“Customer Announcement: We Have A Lost Child In The Culture”

girl walking away

Are young people fleeing from the church?

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church. When I hear that anywhere between 45% and 75% of young people who grew up in the church leave by the end of their first year in college it only supports my concern that there’s an exodus of young people.

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church.

Having come across a few articles now that push back against this narrative I’m more skeptical and curious. And this is to my shame because I studied economics in college and I, of all people, should know that data doesn’t automatically give you the big picture. In fact, many researchers have looked at the data and have come to a different conclusion.

Bradley Wright pulls the data from the General Social Survey on those who identify as Evangelicals by age. The chart he produces shows that the percentage of people who are Evangelicals rises during the 1970s and declines in the 1990s, most sharply for the 18-29 age group. Today we are back to the same levels as the early 70s.

Evangelical-by-Age

Bradley also looks at how many Americans are Evangelicals or “Born-again” Christians. (As a pedantic side note I’d say that “born-again” and Christian are synonymous. If you’re not born again you’re not a Christian, but I digress). It hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. There is a decline in religious affiliation (and a rise in the un-affiliated, or “nones”) but that is mostly affecting nominal mainline Christians and Evangelicals.

Ed Stetzer has also analyzed the data and does not believe it supports a pessimistic view. In commenting on the Pew Forum’s 2012 study which showed a rise in the number of people who have no religious affiliation (the “nones”), he said this:

The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here– and for action.

Conservative churches and institutions are holding up better but they still face challenges as more Americans move away from a biblical worldview, including church-going, Bible-reading Christians. There has been a growing movement of “New Calvinists” which has produced organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 The Gospel. Daniel Darling mentions that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary enrolls more students into their Masters of Divinity program than any other similar school.

The church has always thrived in hostile environments and will continue to do so. Jesus did say that He will build His church. I think we can take this as an opportunity to preach the gospel and show the stark contrasts between the cultural and biblical perspectives. If only a few more believers behaved as if they were confident that they are already victorious then we’d see some amazing changes take place.

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Lessons From Downton Abbey On Urban Ministry

gentrify-this1

Many seminaries now offer an urban ministry studies program, which tells you that it has become an official fad.

Many people have moved from the suburbs to the inner cities, reversing the trend of the suburban flight. Cheaper homes, shorter commutes, and a love for all things hipster contribute to the migration and churches have not escaped the urban fever.

Many Christians are studying for urban ministry or joining churches and/or ministries that serve the inner city. It hasn’t quite become the cottage industry that youth ministry has attained but that may be just a matter of time. This is where the action is, where “real” ministry is taking place.

What drives the passion for urban ministry? Is it a desire to help the poor or is it something else?

gentrify

In my own hometown I’ve seen the gentrification of poor neighborhoods with the intent of development. Large swaths of people come in along with businesses that cater to that audience but they’re like foreigners. Some people may object to that but I’m not here to criticize the trend. It does make me wonder if Christians are going to an “urban” mission field or if they’re staying in the same cultural environment.

One problem I do have is that urban ministry reminds me of missions trips to Third World countries. I’ve seen too many people get excited adventures around the world but neglect the people in their own backyard. You don’t have to leave town to find opportunities to help people. I fear that the same desire to feel good about yourself is stronger than the desire to serve.

We should end urban ministry and continue ministering in the city. We should stop trying to end poverty and, instead, help poor people. The church can do much good if we deal with real people rather than artificial categories.

In a scene from Downton Abbey the chauffeur, Tom, is talking with a woman who shames him for being a part of an aristocratic family. She says that she doesn’t care much for “their type,” to which Tom responds, “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” Would that we believe likewise.