Two weeks ago, we began to look at five reasons church consultant Thom Rainer set forth that churches are declining and/or dying faster today. The first reason, you may recall, was the decline of Cultural Christianity in which people often joined churches for the social, economic, and political benefits offered by church membership in a time when churches held more local, national, and global influence. There is, culturally, simply less reason for people to join a church if they are looking for personal benefits. This 1) increases the importance of getting to know new people and introducing them to the God of love, 2) emphasizes the need to provide services and activities for the people in our community with more of a relational focus, and 3) helps us understand the best places to meet new people, build relationships, and connect people to Christ and the church today is off-campus.
This brings us to Rainer’s reason number two: the exit of the Builder Generation born before 1945. This was the American generation whose early entrants were born just before the Great Depression and whose later entrants were born during World War II. Their youth was defined by chaos and uncertainty but, as they entered into adulthood, their world appeared to find a sense of peace and order, and the nation moved into a time of unprecedented prosperity. This created a loyalty to their governmental and religious institutions that has remained strong in the Builder Generation and sustained churches and other institutions for decades.
Younger generations, beginning with the Boomers, are no longer loyal to institutions. One factor is the growth of consumerism in which people expect institutions, especially churches, to do and say exactly what they want and to provide what they want. If a church does not conform to their desires, they simply move on to the next. Another factor is later generations are seeing blindspots in society which church institutions have missed and often refuse to consider or are terribly slow to address. The lack of adaptability of the institution to reflect and adapt leads these people to depart the institution to be a part of something that sees and addresses our collective blindspots, even though those seeking change have their own additional blindspots they are unaware of at the time. These factors combine to create a population that trusts institutions less and is, thus, less loyal to said institutions.
Rainer suggests churches talk to leadership of a church that is doing a good job of reaching millennials and Gen Xers about inviting some of their younger people to come be missionaries to your church for a year. The purpose of this exercise is these missionaries will be a part of your church for that year to participate and observe. As they do so, they will give the church feedback on how they could adapt and reach younger people. If you do this, however, you must be committed to embracing and acting on their ideas.
Truth be told, CHUMC has some Gen Xers and Millennials who likely have some ideas about what could happen to reach new people as we head down the path to becoming a once again vital church that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It might be interesting if we gave them and some others beyond our church the floor to help guide us toward making disciples of younger generations. Give it some thought.
Grace and peace,
Rev. J.D. Allen