic faith in a postmodern idiom, which has compelled them to move worship beyond the synagogue. So, they are meeting in homes, bars, and coffee houses, among other places. They are resurrecting some ancient practices, such as worshiping in Hebrew, while ignoring others. And they are reconsidering the qualifications for participation and leadership.
There are also significant differences between Jewish Emergents and Christian Emergents, of course. Along with Synagogue 3000, Jewish Emergents seem more concerned with updating the style and format of Jewish observation and worship than with questioning or reformulating orthodox Jewish theology. Also, while the Jewish Emergents are eager to reconcile younger non-practicing Jews to the faith, they are not concerned with proselytizing.
"I think our generation is approaching ministry more as an art than a science. Since the Enlightenment, 'doing church' has been seen as a science, and it was seen as linear, organized, with clearcut leadership principles. Our generation doesn't see things that way anymore. We approach things more creatively, more organically."
-Dave Terpstrais teaching pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver. Taken from "Next & Level" in the Spring 2008 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
I'm sitting at the airport in Louisville, Kentucky, heading back home after spending two days with 5,000 theology freaks, and I mean that in mostly a good way. Together for the Gospel ("T4G" to the initiated) is the second gathering of the friends and fans of Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, and their very systematic theology (there are XVIII Articles in their doctrinal statement).
The first T4G event in 2006 drew over 3,000 of the "young, restless, and reformed" (Collin Hansen's nicely turned phrase and title of his new book). The event this year was so large it had to be held in Louisville's International Convention Center.
This year's feeding of the 5,000 was a series of addresses on theology, specifically Calvinist theology--yes, total depravity was the topic of an entire session, as was "The Curse Motif in the Atonement"--but, interestingly, traditional Reformed emphases of infant baptism, the covenant, and presbyterian polity were missing.
Four critical questions about how we do youth ministry, and all ministry.
If there is one thing that everyone in youth ministry seems to be talking about it's how to keep students following Christ after high school. That's been a hot topic here at Shift, and this morning Kara Powell addressed the problem head on. As the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, Powell knows the sobering statistics.
Her data reveals that 50% of high school students who had been deeply involved in a church's youth ministry will not be serving God 18 months after graduation. And that's not counting the many other high school students who are only going to church because their parents are forcing them. She also cited the LifeWay study that was highlighted on Ur last year.
Powell stood next to a table piled high with ministry books and resources. She asked, with so many resources available to us why are our students falling away at such alarming rates? Her thought: the more resources we have the less desperate and dependent upon God we feel. And we begin making "mindless, automatic decisions about our ministries." She called for an end to "autopilot" youth ministry, and for us to start asking hard questions about what we're doing.
For the third podcast recorded here at Shift, we sat down with Switchfoot band members Drew Shirley and Jerome Fontamillas.
In it, Drew and Jerome discuss the ways in which they've seen student culture change over the past 10 years, as well as how those changes have redefined their relationship and connection with their audience. They also share quite a bit about the starting place for the music they create, and the motivation for being in a band, recording and touring.
Five adjustments we need to make in a changing culture.
Darren Whitehead leads the student ministry of Willow Creek. He compared the church in our changing culture to his own experience as an immigrant (he's from Australia). Most immigrants suffer from "cultural freeze," he says. This is the tendency to maintain their old culture in the midst of the new one they find themselves in.
He says the church is doing the same thing. We're preserving church from the 1960s in a world that changing. He says this is really uncomfortable for newcomers. When someone comes into the church "it's sort of like walking in on two people making out. It's intimate and you feel kind of strange being there."
This has led to what Whitehead called an "epidemic of ineffectiveness." He cited numerous studies that all show huge numbers of students leaving the church after high school and never returning. He says, "The rate of change in the culture is far exceeding the rate of change in our youth ministries."
Brian McLaren helps us navigate the deluge of postmodernity.
The second day of the conference began with Brian McLaren's breakout session, "Onramp to the Postmodern Conversation." This was designed to help newcomers to the issue understand the shift that is happening in the culture. He compared this change to a hurricane that assaulted Honduras a number of years ago. 100 inches of rain fell in one week. The country was devastated. When the rain stopped the landscape of the country had been changed.
In one case, a bridge that had spanned a river was now on dry land. The river's course had completely shifted. To the bridge's credit it was still standing; it was very well built, but it was totally useless. This, says McLaren, is what the modern church is facing. The modern church was very well built and designed for stability, but the ground is shifting and it's no longer as effective.
A similar storm is hitting the world today. Brian covered western history in about fifteen minutes, revealing paradigm shifts that have occurred in the past - including the one that gave us modernity about 500 years ago.
