Evangelicals and the loss of their teens

Check out this New York Times article. Any thoughts?

(In other news, this would solve our problem. I just don't have $4000.)

Comments

John P. said…
Thanks for the link to that article...Having formerly been involved in youth ministry with evangelical groups this all sounds very familiar. The biggest problem facing these churches is the tension between relevance and selling out. In order to become relevant to today's teens evangelical churches and organizations feel forced to mimic culture. Thus church becomes a "rock concert" as the article described.

For someone like myself, who came to faith through such organizations, and later became disillusioned through them, i fail to see how this method will have any staying power, and indeed it may be part of the problem. The shape of youth groups is being dictated by the short attention span, need-to-be-wowed culture which today's teens live in. In the end, faith becomes more of an emotional high (with group names like "InsideOut", "Extreme!" and "The Summit") and when that high no longer helps a teen through the difficult times that no doubt will come, faith becomes, once again, irrelevant.

This really is not a youth ministry problem, in my opinion. It is a problem for the evangelical church as a whole (granted, the article is correct in pointing out that traiditional denominations have far less youth, and congregants in general). From worship style to their approach to ministry in general, evengelical churches are allowing culture to determine the form they should take. But culture is fickle, and so the Gospel will seem fickle as well.

This problem is to be expected, however, in an american culture where new churches break off from old one's every week in order to satisfy the tastes of a few. If evangelical adults are preferring seeker friendly churches, why should we expect the youth to want any different?

i guess this just hits close to home for me...what do you think?
D.W. Congdon said…
Indeed, I grew up in churches that were exactly like those in the article. Most of my friends went to Acquire the Fire several times. I went to many Christian rock concerts. And I wanted youth group and church to be the "cool" place that I could bring friends to and hang out.

Yet I also begin to see early on that these programs depended upon the emotional high, as you said. These were mountain-top experiences. This is, I believe, indicative of the evangelical church as a whole. It is the most experience-centered sector of Christianity, and in this, evangelicalism is the modern day heir of liberal Protestantism from the 19th century. Contemporary evangelicalism has wedded the form of Schleiermacher with the content of Schaeffer.

Also, you are right on with the voluntarism of evangelicalism. This is huge problem, and I think it derives again from the human-centered theology that undergirds evangelical Christianity. The focus is on me, me, me. My experience, my love for God, my passion, my interests, my _______. In a nutshell, this is the heresy of evangelicalism. It falls into the indictment of Feuerbach that God is simply the projection of ourselves.
ian said…
This was a very interesting and telling article. I found myself getting frustrated reading the article as the "leaders" were scratching there collective heads wondering what they are going to do, to fix this problem. So, what they decide is to do more of the same dammed thing. Instead of taking a step back from the "situation" and coming up with something that actually takes into consideration what our children need. They decide what our children need and try to mold them into their own closed minded box of what a Christian is. This quote did it for me
“I strip off the identity of the world, and this morning I clothe myself with Christ, with his lifestyle. That’s what I want to be known for.” I think that this is the crux of the problem with modern youth ministry. The reason kids are feeling picked on and alienated is because we are telling them to "strip off our identity" We need to be incouraging them instead of telling them to give up who they are. Much of this article hit pretty close to home growing up in this same kind of enviroment. I worry about the future of our youth as well, but I worry more about the church no longer being able to be relevant to people instead of its self.
ian said…
This was a very interesting and telling article. I found myself getting frustrated reading the article as the "leaders" were scratching there collective heads wondering how to fix this problem. So, what they decide is to do more of the same dammed thing. Instead of taking a step back from the "situation" and coming up with something that actually takes into consideration what our children need. They decide what our children need and try to mold them into their own closed minded box of what a Christian is. This quote did it for me
“I strip off the identity of the world, and this morning I clothe myself with Christ, with his lifestyle. That’s what I want to be known for.” I think that this is the crux of the problem with modern youth ministry. The reason kids are feeling alienated is because we are telling them to "strip off our identity" We need to be incouraging them for who they are instead of telling them to be known for giving that up. I would like to be known for loving others and being who God made me to be. Much of this article hit pretty close to home growing up in this same kind of enviroment. I worry about the future of our youth as well, but I worry more about the church no longer being able to be relevant to people instead of its self.
ian said…
ignore my first posting sorry
Shane said…
I think better catechesis is the answer to the youth group malaise. who cares how 'on fire' for Jesus some kid is if he knows nothing about said Jesus.

shane
D.W. Congdon said…
The crisis for the church today -- and particularly for our youth -- is a crisis of identity. You're quite right about this, Ian. I think contemporary Christianity has made an utter mess in its interpretation the phrase "in the world, but not of the world." Youth groups then conclude that we must be physically in the world, but our identity is somehow entirely unworldly, heavenly, spiritual. On a certain level, there is truth to this: we do find our identity outside ourselves and in God. But there's another question that most people assume they know the answer to: Where is God? The assumption is that God is "up there" in some heavenly abode above the skies; in other words, God is the negation of the world. This is a very crude form of negative theology, which views God as the opposite of creation. Unfortunately, this line of thinking entirely sidesteps the incarnation as well as good exegesis of the phrase in question, "not of the world."

We need to insist that our new identity in Christ does not mean that dissolution and negation of our being-in-the-world, but rather the transformation of our lives. We are given a calling that radically transforms our relation to others and ourselves, but this does not mean denying who we are or were. Of course, all affirmation entails a denial of something, but churches should stress the affirmation over the denial. The denial of the old is only in service of the affirmation of the new. Too often I think we tell our children to deny this or that aspect of the world, but unless we instill within them an even stronger and greater affirmation of life in ways that conform to God's abundant kingdom, we confuse the message of the gospel and end up conforming the kingdom to the nature of the world rather than conforming the world to the nature of the kingdom.
John P. said…
one further comment:

Dr Jim West has linked to an article at salon.com about Stephen Baldwin (the bad actor turned evangelist) and his new brand of fundamentalism for youth.

It mirrors the very concerns we are discussing.

the link is here: http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/2006/10/11/is-bono-in-league-with-the-devil/