Friday, April 17, 2009

    The Death of Evangelicalism? The Death of Youth Ministry?

    Those of us in mainstream protestant churches already know that we are in decline and can expect some big changes in the coming decades. At the risk of sounding like a junior Nostradamus, I imagine that the Church of 2050 will look considerably different from the one we have now: smaller, more culturally-marginalized, less politically powerful and, dare I say, more passionate and true to emulating the way of Jesus. I have no trouble foreseeing that we will abandon our big buildings and return to house churches, coffee shop churches, and meet-in-the-park churches. What will youth ministry look like in this new (actually ancient) understanding of Church?

    Even as we mainline and progressive Christians brace for the shift, some are now predicting that the evangelical movement better getting ready, too. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, warns of a coming evangelical collapse in a recent essay in The Christian Science Monitor. He lists a whole host of reasons for the collapse, including:
    We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.
    He continues:

    Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.
    There was never a more pressing or exciting time to be rethinking youth ministry. So what's next for those of us who care about the place of young people in the Christian faith? I'll share my thoughts in a coming post "The End of Youth Ministry: Where do we go from here?"



    Pastor Swish said...

    In my UM Polity class in seminary, the teacher (then president of the school) said, "The church that got us where we are today is not the church that will lead us where we need to go." The idea of re-thinking what we need to be doing is crucial in our developing as relevant segments of society who are being obedient to the call to make disciples. We need to be rethinking every aspect of ministry, but especially youth ministry.

    Brian said...

    I think that quote is right on the money. Makes me wonder how seminary training will change in the next couple of decades. Preparing students to be pastors at 100-200 person churches may not make any sense anymore. Perhaps they will have to learn to be more like Paul-- itinerant pastors traveling from house church to house church.

    Nick the Geek said...

    First, I think that Youth Ministry can be a growing and very relevant part of the church. We have been experiencing great growth in our Youth group. I think one of the biggest differences that you will see in the church as it changes is unity of the Body. We are working on growing relationships between the churches as well as between the Youth leaders and the Youth. This has been very exciting. Before I came to this church God was speaking to me about the disunity of the body. It turns out that many of the ministers here have been feeling the same, but more than that I've been hearing of many, many more ministers in the country hearing the same thing. I think it is wrong to say Evangelical churches will die and even more wrong to say Youth ministry will die. They are changing but change is not death.

    @brian, Paul went through a great deal of formal training with Gamaliel. It is also supposed by many that he studied during the 3 years between his conversion and trip to Jerusalem. Seminaries will need to rethink how they do things. Hands on training mos certainly needs to be pursued. several are already increasing there online classes. Liberty has entire programs and cap the classes at $2000 per semester or @200 per credit. This makes it much more reasonable.

    Yes, there are certainly some major changes happening but why are we being so sensational? Give me a break. Half the problem with the economy is sensationalism. Who wants to put their money into anything but the frigin mattress when the news is being so sensational. Who wants to have anything to do with churches when everyone says they are dying? Ever hear of a self fulfilling prophesy? People are telling churches they aren't relevant and so churches are trying to become relevant and so are moving away from the gospel and thus failing ... Let's cut the crap and get to work on what really matters.

    Anonymous said...

    i think i would have to disagree with the article. it is true that all ministry must shift to keep relevant. however there are many growing and booming churches in america and around the world. i can think of 4 churches off the top of my head that at this moment are talking about buying a new building in the near future and have already expanded to multiple services.

    in my opinion instead of looking at the struggle for growth in some churches as a trend and giving into it. we should look at the growth and influence of other churches and pastors and ask what they are doing different than the rest of us. also, looking at ourselves as pastors and leaders... do we have the character to sustain ourselves if we had 500 or 1000 members? are we praying enough? statistics say that most pastors pray ten minutes a day or less.... no wonder our churches arent growing. if the pastor is only spending 10 min a day then what about the parishioners? they may only seek god on average 5 minutes a day.. if that! are we as ministers challenging ourselves to grow outside of what we preach to others.... if we arent growing then how do we expect to lead others to growth. they will only mature as far as us and then stagnate to complacency or leave.