We are experiencing another prefect storm today, says McLaren.
Brian McLaren on why everything must change in youth ministry.
I'm sitting in Willow Creek's auditorium as hundreds of youth leaders and students slowly make their way in. In a few minutes Shift 2008, Willow's student ministries 3-day conference, will begin. As previously mentioned, for the next few days Out of Ur will be hosting the online component of this conference. We'll do our best to summarize the ideas and questions raised by each speaker. Our hope is that those of you attending the conference will chime in with your comments about what you are experiencing during these three days. And for those of you watching from a distance, hopefully these posts will give you a taste of what is happening here in Barrington, Illinois.
UPDATE. Here are some video highlights from this session.
This morning's first speaker, Brian McLaren, just walked in and Charlie Hall is beginning to lead worship so I'll sign off for now. Check back in a couple of hours for a summary of the first session. Later today we'll be adding video highlights so keep checking in.
UPDATE. Read on for a summary of the first session...
Ur will be reporting from the Shift 2008 conference next month.
In two weeks the Willow Creek Association is hosting a different kind of student ministries conference. Shift 2008 will address the cultural changes that are impacting the way we think about reaching the next generation. Out of Ur is excited to be hosting the online component of the conference.
From April 9 - 11, Ur contributors will be reporting live from South Barrington, Illinois, and moderating an online conversation based on what's presented at Shift. The lineup of speakers should give us plenty to talk about. They include: Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Mark Yaconelli, Kara Powell, Dan Kimball, and many others.
If you'll be attending Shift, we hope Out of Ur will be a resource to further your learning. And if you not going to be at the conference, then check out this video for an idea of what Ur will be addressing in the weeks ahead.
Dan Kimball says some churches should not adjust their style to reach young people, but they shouldn’t ignore them either.
In part one of our interview with Dan Kimball he talked about the intersection of the emerging church with missional theology. Simply changing the church's worship style isn't enough, he says. Becoming truly missional requires "an ecclesiological change." In part two, Kimball address the role aging congregations can play in helping to reach the younger generation. And, once again, the answer is more about having a missional mindset rather than a cutting edge worship style.
You've been at this conference for a couple of days now. Are you sensing that leaders are asking the deeper philosophical questions? What kind of questions are you hearing? It's been refreshing to see the interest in the future of the church by mostly middle aged and older pastors. They are really concerned about younger people. It's refreshing and very sincere. I think this is happening because churches recognize younger people are disappearing. A woman talked to me just this morning about her daughter disconnecting from the church. She was very emotional. She wanted to know what her church could possibly do. So the refreshing part is seeing real passion from leaders saying we must do something. And the sad part is I suspect existing churches won't be willing or able to make the necessary changes. I really, really hope they can. But it will take a sense of humility and passion.
And what do you say to people when they are looking to you for the answer?
This sounds clich?, but there isn't a single answer. So much depends on the church.
Curious about the future values of the church? Tic Long says look at the teenagers today.
In this final installment of Angie Ward's report on the impact of youth ministry on the American church she talks more with Tic Long, Youth Specialties' president of events. Long shares his thoughts on the lasting impact youth ministry has had on the larger church, and what current trends among teens will continue to gain momentum among evangelicals in the decades ahead.
As youth ministry becomes firmly ensconced in middle age, it is appropriate as in any mid-life crisis to pause for reflection and evaluation. Indeed, youth ministry has made quite an impression on the American church landscape. Here are some of its greatest legacies thus far:
1. Better preaching and teaching.
"They're going to kill me for saying this," Tic Long said, "but youth workers are often better communicators than pastors. They may not be better preachers, but they know how to grab the attention of middle-school and high-school students pretty quickly; kids who aren't in the habit of being polite to just listen.
"As a youth worker, you learn to be a good communicator," he continued. "A lot of the good communicators today cut their teeth communicating to students."
In addition, youth workers such as Bill Hybels initiated the movement toward application-oriented communication. If God's word is not viewed as relevant, people will not be interested in hearing it.
In part 2, Angie Ward continues her reflection on the emergence of youth ministry and its impact on the church. The first generation of youth ministers, she points out, grew up to lead the seeker-driven movement that has dominated evangelicalism for 30 years. And now we are seeing the second generation of youth pastors bringing their own new ideas to the church. Although the seeker church movement and emerging church movement appear quite divergent, their common roots in youth ministry mean they share a common value - innovation.
"In youth ministry, you get permission to break the rules," explained Doug Pagitt, a former youth worker and now the founding pastor of Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. "Youth pastors get to do things that other people don't get to do. Youth ministry requires that you break the conventions to connect with teenagers. If breaking the rules is permissible in youth ministry, then why is it not permissible in a broader scope of ministry?"
