Many would argue that the world has changed more in the last one hundred years than any other century. The Industrial Revolution has led to a change in work habits, technology, luxuries, music, etc. The rate of change is so quick that we now widely know and understand the “generational gap” as a thing. Children in the west no longer spend most of their time with their parents learning life skills, but amongst their peers in school and age-segregated sports. Parents are not cool, they “just don’t get it”, and this is an acceptable mindset. Adolescence is degrading our maturation process. And we have bought into the lie within our churches.
The churches I have attended throughout my life have been large enough that Sunday School was segregated by school grade level and gender. The same ten girls and I were in Sunday School together for all four years of High School. Girls a grade level ahead were so old, and girls a grade level behind were so young. We had junior church for elementary aged kids, a middle school youth group and a high school youth group. And for kids growing up, do you know where it climaxed? That’s right, high school youth group. They had the flashy lights, the funky stage, the fog machine, and the Juniors and Seniors played the newest Christian praise music in the band. SO cool.
Then we went off to college and found campus ministries that offered the same thing. The lights must be turned down to worship, the band has to play the songs we have come to know and love, the crowd must be full of our peers, and the message must be about dating, getting through school, or any other teenage/young adult need.
Then these kids grow up. They look for a church that looks like what they have known, and it does not exist. So they go out and gather up their friends and start a new church that looks like that. This is no surprise, folks, it is what we have groomed our youngesters to want and expect from the day they graduated the nursery.
Consider the other side for a moment. The baby-boomer generation widely grew up in the Church. In the 50’s and 60’s, it was still the American culture that everyone went to Church. It was the focal point of the community, and even if people did not have a relationship with Jesus, they went to church because “that’s just what you do”. They had a piano and usually an organ, they sang out of a hymnal, and there was preaching. Smaller congregations would have prayer requests and people went to church three times a week.
This baby boomer went off to college, was part of the love revolution, listened to hippy music, left the Church, but now is older and has started reading his Bible and wants to return to church. So he shows up at First Baptist [your town] and the whole thing is a production for our entertainment. He will not recognize the church. And chances are high that he will not stay.
So what is the answer?
This is a problem that has taken years to nurture, and is a problem that will take years to fix. The answer is the heart of the church-goer. We must learn and teach the foundational reality that church is not about us. Yes, it is a wonderful benefit that Church will meet our needs – Spiritual, physical, emotional – but the primary function of the Church, the primary purpose of the Sunday morning service, is to worship God. The Bible does not give us an outline for what we should do in our worship service, other than exhortations like this:
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
– Col 3.16
And the beautiful preamble to this verse is:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
– Col 3.12-14
When we gather as a body, we should sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs: Scripture, old songs of the faith and new songs of the faith. We should sing with hearts of thankfulness to God. We should spend in the word, teaching and admonishing one another (this is usually done in the preaching section). And we are commanded to do this all with a heart of love, which is the perfect bond of unity. What does that mean? Young person, you should set your needs and dispositions aside and seek to make sure that the older generation is ministered to and meets with the Lord. Older person, you should set your needs and dispositions aside and make sure that the younger generation encounters the Lord. Everyone: go into Sunday worship ready to learn, worship, praise God and serve one another.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
– Phil 2.3-4
Everything must be tested against Scripture. Does the music, does the teaching, does the prayer glorify and honor God? If so, then consider the passions and desires of your neighbor as more important than your own. And help the visitor and young believer to develop a sacrificial and giving heart as well. Because we must not cater to one demographic or nonbelievers and thus develop in them expectations. That is what got us in this mess in the first place. But let us push one another on to love and good deeds:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
– Heb 10.23-25
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13.35
The church may not be recognizable to people as they walk through the doors. The pews might be replaced by chairs. The organ might have been traded in for a band, or the band might be traded in for a solitary piano! The fog machines and mood lighting may not exist. But those things are not how we are supposed to be recognized. Let’s welcome the young person, the baby boomer, the unchurched and the traditionalist by our love and be recognized by our love.