A recent article stated: “Millennials leaving the church in droves, study finds.”
We could say, “oh, that’s just young people these days”, or “it’s a sign of the times!” Or, perhaps we should consider that maybe today’s church is dropping the ball. Some will say, “we need to relate to them better, have more activities and strive to be relevant!” Well, there are “relevant” churches everywhere that have a hip pastor, a great “worship” band, and a coffee shop in the lobby. Yet, church attendance is still on the decline. Why?
Here are a couple of reasons, in my humble opinion:
1. A lack of sound theology.
Important Biblical issues like original sin, the depravity of man, and prevenient grace have been left behind. After all, we can’t tell people that we are all born wretched and sin-sick. That’s not a very happy, positive message. We want people to know that inside, they are a winner! In today’s church, semi-Pelagianism rules the day, and everyone is a good person deep down, they just need to follow their heart! But the truth is, sinful man is spiritually dead, and the only thing that can raise him is the power of the Gospel, along with the Holy Spirit drawing him. Tactics, cool music, activities, etc, can’t raise the dead.
The mentality of the modern church seems to be that “if we use certain tactics to get the attention of certain kinds of people, then maybe we can convince them that Jesus is cool and maybe they’ll give Him a try.” However, Biblically speaking, the state of a person prior to being drawn by the Father, is one that is totally unable to submit to God (Romans 8:7-8, John 6:65). Getting someone to think that we are cool so maybe they will listen to us is an error, because the only way a sinner can be converted, is by the Father drawing them (John 6:44) through the power of the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less. “Lift me up, and I will draw all men to me” (John 12:32). The power is in the Gospel, not methods or tactics. All we’re going to accomplish with methods, is maybe someone thinking we’re cool, and possibly getting them to make a “decision” or “pray a prayer”. But the reality is, unless the Father draws them, no real repentance can, or will take place.
2. We don’t put God first anymore.
This problem is closely connected to the first. In an attempt to get more “votes for Christ”, we have made church and the things of God all about us. Places of worship have turned into nothing more than concerts and activity centers. Everything from the sermon to the music, is all about catering to people’s preferences. There are even “churches” who play the top 40 instead of hymns and praise songs. After all, some people are more comfortable and familiar with Katy Perry’s “Firework” than they are with “Amazing Grace”, and in today’s church, making sure the “seeker” is comfortable is a top priority. Again I must stress, we have accomplished absolutely nothing, eternally speaking, by getting the depraved, unregenerate to think we’re cool. Here’s a sincere question: is there anywhere in Scripture where believers attempted to make their places of worship “attractive” to the lost, in an attempt to draw them in? We are told to go out into all the world and share the Gospel, but today, it seems that transforming our places of worship into places of entertainment has replaced that command.
A.W. Tozer rightly states that a new reformation must take place!
“Many in our churches hope to have a part in ‘something big and exciting.’ But God calls us back—back to the simplicity of the faith, back to the simplicity of Jesus Christ and His unchanging Person! We must have a new reformation. There must come a violent break with that irresponsible, amusement-mad, paganized pseudo-religion which passes today for the faith of Christ and which is being spread all over the world by unspiritual men employing unscriptural methods to achieve their ends.”
(Mornings With Tozer, Feb. 14; The Root of the Righteous, pg 110)
I personally believe it’s an insult to God when we attempt to make the Gospel more attractive, cool, or relevant in an attempt to convert. This way of thinking neglects the importance of the Gospel, removes the importance of being enabled to respond by the Holy Spirit, and places all of the focus on our man-made methodology. I used to think this way as well, until I really got a full grasp on what the Bible had to say concerning man’s state prior to being drawn by the Father. Now, I personally believe that the Gospel, along with being enabled to respond, is the only thing so powerful, that a 90 year old man can share it with an 18 year old punk-rock skateboarder and it make an impact. Or that a 15 year old African-American boy sporting Air Jordans and a backwards snapback can share the Good News with a Caucasian senior citizen and have a positive outcome. The power is in the message along with the Father drawing, not the method of the carrier. Never again should we say things like “they can reach people I could never reach”. Clearly present the Gospel to all people and let the Father draw.
Some will cite I Corinthians 9:22 as a defense for their attempts at making the Gospel “relevant”. But clearly, Paul stating “become all things to all men”, in context, was about cultural sensitivity and not cultural relevance. In other words, Paul was careful to make sure that nothing in and of himself was offensive, so that he would not distract others from hearing the message of salvation. Simply put, in the words of Spurgeon: “The cross of Christ is in itself an offense to the world; let us take heed that we add no offense of our own.” Paul’s statement had nothing to do with making the message more “relevant.” The Gospel is, and always will be relevant on its own.
I’m well aware that what I’m saying isn’t popular, and a lot of today’s Christians say things like “you’re being too judgmental”, or “why be so negative?” My reply: just look around. Church membership is on the decline, the church is less influential now than ever, and today’s church is producing spiritually shallow, entertainment-obsessed Christians who are often unable to withstand the pressure, questions and temptations from the outside. According to a poll by the Barna Group concerning teens who attend church, one third said their biggest reason for attending church is spending time with friends. When asked, only 45% of church-going teens said that making a spiritual connection with God at church was very important to them. This is serious stuff.
Is there any hope for change? How can we turn this around? We can start by taking our focus off of “making the Gospel more relevant” for the depraved “seeker”, and placing it back on worshipping Him in Spirit and in truth. Then, we simply lift Jesus up and clearly present the Gospel to everyone we can.
I strongly agree with the prince of preachers, C.H. Spurgeon, when he says:
“Are you afraid that preaching the gospel will not win souls? After all, is it by might and power, and not by the Spirit of God? It is even so in the opinion of many. In this house we have proved successfully, these many years, this great truth, that the gospel plainly preached will gain an audience, convert sinners, and build up and sustain a church. We beseech the people of God to mark that there is no need to try doubtful expedients and questionable methods. God will save by the gospel still: only let it be the gospel in its purity. This grand old sword will cleave a man’s chine [i.e., spine], and split a rock in halves. There is no need to go down to Egypt for help. To invite the devil to help Christ is shameful. Please God, we shall see prosperity yet, when the church of God is resolved never to seek it except in God’s own way.”
(Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34)
Let the new reformation begin!