What can churches do to stem the tide of young people walking out their doors? Sadly, many have responded by simply mirroring the pop culture that youngsters are already immersed in.
We once visited a church where the teen Sunday school class welcomed our son with a row of video arcade games. In younger years he attended Vacation Bible School where he was bombarded with loud pop music, silly skits, and slapstick games. Lots of paintball and whipped cream.
That's a misguided approach, says Brett McCracken in a recent Wall Street Journal article. McCracken, who has just published a book titled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide, offers his own examples of churches trying desperately to prove to kids that they can be cool. And he concludes:
As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.
If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. . . . It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched -- and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with offering young people simple fun and social time. But the force of sheer experience will not equip them to address the secular worldviews they will encounter when they leave home and face the world on their own.
Young people whose commitment is mostly emotional are likely to retain it only as long as it is making them feel good. As soon as a difficult crisis comes along, it will evaporate.
Churches that have lasting impact in the lives of young people are those that teach them to develop reasonable biblical answers to the secular worldviews permeating American society today. That’s the case I make in Saving Leonardo. And the empirical evidence backs it up: A recent Fuller study found that among students who retain their Christian convictions in college, one factor plays the largest role -- and it’s not what most church leaders would expect: The most significant factor is whether young people have a safe place to wrestle with their doubts and questions before leaving home.
The study concluded, "The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity."
In other words, the best way for teens to become "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks" (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling with the questions themselves. Churches should teach teens what the major secular worldviews claim, and how to evaluate them.
Saving Leonardo is a good place to get started.