In March’s issue of ‘youthwork’ magazine, Krish Kandiah wrote an article detailing the ‘crisis’ the church is in: young people are leaving the church in droves and are not coming back. Let me say before anything that I have the upmost respect and admiration for Krish. I do not agree with everyone he says but I think he is a guy sold out for God and sincerely wanting to see God transform this world. If it weren’t for him starting this discussion, then I wouldn’t have spend the last few days mulling all these thoughts over. Thank you Krish.
His article is a response to the recent research by ‘Care For the Family’ and the ‘sticky faith initiative’ that had all sorts of depressing statistics about the present day church and young people. I blogged recently about the ‘getting your kids through church without them hating God’ tour by ‘Care for the Family’. You can read about it here.
There are things that I agree with in the article and things I do not. I think there are big issues with how young people relate to the church and I do agree that the church, as an institution, needs to change if things are going to improve. And I think some of the suggestions are good and can potentially work but I’m not sure the article is getting to the heart of the matter.
I think there are two big questions that need to be grappled with in regards to young people and church. Kandiahs’ article deals with the second, ‘how can we keep young people in the church?’ but an equally important question is ‘what about all the young people who will never come to a church service?’ But that is not the crux of the article, or the research, but it is one that needs just as much focus because as statistics have shown, young people are inherently ‘spiritual’ and are seeking spirituality in one form or another. Phil Rankins report, ‘buried spirituality’ is proof of this. the church as a whole is failing these young people.
So what’s the issue? Kandiah suggests that youth work is not working. But what is youth work? What is it we are trying to do and communicate with young people? Is it to simply keep young people in church? Why? And how do we define church? Is it the church service? Is it weekly attendance we’re getting at? I think before any discussion about whether youth work is working or not, we need to define what ‘youth work’ is.
I think the issue is that for too long christian youth work has been about keeping young people in church services. But youth work has to be bigger than that. God, after all, is bigger than that. Now I have to be careful when I say this because I do not want to put words into Jesus’ mouth and I do not want to generalise things, but Jesus’ mission was never about keeping people in church. It was about mission.
I think the suggestions of breaking down the age barriers, getting young people more active in church services, and getting more mentoring between young and old going on are great ideas. But that’s difficult. And it will require the structures on institutional churches to change and I am fairly pessimistic about that because the problem is youth fellowships (in general) are creative, democratic and focused on community. church services by their nature are not. they may want to be and they may claim to be but it in most cases the few lead the many. and it’s going to take a lot to change that.
So what needs to be done? After all it’s fair enough for me to be critical of one article but what suggestions am I offering? Or am I just throwing out more questions?
For too long being a christian has meant believing in the right theology. it’s been about the mind. The christian faith has been reduced to a creed. Believe it (in your head) and you’re a christian. Disagree with it, and you’re not. Young people, at least that ones I am in contact with, do not want that. Or at least don’t want that as the starting point. It’s action they want. It’s to be part of a story. It’s to be caught up in a dream that they can physically be part of here and now. They want integrity.
They want to know that the christian faith matters now. that it’s not just about who is in and who is out. but that t’s about transformation. Transformation of people, communities, towns, cities, counties, countries and the world. For too long all we’ve done is talk about right and wrong theology (head knowledge). Talk, talk, talk.
Maybe we need to start with action. Or at least have a better balance. Now hear me out. I’m not pushing for a works based salvation. But by our deeds people should know our salvation. When a church services focuses more on right thinking than action; more on sermons than community action, that’s when the young people start leaving.
Let’s start with the stories Wilberforce, Theresa, Pullinger, Nightengale and show how that connects with Jesus rather than the other way around.
Let’s give them something to get their teeth, their hands, their feet, their hold bodies into.