Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leaving, Coming Back - A Tale of Church Attendance

I am constantly thinking and praying about the place of church in our contemporary mosaic of American culture.  There are obvious issues and problems, and very few 'solutions' just as obvious.  Nonetheless, God has instituted his church as a glorious thing that survives both tyrannies and disgruntled youth.

Thus, this posting at Her.Menutics caught my eye.  The article, "Replacing SundayMornings," is a taste of the book by the same author, "When We Were On Fire."  It tells of how the author, her circle of friends, and countless other millennials, left the churches of their youth and found temporary replacements in everything from fitness clubs to bars.  Though most of the post is about what they replaced Sundays with, the end of the story is that they have returned to the church and all of its imperfections.

Her description of leaving was interesting to me, for it resonates with why so many have told me they are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with church.  They felt they didn't fit in, and found acceptance in other communities.  Churches were clunky and full of pop-psychology and other circles of people offered tastes of triumph, so they float from one option to another on Sundays.  Church leaving millennials appear to replace church-hopping with community-hopping.

I am sure the author is finding meaning and direction back in the church, but a couple of thoughts occur to me about what is going on when a young person leaves church and hops around looking for meaning in all the other places.

Churches as they are largely envisioned in the American evangelical culture not only cater to consumers, but create them.  So it is not surprising that young people raised on modern advertising and emotionalistic worship grow dissatisfied quickly - not just with church but with every other replacement they try.  So, consumers leave the church, consume all kinds of other shallow replacements, and some of them return to church with a tempered, if not chastised, consumerism.

The author has returned to church but her description of that move in the post is short and, frankly, a little disheartening.   It is quite possible the book teases out her return in more detail and with more conviction, but she still sounds a little unimpressed that church is the right place for her to be.  Her descriptions of 5Ks, book clubs, and bars were more appealing than her description of church.  So, I have a simple suggestion to both churches and returning millennials.

Don't settle for simplistic, consumeristic, pop-psychology driven churches.  They are places that typically play in the shallows of the oceans of possibility with the presence and power of God.  It is quite possible that the American evangelical church has created its own problems with the loss of young people, and for the life of me I don't understand why we would continue to believe those same models will fix the problems they created.

The body of Christ made visible in the gathering of his church can be a wonderful and beautiful thing.  It is greater than all the other options.  It is evidence of a kingdom more glorious and active than any other at work in our world today.  I hope we can all come to a perspective that begins with God and his glory rather than our wants and needs and begin to do church as a result.

3 comments:

James divine said...

Could it be that in man cases we don't offer what the world really needs, the unabashed truth and a difference in our own lives.

Phil Steiger said...

James- I think there is a lot of truth to that. If we are no different from the rest of the world, why show up?

Paul Coleman said...

I had the opportunity to visit a small number of churches over the past summer. It was disheartening to see that many are simply social clubs with a message that so conformed to our culture as to miss the message of the Bible text it claimed to expound upon.