In recent years there has been a lot of talk about young adults leaving the church. A lot of experts have given a lot of reasons why.
The church is known more for what it’s against than what it’s for.
The word baptist is in the name.
The music is boring.
The preaching is long.
So, in response, many churches have tried to change. They’ve started to look more like coffee shops or Apple stores than traditional church buildings. They’ve changed their name from Shadybrook Memorial Baptist Fellowship to The Journey at Crosspointe. They made their music sound more like U2. And then Coldplay when U2 got played out. And then Celtic hymns from the 1500s. And now back to U2. Finally, some churches abandoned the sermon for more of a conversation about Jesus.
Whatever it takes to keep that ever-important demographic from leaving.
But in all of our soul-searching and self-relfecting, which is really important, we’ve forgotten something. Maybe young adults leaving the church has nothing to do with the Church.
I get it. There are plenty of bad churches out there. There are places where pastors and other leaders fight to establish their own kingdoms. There are places where engaging the community means leaving a gospel tract and a dollar tip at Luby’s after church on Sunday morning. There are places that are two or three points below a funeral home on the scale of life and vibrancy.
No one should be a part of a church like that. But does one bad church justify nuking the entire institution? Does it make sense to give up on the very body for whom Jesus died because of a few bad experiences?
If we are truly committed to Christ, the answer should be no.
So what if the Church as a whole isn’t really the problem? What if at least some of the problem is with the people who are leaving the church? When you approach a church setting looking for only what you can get out of it, you will do what any other consumer would do when you are disappointed with the product. Find a new one. Or just quit all together.
And in an effort to stop the bleeding, maybe some churches have lost something. Something important.
If your church looks like an Apple store and smells like a coffee shop, great. Church sizes, layouts and appearances don’t matter that much. But many churches have, in an effort to reach people, abandoned the very thing that they are supposed to be reaching them with. The gospel.
The gospel makes people uncomfortable.
The gospel sometimes turns people away.
The gospel is offensive.
Every committed church member I know has been, in some way, hurt by the church. I have counseled people who have been hurt in ways that I never before would have imagined. And while they didn’t hesitate to leave a particular church setting, they still didn’t give up on the Church. That’s because they knew that commitment to Christ doesn’t make much sense apart from commitment to the body that he leads and died for.
Sitting around in your living room and watching Joel Osteen isn’t the answer to your problem. Neither is convincing yourself that you can do plenty of good on your own without a church.
And because every church is filled with sinners, you’re going to need grace to persevere in your commitment.
We all need that grace.
But no matter how bad a church has let you down, don’t give up on the Church as a whole.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be hurt, even killed, by people who claimed to love him. But he still loves his Church. He still loves his people. He doesn’t give up on us.
And we would all do well to follow that example.
And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 (ESV)