Tic Long agrees. "You experiment and question a lot in your teens and twenties, and a lot of youth workers are in their twenties," he said. "They don't have all the vested interests and encumbrances that the larger church or the senior pastor has. They're not running the budget; they're not responsible for the whole machine. I think it's a breeding ground for creativity."
In 1972, a college-aged youth worker named Bill Hybels started a youth program at South Park Church outside of Chicago. Similar to the para-church model popularized by Young Life and Youth for Christ, Son City featured high-energy games, skits, and a dynamic, engaging talk by the young Hybels. The idea was to make the program so good that Christians would invite their non-Christian friends to the event. It was Jim Rayburn's ministry philosophy, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel," applied to the church. And it was a huge evangelistic success.
The rise of youth culture 50 years ago explains the shape of the church today.
Seeker churches, emerging churches, ancient-future churches, mega-churches, house churches, Boomer churches, Gen-X churches. There is a debate occurring in American evangelicalism about the future of Christianity and what form the church should take within our culture. But is it possible that these divergent philosophies of ministry actually originated from the same source? In the coming days Angie Ward will be sharing multiple reports about the emergence of youth culture, and youth ministry, in recent American history and how this phenomenon gave rise to both the seeker movement and later the emerging church.
The end of World War II ushered in the beginning of the baby boom: 76 million American babies born between 1946 and 1964. As these baby boomers grew up, they gave birth to their own youth culture. The advent of youth culture gave rise to a new profession: youth ministry.
Fast forward nearly 40 years. Some of those youth leaders have become some of the nation's most influential pastors. Meanwhile, many of their former students have themselves gone into ministry, not without their own adolescent rebellion in the form of a movement toward ecclesiological deconstruction. And now a third generation of youth, the millennials, is just beginning to make their mark on the church.
Youth ministry has significantly altered the course of American church history. The youth group of today is the church, and its leaders, of tomorrow. How did this shift occur, and what can we infer about the future of the church based on current trends in youth ministry?
"I think we've focused some good attention on racism in the last 20 years, but I'm starting to wonder if 'ageism' is the next divide we will have to address."
-John Burke is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas and author of No Perfect People Allowed Taken from "Family Portrait" in the Fall 2006 issue of Leadership Journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
One of the reoccurring debates on this blog has been whether cultural forms used in ministry are neutral, or do forms possess inherent value that may or may not be compatible with God's kingdom. For example, Andy Stanley shared his conviction that all leadership principles are created by God, and are therefore available for use in the church. I disagreed, arguing that some popular leadership models contradict biblical values. And Shane Hipps has written about the way technology and video preaching impacts the message we are seeking to convey.
Invariably, when the debate over the neutrality of cultural forms arises many people quote 1 Corinthians 9:22 ("I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some"). Well, a video game producer is poised to test your utilitarian philosophy of ministry.
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is set for release in October, and its already coming under fire from both conservative and liberal Christians. Set in present-day New York City, the game pits the army of the Antichrist against born again Christians. Players are rewarded for winning converts or killing those who ally with the Antichrist.
Many churches are struggling to reach young adults. The conversation on Out of Ur for the last two weeks has wrestled with this problem. Brian McLaren believes we need to be asking different questions of those who've grown up in the church and left. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, sees a clash between the values of the Boomers and today's young adults.
In part two of his post, Sares describes how his church tries to accommodate the styles and values of young adults. He believes the same strategies used in the 1980s to reach teens need to be employed today - rather than putting up cultural barriers we need to be as winsome as possible and connect with the young adult crowd.
At times we at Scum of the Earth Church are criticized for having church on Sunday nights as opposed to Sunday mornings. The fear is that we are turning a blind eye to the things that happen in clubs and bars on Saturday nights, thus enabling lifestyles which may be contrary to the gospel. That is not our intent. We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to come to church. Boomer churches understood this concept when they chose to dress casually for church on Sundays compared to the formal attire of their parents' churches.
We've taken that a step further. Eric Bain, my co-pastor, got some flak from a Christian-college-educated young man when Eric wore an MTV t-shirt while he was preaching and used an illustration taken from "Punk'd," one of the network's popular shows. According to the young man, Eric was silently promoting a television network that would be injurious to people's spirituality.
Recently, Brian McLaren challenged us to ask new questions about the absence of young adults in most churches. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, continues the topic by discussing the divergent values he has encountered between older and younger generations of Christians.
You may recall Sares told the story last year of the poet who dropped the f-bomb during their Christmas Eve service - with his permission. That triggered one of the most vigorous conversations Out of Ur has ever hosted. While likely less controversial, I trust Sares will challenge your thinking once again.
