I stumbled across a very interesting post talking about how social media facilitates social relationships and affiliations and how that affects church attendance. Many people wonder why the “millenials” no longer feel like the need the church. Much of the arguments center around ways the church isn’t relating to people, or is being offensive or hypocritical. The article mentions the book “UnChristian” by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (Baker Books). But the author comes from a different angle.
“Is the church of 2010 much different from the church of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s? I don’t think so. So, yes, the church is screwed up. Always has been. The church has been a depressing constant over the generations. So the change isn’t with the church. The change is with the Millennials. If so, in what way and how has this change related to the church?”
“So what happened? Why didn’t Gen X leave the church while the Millennials are leaving in droves?
The difference between Generations X and Y isn’t in their views of the church. It’s about those cellphones. It’s about relationships and connectivity. Most Gen X’ers didn’t have cell phones, text messaging or Facebook. These things were creeping in during their college years but the explosive onset of mobile devices and social computing had yet to truly take off.
So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans (“Let’s get together for dinner this week!”). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of “third places” in America.”
So, I’m still processing this. But let’s say this is all true, how does the church combat the attrition?
First, the Church isn’t supposed to just be about social relationships.
Not primarily. If that is/was what was driving the continued attendance of the congregation, there are some serious issues in the Church. There is a relational aspect to the Church, of course, but we don’t exist to provide friendships alone.
Second, one way to combat this is to stop trying to force the “Church” into the mold we have, and go out to the people.
Much of the traditions of the modern church are not proscribed in scripture. They just have come about over time. I’m not saying we must leave church history and tradition behind, but if some want to… and they have success reaching people, we should support them. Don’t want to do traditional Sunday School? OK. Don’t want worship the same way? Don’t need to own a building? As long as the practices don’t violate scripture, if it’s effective we should use the resources of the traditional church to support ministries and newer style churches that can reach generations we are missing.
Third, We should fix the public image problem the church has.
If books like “UnChristian” and others are right, and the Church has been sidetracked by issues that are not specific to it’s ministry we should fix that. the article’s author doesn’t say that’s not why people are leaving, his premise is that social media has removed the reason they might stay in spite of the issues.
Stop focusing on the things that are not central to the faith. I believe that politics matter and affect society, but the church should wake up to the fact that the only way to truly change a deeply held belief is to change a heart. We don’t have the power to change people’ hearts. Only God can do that. We should focus on making disciples. Helping people meet Jesus and then teaching them the Bible, which should translate to a biblical worldview, and spill over into their politics.
Abortions wouldn’t happen if everyone believed they were wrong. Sexual behavior wouldn’t be an issue if we all thought that the way the Bible tells us to live is the way we should live. Legal solutions for moral issues may help society keep from imploding, but coercion (like through legislation) doesn’t persuade people, it just makes us fall in line until the law changes. My son keeps his shirt tucked in at school; not because he wants to but because he is required to. It comes untucked as soon as he hits the car.
I can lament the loss of a “Christian” nation as much as I want, but no legal or legislative measures will restore that status. Only changed hearts will change the world. The Church should focus on that. We should focus on making disciples, on all the aspects of disciple making.