    i truly believe that as a church and as pastors we should dream and pray for thousands... it wasnt to long ago that charles finny saw such great revival that a whole city was saved... bars closed down and the jails were empty for years. we as pastors have to have a higher vision and fight the discouragement of routine. i believe that god wants to grow our churches but he is waiting on us. what do each of us need to change in our lives and ministries so that god can entrust more of his kids to us? right now im a part of a youth ministry in modesto, ca that runs 500-600 and as of recent broadcasts over the internet to 700+ ppl around the world. ( people said it couldnt be done but god is doing it and my pastor is still praying for more and working tirelessly on ways to reach the city. men of god, lets not grow weary or give up. lets get a high vision. lets get a dream that god is goin to have to show up to bring it to pass!

    stuart delony said...

    Caleb did you even read the post?

    All I'm hearing from you is bling church talk (numbers, buildings ect.. as a sign of the Kingdom advancing).

    The point of the post is that we're not doing it right. It's that something is definitely wrong.

    Putting butts in the seats of our church does not make followers of Christ. We end up filling churches with people hell bent on feeling moral, good and Republican. Rising numbers dictates an americanized perspective of success, but that wasn't Christ's. What's the point of reaching a city, if we're not reaching reaching them well. This "notch in the belt" evangelism is more about bragging rights and numbers than it is about the Kingdom of God. If we can brag about 1,000 people in our churches, but haven't disciple or journeyed well... we have accomplished nothing. Are the poor being fed? No, but at least we've got shiny churches.

    Pride is what needs to die for the Kingdom to advance. Our own spiritual (and personal) pride is the issue with the church, not the "depraved cultural morality." It's us that's the problem.

    Once that happens, who knows what's next. Either way it'll be exciting.

    Brian said...

    I appreciate the comments. It seems to me that what we are talking about here isn't numbers. If our goal is to have lots of people in our churches, there are many ways to do that which have very little to do with the gospel -- and many "successful" churches are more than happy to do those things to fill seats. Frankly, I do not know what it means to call a group of 1000 people a "church." Once you get that big, you are really just a huge bureaucracy focused on maintaining yourself. And you become known, not for radical outreach or ministry, but for being the "biggest," the "fastest growing" or the "richest" church in town. Though we can all point to indivdual churches which are booming right now in regards to membership and budget, the overall statistics nationwide show that the Church in its current form is dying, much as it already has in Europe.

    Anonymous said...

    brian and stuart, i totally understand ur perspective. the great thing is that large numbers do not necessarily represent lack of discipleship or outreach. for example (and i will speak of the church i attend b/c it is the church i know best) Calvary Temple is a church of about 4000. within this church there are many many small groups and ministries. in the youth program alone there are 150 students plugged into a discipleship and homegroup program meeting at 10 homes. there is also weekly park outreaches where the church goes to parks and feeds the poor as well as the homeless, gives them clothes prays with them. at these same parks they conduct church services. these outreaches have had such a great impact on the surrounding communities (including falling crime rates) that police officials, city officials, and the mayor have actually gone out of their way to thank the church for their contribution. there are support groups for all types of recovering attics...

    i guess what im trying to say is that while it is completely wrong to focus wholly on numbers, a large church can be healthy and can really have a greater impact on a comunity. its not about numbers at all. we must remember though that God's heart is that all should come to him... and when more ppl come to him, our churches and programs must expand to disciple these new believers and give them room to get involved and help build the kingdom of god.

    in conclusion, and to address any confusion from my last comment. if god gave us the grace to see our cities saved (which we all can agree is the heart of god) then what would we have to change in ourselves and in our churches to effectively disciple these new believers? it really was not a reprimand for the home church ideal... but it was an encouragement to not let the current situation of each of our churches and the struggles they may be going through determine the biggness of gods plans and the vision for our cities.