There’s a lot of talk about how the church in America can begin to grow again, or at least stop losing members in droves. If you’re a twenty something, you probably know better than most that there’s a large group of people who are leaving the church when they leave college. If you aren’t a twenty something, next time you step into church, look around for people in their mid twenties, those who used to fill young marrieds and singles classes. There aren’t many of them.
Many believe that the problem lies in the style of our worship services not being appealing enough to a younger generation, one that grew up with computers, the internet, and, well, pretty much whatever they could have possibly wanted. But I don’t believe that is the source of the problem. People my age are very interested in God, Jesus, the spiritual realm. The problem is not the worship services, or how cool the preachers or pastors are. The problem is, church no longer has anything of relevance to say, at least in generation y’s opinion. The thing is, they are wrong. The church does have something to say, and a whole lot to do. Its time that they stood up and became what they were always intended to be.
The way that the church can once again gain relevance is simple. Preach the Gospel. You might think that the church is all ready preaching the Gospel, that yes, they have got the whole substitutionary atonement thing down. They’ve read Paul backwards and forwards and argued about every possible paragraph he penned. But the church has forgotten that the Gospel is shown in full in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Gospel is the life of Jesus. And unlike our traditional interpretations of Paul, ones based entirely in how redemption works, the Gospels show us salvation in action. They show us how we are to live our lives, which is the true mission of the church. Today’s church focuses on getting people to Heaven, which, if one reads the Gospels honestly, was never the focus of Jesus. His focus was on telling people how to live like God intended, which brings salvation from something, but not from hell. It brings salvation here and now, salvation from the ways of the world which leads to death. And Jesus’s resurrection is the foreshadowing of our own resurrection, with real bodies, into a real world the way God intended it from the beginning. This promise of resurrection gives us the courage we need to follow Jesus, to take up our own crosses, literally, to be willing to lay down our lives rather than die protecting them.
And this is what my generation is looking for. We’re looking for meaning. We look around at a world where we seemingly have everything, yet, things are still drastically wrong. Progress has certainly alleviated some problems, but it has brought on a whole new set. And we look to our faiths to find answers to our problems, but we’re taught private piety, and little else. There is no social ethic to the church, but there is a definitive social ethic to the gospel… and the hypocrisy drives us away. We read, “love your enemies” and hear praise for warriors in church. We read “true religion is taking care of the widows and orphans” but we see bigger and bigger buildings, more and more programs designed to benefit us, and well, we don’t really see any of the least of these sitting in church buildings.
This all comes back to how we teach salvation. If the church continues to focus on an other worldly heaven, with a mansion, robe, and crown… they will continue being irrelevant. If the church decides to teach salvation as its found in the Bible, salvation which shows up in our lives, that distinguishes us from the world, the church will continue to flounder.