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.
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?"