Every generation is quick to point out the hypocrisy of the one that preceded it. The generation born just after WWII began rejecting the values of their parents during the '60s. Now it's their kids' turn.
Today's young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life. Boomers proclaimed in the 1980s that image is everything, and their churches have reflected that cultural trend. The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).
As a result, according to Dieter Zander, the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn't fit in.
In part one Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, discussed the inherent difficulties of the church-within-a-church model that has been popular with churches wanting to reach the next generation. In many cases the divergent values between the mother church and the alternative "Gen X" service cause friction - with the younger leaders usually getting burned.
Seeming to contradict Kimball's experience, Scot McKnight reports that Gene Appel, a pastor at Willow Creek, said "that it was Axis that had led to dramatic changes in the rest of the church." And Willow had adopted enough of the younger generation's values "to call into question the viability of Axis having a separable service." Was Axis really a victim of its own success?
In part two, Kimball shares his story of leading a Next-Gen ministry within an existing church, and bids a heartfelt farewell to Axis.
What is the answer to the church-within-a-church dilemma? I don't know. For me, after leading an alternative worship gathering within a church for many years, we finally planted a new church. Like many others who launched an alternative gathering within a church, we realized that tension eventually arose because of the value and philosophy differences needed to minister to different populations. It turned out that our mother-church (which is a wonderful church) did not want us to truly change beyond just the worship style itself. We were expected to conform to the systems and values of the mother church. We found that it just couldn't work, because the need for different values and philosophy of ministry from the mother church was the very reason we needed to start the new alternative gathering in the first place.
Ten years ago the leaders of Willow Creek Community Church realized that 18-30 year olds, popularly known as Gen X, were largely missing from their church. In response, the "seeker-driven" church launched Axis to help "the Next Gen connect with God through high-intensity weekend services with relevant teaching, worship and art." Willow became one of the first churches to experiment with the church-within-a-church model, and many others followed Willow's example hoping to reach Gen X.
This week Willow Creek announced the end of Axis.
Gene Appel, lead pastor of Willow's South Barrington campus, said that leaders have been asking God for months for a new vision for Axis, and they sense an emerging desire to be a "diverse church with an intergenerational vision." If Axis's launch ten years ago signified the start of the next-generation-church-within-a-church phenomenon, what are we to make of Axis's demise? Has Gen X ministry been a failure, or was Axis a victim of its own success - a transition ministry that has outlived its usefulness?
Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and author of Emerging Church and Emerging Worship, has written about the end of Axis. In part one of his post, Kimball discusses why the church-within-a-church model is difficult to maintain.
I don't know all the behind the scenes discussions that led to the decision to end the Axis worship gathering at Willow Creek. I have talked with some of the Axis staff throughout the years, so I have a general understanding of the history and changes made since it started. I even wrote a chapter specifically about Axis in the Emerging Worship book. But whatever all the reasons for shutting down Axis were, I can say, it saddened my heart. But I was not at all surprised. In fact, I am surprised it didn't end sooner.
In part 1 of his post, Andy Rowell lamented the preoccupation his generation has for image management, and the way GenX church leaders have adopted this vice. In part 2 Andy offers a few antidotes to younger church leaders seeking a more genuine spirituality.
I think there are three dangers we need to be vigilant about. First, we need to beware of the tendency to be image-strong and content-weak. GenX ministries need to be careful about distinguishing themselves solely by their name and website. We want to convey, "This is not your average church." But we want to be better than the average church in substantial ways. In the end, it is not these three that remain: websites, jargon, and coffee. Let us teach better, worship better, and love better than the "average" church.
Second, we need to beware of our attention-getting tendencies.
Not long ago I attended a young adult ministry conference. My wife commented that I looked out of place because none of my clothing was torn. I showed her the frayed cuffs of my pants to verify my young-church-leader credentials. Andy Rowell was associate pastor at Granville Chapel, Vancouver, British Columbia, and recently became visiting instructor in biblical studies, Christian education, and philosophy at Taylor University in Indiana. Here Andy shares his concern over the image management that he sees driving the younger generation of pastors.
Perhaps you have noticed at your most recent pastor's conference that a number of young pastors have slipped away together. If you had followed them, you might have found them in a plain church basement room with chairs circled around together. And if you drew close enough to overhear them speaking, you might have heard, "Hello, my name is _________ and I'm an Image-Conscious GenX pastor." Unbeknownst to you, you would have stumbled into the latest booming group therapy movement.
All joking aside, I can't help but recognize the unease in my conscience about how image-conscious we are becoming as young pastors. I want to share with you some examples of the importance of image as well as some of my concerns about this tendency.