Last night I took advantage of our church’s summer schedule by catching up on some magazine reading. I finished the recent edition of CT (Christianity Today) which features an article about how church culture has become like a giant youth group.
The article by Thomas E. Bergler is based upon his new book (aren’t all CT’s feature articles really just promotions for book releases?) and it did the job of making me think, even if I didn’t agree with all of Bergler’s conclusions. The really disappointing part were the three rebuttals. None of them seemed to capture my feeling on the issue as all three of them seemed to be more concerned with defending their own ministry rather than actually engaging the topic. Of course, I’m never guilty of hyper-defensiveness when my preconceived paradigms or threatened. Never. Okay, maybe sometimes. But not today anyway. Okay, not this afternoon at least.
The basic premise of the article is that since the 1930’s churches of all stripes and flavors have increasingly turned into giant youth groups. Some of the hypothesis is correct, but some of it is flawed. I thought I would share some Greenbean thoughts on it.
1. I think the author confuses popular culture with youth culture. He seems to mainly be pointing his finger at music and worship venues (bring the lights low, sing dance songs, have a narrative oriented sermon etc…) and he labels that youth group-ish. What I think he fails to realize is that the things he likely considers mature (chandeliers, hymns, Hegelian dialectic) are all throwbacks to popular culture of a by-gone day and do not necessarily reflect maturity. These forms reflect nostalgia, not maturity.
2. Churches and church culture is inherently immature. “O foolish Galatians who has bewitched you?” comes to mind as does the milk drinkers at Corinth and the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. Large groups of people unavoidably lean in the direction of the immature because the mature recognize the concessions they must make in order to facilitate the weaker brothers and sisters. For example, when I watched children’s programs with my daughters when they were younger, it wasn’t because I enjoyed it; it was because I loved her and wanted to talk to her about what she watched. It might, conversely, be a great sign of maturity among the leadership of modern churches that they are willing to create atmospheres which are inviting and helpful to the immature.
3. One final thought–they skipped us again! We Gen’xers are the most overlooked demographic in the world. I bet Welsh lesbian Mormons get more attention than we do. The article skipped the 80’s and 90’s in its rush to pit Babyboomers against Millennials. Hello! The people who are running most of the churches today are Gen’xers in case you didn’t notice. I know that Millennials get more hipster cred and Babyboomers are so numerous that they are hard to ignore, but we really would like to be included in the conversation. As an aside, I found the 1950’s nostalgia artwork particularly heartening, but when I think youth group I don’t think car hop. Maybe that is part of our problem.
Okay, I feel better. Now back to work because someone has got to stop the navel gazing and get something done.