A week ago, Relevant posted an interview with Kara Powell about her book, Sticky Faith, and the research that went into it. Having heard her talk about her book before, and having skimmed it myself, the problem and practical solutions they offer are spot on.
One of the biggest emphases in the book is strengthening the relational connection within a church between the young people and the adult community. Mentoring, cheerleading, and friending is what young people need from us oldies. The stronger the connections (as well as there being more connections) the more likely they will stick. I agree with this 100%, and our youth ministry is largely patterned around this idea.
But in the same way tying yourself to a pier doesn’t make you a tugboat, being highly connected to a church does not make you a follower of Christ. Let me share one of the scariest statements in the article:
Do you think there are any misunderstandings or misconceptions that contribute to young adults leaving the church?
The students involved in our research definitely tended to view the Gospel as a list of dos and do-nots, a list of behaviors. We asked our students when they were college juniors, “How would you define what it really means to be a Christian?” and one out of three—and these were all youth group students—didn’t mention Jesus Christ in their answer; they mentioned behaviors. So it seems like [young adults] have really picked up a behavioralist view of the Gospel. That’s problematic for a lot of reasons, but one of which is that when students fail to live up to those behaviors, then they end up running from God and the Church when they need both the most.
Unfortunately, this is not new information. Christian Smith found the same thing to be true in his research—and his book, Soul Searching, came out six years ago.
So we have bad theology, and that’s a bad thing. Our theology is more important than a vibrant community, sacrificial serving or dynamic devotion. A.W. Tozer thought so. He once wrote, “What we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
This is why I’ve been loving these two books: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, and Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright. Not only do their last names rhyme, but they are both tackling the issue of who Jesus is and what the gospel is from a historical/theological perspective. And both books are A-mazing. (I can’t believe I’ve mentioned five different books in this post. I’m such a nerd!)
In the midst of losing a generation of young people, we must make a concerted effort to prove we see them, we care about them, and we will walk with them. But we must also take a close look at our message.
This is why I think there’s no time like the present to take another look at what the gospel is. We might rediscover some things about our identity and calling along the way. And we might help save a generation.