“Young people don’t go to church.”
Ask anyone in the church today, the common refrain about the state of the established church on earth is that younger people – millennials, Gen Z’ers, Gen X’ers – don’t have a regular worship life. They could be the “high holy day” Christians, showing up on Christmas Eve or Easter morning. Or they be part of the “well, I was baptized and I believe in God, so I don’t need a church” crowd.
As recent news shows, a growing number of younger people are not only rejecting regular worship, but are rejecting God.
Church, as an institution, is frowned upon by our culture. The pedophilia priest issue in the Roman Catholic Church stained the entire Christian Church. I’ve been called various evil things about my role as a “priest” and questioned as to why hasn’t “my church” done anything to stop the abuse of children, even though I am not a Roman Catholic priest, but I wear the same type of black clergy shirts with a plastic tab in the neck. Other churches including my own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are called out for holding onto beliefs that are archaic and don’t have a place in the modern world. “Why doesn’t your church have women pastors,” I am asked. “Why do you hate gays and transgendered people,” is thrown at me even though I nor my church doesn’t hate gays or transgendered people.
Yet, even in mainline churches who embrace a modern view of the culture within the church are finding out that they, too, are seeing fewer and fewer people in their churches every Sunday.
“Young people don’t go to church.”
So the question of the viability of individual smaller churches is growing within the Church as a whole. Small churches can’t afford regular clergy leadership or any of the modern ways of worshipping that larger church institutions are making due with today. These smaller places of worshipping God can’t do the things larger churches do because there isn’t a support system to make them a reality. Every year, thousands of smaller Christian churches close because making a financial go of it is impossible.
And everybody blames the young people who don’t go to church.
The church, as a whole, needs to take the time to ask themselves questions about how they worship, how they do ministry, how they teach, how they evangelize, and how they serve their neighbor before they reflexively jump to the easy answer to the church’s problems that “young people don’t go church.”
We need to really take time to look at our churches and how we operate. Have our churches become social clubs where people in our churches meet for coffee and cake every week and do little on outreaching into our communities?
My LCMS, on a local level, is struggling. Small churches are closing. Where our urban churches are located, they are barely hanging on. And in many urban centers, our LCMS churches have just given up.
Some have ideas in which to save the church. Smaller churches could close up and join other churches so they can form slightly larger churches. More people would be in the pews every weekend, giving the newer church a chance at making it for a while.
Another idea is to close smaller churches in the suburbs and make them come together with a larger church so that this new, much bigger church can support missions within the urban areas.
Yet within our struggling churches, the people have the answer to all their problems – young people just have to come to church.
Maybe it is time for a new way to look at our local churches and how we “do church.” We need to begin to question our local church governance and our how we center our lives and our mission on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The time of the social club church is at its end.