NPR on Why Young People Are Leaving the Church

If the media player doesn't come up....don't know what to tell you.  I'm not sure how long my relationship with wordpress will stay in tact.

David Kinnaman is back with a new book called "You Lost Me."  Like "UnChristian", this book explores why young people are abandoning the institutional church.  In this interview he mentions some of his recent finding. He raises a few issues on NPR:

*Church not offering  a deep response to the complexities of today's world.

*Those churches that  deal strongly with complexity, didn't show  a strong committment.  Those that are very committed don't offer complex answers.

*An example of the complex questions:  "A girl in a youth group asking should I sell my eggs to be able to afford college tuition?"

*Youth don't feel the freedom to ask the questions that they really have for fear of condemnation.

*Reverse-mentoring.  Young people can enliven congregations and yet they are very open to mentoring and older people in their lives.

A few comments:

I liked his comment about the churches that can handle complex answers showing less fervor than those that cannot.  This is a real phenomenon.  The churches that take the most clear stand on issues (for instance fundamentalist churches) are often the least likely to dialogue about those issues.

The ones that  are open to dialogue, tend to be more liberal and open---but have lower demands on the people attending.  So the churches and the people tend to be less dynamic and committment among parishoners is lower.  It's a sociological phenomenon.  So how to deal with that trap?

If you just respond to today's youth with inflexible dogma, they tune out.  But if you are excessively open, there is little that demands a committment. It doesn't just water down Christianity, it makes it pointless.

I think the key word for the church to internalize here is dualism.  When churches and Christians are dualistic, it means they divide everything into good and evil--with everything in the world (secular) being totally wrong and awful.  Fundamentalist churches are especially prone toward dualism--as are many Pentecostal churches.  The whole world is evil and everything in it is evil.  Only once you are in the protective bubble of the sect (church) will you find music and art and people that are okay.

This is not what the Bible teaches, but many churches take this posture.  Christianity teaches that what God made was "good," and that as the result of the fall, things are not as they should be.  Because of sin and fallennes, they have been robbed of their full glory.  They are not what they could be (and will be).  So the world is beautiful as are all of God's creation--they are just not in the state they were intended to be in.

It's a bit like an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  There's no doubt that the Gulf of Mexico and all the sea creatures there are beautiful.  But an oil spill taints that.  It doesn't suddenly make the whole ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico ugly or bad or not beautiful.  But it does taint it, and only true purification can ever restore it to its full glory.  But even that oil stained pelican, or fish, or coral reef retains its stamp of beauty.

What the younger generation really rejects is dualism:  "Because there was a gulf spill in the Gulf of Mexico, everything is bad!  All the fish are bad!  All the coral reefs are bad!  It was always bad and it's still bad."  This is how a lot of Christians have defined the world.  As if nothing has any merit whatsoever unless it is found in the church and was produced by the church (like Christian rock music).

Of course, the oil spill taints everything--including the churches.  So it wouldn't take long being in a church or hanging out in the Christian music industry and finding out that---lo and behold--things are not so pure there either!  It doesn't seem honest to young people to say "there's all good and all bad, and we're the all good."

A non-dualistic view does appeal to young people.  It's not that there is no "right and wrong", but it is that your view of right and wrong comes from a point of:

1) Deep humility: We are aware that at any given moment, we too could (and are) tainted by the oil spill of fallenness and imprefection.

2) Love for Creation: An acknowledgement that the world God created is beautiful--even the parts that are not in the church or necessarily Christian.  Instead of always talking from the point of judgment and condemnation, one is engaging the world trying to find that hidden value in things that might not apparently be from God.

I think a non-Dualistic Christianity mourns the fall, but continually seeks after beauty.

A Dualistic Christianity forgets we are all tainted by the fall, and is obsessed with deciphering right from wrong.

So why are young people not asking their real questions?

Why are the churches not able to handle the complex questions?

Because many of them are locked into that dualistic paradigm, and the kids know it--even if they can't name it as such.  They sense it.  There's no process and no humility.  "It's my way or the highway."

Confident Christianity is unabashedly Christian---tied to a historic person, processed through 2 thousand years of deep Christian thought, and represented by a book like no other.  But Confident Christianity should not need to constantly be in a posture of defensiveness and hyper-panic.

Today's kids are plugged into the whole world via internet and exposed to multiple cultures and worldviews constantly.  Overall, I think this is a very good thing, not just for them--but for Christianity as a whole.  But it is amidst the bombardment of the senses that there is something within them that longs for the quiet transcendent.  The church can be that place, if it doesn't completely devalue the world they live in.

Special thanks to Jen in Indy and her 1 1/2 year old husband Randolph for forwarding this NPR story.