According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, religion is waning in America, including Christianity. The data shows that no age group is walking away from God than Millenials (data for Gen Z was not available). While more than three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%) describe themselves as Christians, only about half of Millennials (49%), do with four-in-ten identifying with no religious affiliation and one-in-ten Millennials naming non-Christian faiths as their belief system.
The report goes on to identify many reasons for the decline in religious affiliations by young Americans. While all of them are valid, vetted rationalizations for Millenials’ lack of faith in their parents’ dedication to the Christian faith, I feel the real problem is much simpler, yet far more dangerous.
We live in an “I want it now” time. To be fair, my generation, Generation X, kind of kicked off this mentality. We were the “microwave generation.” We were the first group of kids who could record our favorite shows and “fast-forward” the commercials. As the Latchkey Kids, we often found ourselves taking care of ourselves, which lead us to believe we were all that mattered. As time went on, this got worse. Now, our little brothers and sisters, the Millenials, are walking into middle age carrying the full brunt of the Internet, social media, and streaming.
Millennials grew up in the age of entertainment. Hundreds of cable channels, then streaming of TV, movies, and music, came to pass. Their need for instant gratification came as a product of entertainment evolution and younger Baby Boomers’ need for TV babysitters. As the world became more complicated, our parents, often single mothers, had to work more and be home far less frequently. This situation often led to guilt and a bit of spoiling on the younger child to make up as us Gen Xer were now old enough to ignore it all and do what we had always done – take care of ourselves.
What does all of this have to do with the decline of Christianity in America? I believe churches have attempted to take over the role of the parent for the Millennials in our current day. They look at the Millenials, and on to Gen Z, and see a crowd that needs to be entertained and reinforced with words of affirmation. Attend any worship service in a church geared toward these age brackets, and you will most likely encounter strobe light shows, smoke machines, and high-energy entertainment. I am not at all saying these are in themselves bad things. I, too, enjoy a spirit-filled worship service. But is church really supposed to be about what I enjoy?
Once you move on to the message, it is more of the same. It has been years since I have heard a message on sin and its consequences. Church messages these days are all about how God wants to shower us with blessings – that having God in your life means prosperity and well-being. A quick search of the scriptures shows that most of the greats in the Hall of Faith did not experience a comfortable life. However, pastors in fear of congregates, or boards, feeling offended, will sidestep the hard messages for feel-good inspiration. I once sat in a service where the pastor paused before reading a section of scripture to apologize for what he was about to read in the case it offended anyone. “I don’t know what you believe, and I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m just reading the words as they are written,” he said.
So, people sit in these church services and hear messages about how much God wants to bless them, and nothing can go wrong in their lives as long as they tithe and believe. Then, tragedy strikes. They lose their job, the one they love leaves, a parent dies, or a pandemic occurs. Some horrible things happen, they are not spiritually prepared to handle, and they bounce. They’ve been told all their life that God wants nothing but to bless them, that God is basically a vending machine to bend to their will, and they find themselves in a situation that does not line up with what they’ve been taught.
The enemy is prime to jump all over this situation. He begins to whisper in their ear, “See, God is not real. If God were real, He would not have allowed this to happen. If God loved you, He would fill your wallet. He would give you that job. He would have saved the one you love.” They have not been adequately prepared to understand that a life of belief is often a life of hardship. When the touchy-feely sermons don’t match up with the reality that is life, it comes off weak and fake, and people cast it aside.
None of this is to say that God is not loving, hates to see us suffer, or wants to see us suffer. He is none of those things. However, more times than not, our decisions get us into situations that are less than ideal. There are consequences attached to the actions and decisions we make. There are also ramifications from the actions and decisions of others that we have nothing to do with. This is a part of life. We are currently experiencing a pandemic. I’ve seen post after post on social media about this being a punishment from God. That is not how He works.
We now have an entire generation of people who have not been prepared spiritually to deal with misfortune, bad situations, and attacks from the enemy. I mean, churches do not even teach about an enemy, spiritual attacks, or spiritual warfare anymore. How can we expect the younger generations to believe in, much less stick with, a faith they are inadequately prepared to understand?
So, what is the answer? Barna group cites a need for churches to focus on “vocational discipleship.” One where faith and occupation are integrated. I feel this is an essential step for all Christians, as too many are prepared to defend and support their beliefs at work. However, I think it is more important to get younger generations plugged into churches that are preaching messages that need to be taught, and not only ones people want to hear.
I work in the college environment, and I can tell you most college students are ill-prepared to handle the stress that happens in life. This coronavirus has only revealed this fact to me more. I have students who are scared and looking for answers. While I cannot in my current capacity evangelize to them, I can be like Christ to them in my attempts to lead them through the rest of the semester. There is a need for messages that give us hope and let us know that God will be there through the hard times. But they need to be tempered with messages to prepare them for those hard times when they occur.
This does not only apply to younger people. Spiritual warfare is real, and we need to be prepared to fight for our family, friends, and souls when the time comes. These are perilous times we currently live in, and outreach to college, prison, homeless, and other vulnerable people should begin and continue with life application messages and not just the ones that will fill the seats and the collection plate.