This Generation is Leaving the Church

In the 80s, hair was bigger, pants were louder, and portable technology was obnoxiously enormous. Growing up, my dad wanted to capture every moment of our childhood, so he invested in a video camera about the size of a fridge. He’d strap it to his shoulder and carry it around like a news broadcaster-- it might as well have been permanently fixed to his shoulder. Now, as a melodramatic kid, it seemed like my dad had become masterfully skilled at ruining the most climactic moments of my childhood. He torturously asked us to pause right before tearing open gifts on Christmas morning or at the entrance of Disney World in order to film. We knew the drill, smile dishonestly as you held a half-opened present in your hand for what felt like an eternity as dad peppered you with questions like a private detective about what you thought the gift might be. We became exceptionally gifted at smiling for photos even when we didn’t feel like smiling. We all do this. We could be feeling absolutely miserable pre-photo yet, if there is even a half-chance this photo may find it’s way on Facebook, we can make even the most miserable of moments look spectacular with just a few facial maneuvers. Why is this significant? Well, it shows how easy it for us to fake it. We can manipulate our faces to express something we don’t equally mean in our hearts.  The more we do it, the more we become good at it. Recognizing this dishonesty in mankind, the prophet Joel tells the the people of Israel to  “rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13 NIV).  In Jewish culture, one would tear their clothes as a way of expressing a kind of worshipful anguish. However, the people of Israel began to use this expression deceitfully, parading themselves in godly demonstration on the outside with unrendered hearts on the inside. God momentarily pulls back the curtain of their inauthentic hearts. I believe God isn’t the only one who sees behind the curtain. Our children are getting a front row seat to mom and dad, an unrealized peek behind the curtain of our lives. Faster than we recognize, children begin to quickly weed out what isn’t authentic...they can discern what is real from what is just a part of the show.

How do we know this to be true? Pew Research recently published an overwhelming amount of data that revealed the extent of a disheartening existent truth: millennials are leaving the Church. According to Pew Research, “85% of the silent generation (born 1928-1945) call themselves Christians, while just 56% of today's younger millennials (born 1990-1996) do the same, even though the vast majority (about 8 in 10) were raised in religious households.  With each successive generation in America we see with it fewer Christians.”  Additionally, Barna research shows that “nearly 59% of young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life.” Why did so many millennials feel that they no longer needed the Church? Article after article, uses similar language that implies the same conclusion... “Christianity just isn’t authentic.” With Generation Z (roughly 2000s-now) likely to follow, how do we begin to shift this trend? I believe the fiercest of uprisings begins in the home, on the battlefront of authenticity.

As a youth pastor, I wake up most mornings and go to sleep most nights thinking about students and the world in which they live.  Currently, the culture in which they live considers “fakeness” a mortal sin. In my experience, students watch me closely and are quick to spot what isn’t authentic. A shred of dishonesty can ruin months of discipleship.

What can we do, given that we are living under a microscope? The simple answer: zoom in and let them see the mess. If your child already has a front row seat to mom and dad, hand them a self-led, all-access, behind the scenes pass. When you hide it, they see fake, but when you show it, they see grace at work. Admit when you’re wrong. Let them see you wrestle with tough subjects. Finally, pray fervently: “God do in my heart, what I do with my hands. May one never become detached from the other.” Author and Pastor, John Maxwell, says it this way; “You can teach people what you know, but you can only reproduce who you are.”

Steffen was born and raised in the Sunshine State. He studied at Trinity International University and has been working with students for over 5 years.  Steffen loves watching grace capture students! He is married to his lovely bride Celeste and they are both currently living on Capitol Hill.