My wife just wrote a blog after listening to two sermons, one by Rob Bell and the other by Perry Noble, that were ironically preached on the exact same Sunday about how there is a huge generational gap spreading in our churches. She stated that this is something we need to pay attention to as well and that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Throughout her blog, she talks about the implications this has on marriage and relationships. (Read her blog here: http://holymessofmarriage.blogspot.com/2010/09/lets-get-together.html)
There has been a lot of conversation about this issue and topic in the Church today as we try to figure out what to do with our differing cultures that exist from generation to generation. Our young people are not being engaged in our churches very well today and many have chosen to simply leave. The 18-30 year old demographic is the biggest one missing from the church. And for many of our youth, they are clueing into the pattern that their older siblings and friends are setting. It seems that the older kids get, the more they are pulling away from the church.
As the Church figures out how to handle this, I feel that many in Youth Ministry are put between a rock and hard place trying to figure out the lesser of two evils. What do I mean? Let me explain:
For many, I don’t think it is a huge debate that segregated worship isn’t the best way to go within a church. The Bible stresses the importance of family and The Body of Christ meeting together and benefiting one another with the different gifts and experiences of each person. There is something powerful about bringing generations together. I once had our youth band play with our organist for one song and it was pretty cool! Everyone kind of got a piece of something they wanted and needed as we sang together.
I think it can also be agreed upon that one of the reasons young adults are walking away from the Church is because many of them never felt connected to it. For years in Youth Ministry, we created a one-eared Mickey Mouse that left the kids a completely separate entity. Then when they graduated from high school and our ministries, it was like they were graduating from the church as well.
On the other hand though, to just say that this isn’t healthy and that we shouldn’t segregate our youth doesn’t address the full picture of the issue at hand. The question we still need to ask is why are Youth Ministries creating separate worship services and programs for our teens? Beyond the quick answer of developmental differences or maturity level one has to consider the issue of what teens need to be fed spiritually.
One of the other reasons young adults are walking away from the church is because they simply don’t find it relevant any more. Some Senior Pastor’s don’t know how to teach in a way that engages students at the same time as adults and some topics don’t easily apply across generations. Many of our churches still rely heavily on audible learning styles when many of our young people, due to technology, are much more hands on and visual when it comes to learning. When it comes to visual learning, the church is decades behind the world that embraces and catches the eyes of most young people. And when it comes to hands on approaches, many argue they are not appropriate within a Sunday service. Also serving, which is also a big component of hands on learning, is left for the adults and watched carefully under the excuse for quality control.
So, segregating worship isn’t the best thing to do and is possibly one of the reasons young adults are leaving the church but at the same time we have young people saying they need something different and many churches are telling them no which leads to another reason young adults are leaving. Then the leadership of these generations are left to choose between the lesser of two evils: do I segregate worship and give young people a worship experience they can connect with OR do we allow young people to feel that the church isn’t relevant?
For many, including myself as we launch a Youth Gathering this fall, choose the former as being the lesser evil. But overall, it makes my heart sad that the decision even comes to this. The Church is supposed to be a place where we can all come together to give – give to one another and to Christ. But all too often Church has become about getting and not bending for others and in my experience this is much stronger when it comes to adults than our teens.
I once had a Senior Pastor who told me that I had to teach our kids about the importance of hymns and liturgy, which I agreed and did but yet when the table was turned and I expressed that the adults should be taught how to appreciate more contemporary music and a different preaching style, I was met with hesitance and concern. It’s almost like some churches have this attitude of, “The adults do church the correct way. So let the kids be kids for now but eventually they need to learn how to do church right when they grow up.” This couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Within our ministries and our churches we need to work hard at trying to bridge this gap between generations and we as the adults need to learn to lay down our pride and our likes and instead look to the next generation of church leaders and incorporate them into our worship. Sure, we will have enjoyed church and got a lot out of it but will it really be worth it in the long run? Without our young people being connected and fed, the future of our churches will be a very empty place.