Hipster Churches & Indifferent Teens


Two good articles note how the attractional church model isn’t working anymore:

‘Forget the pizza parties,’ Teens tell churches :

“Sweet 16 is not a sweet spot for churches. It’s the age teens typically drop out,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, which found the turning point in a study of church dropouts. “A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza. They’re not even coming for the pizza anymore. They say, ‘We don’t see the church as relevant, as meeting our needs or where we need to be today.’ “

The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity:

In his book The Courage to Be Protestant, David Wells writes: “The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

“And the further irony,” he adds, “is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.

I’ll comment on the loss of teens in a future post.

What do you think?

13 thoughts on “Hipster Churches & Indifferent Teens

  1. Paul Walton

    Regrettably the attractional church’s mentality is that the gospel cannot stand on it’s merit alone. Like strong medicine it needs to be sweeten with sugar to make it easier to swallow.

  2. I’ve got teen grands and they agree – give them what’s real! If they WANT ‘entertainment’ they know where to get it and it’s probably even better quality. Give them what, rather WHO, they NEED – Jesus Christ!

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy

    As my old Dungeonmaster put it (D&D, not BDSM):
    “Nothing gets stale faster than over-Relevance.”

    (Ever seen footage of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In recently? All Cutting Edge, all Hyper-Relevant, all Way Cool — in the 1960s. But Laugh-In never claimed to be anything other than a wild & wolly topical comedy revue. Imagine if it claimed to contain something of Cosmic Significance — like the Words of Eternal Life.)

    Chesterton and Lewis said pretty much the same thing, that when you tie the Gospel to a method or event or culture — anything temporal — you tie it into Time, and that method/event/culture’s life cycle. And the Gospel you have turned into “Gospel And…” will age and die with the “And…”.

  4. Abandon Ship!

    The attrition rate for 16-year-old boys from Church is alarming. I’m not even sure it matters what type of church it is either. Indeed, 16 was the time that I myself began to disconnect from Church, as other apparently more interesting things came along. It took me 10 years to reconnect, or to put it plainly, to become a Christian. One of the things about 16 year olds in Church is that this is usually the time when things stop being laid on for them in Sunday meetings i.e. the entertainment ends and they have to start thinking about why they are at Church. Not so entertaining then is it? In other words they have to start considering their relationship with God (or absence of it) seriously. With peer pressure from non-Christian friends and aquaintances, the ability perhaps for the first time to convince parents that they really don’t want to go on a Sunday morning, plus the attractions of social networking and computer games, DVDs, girls, alcohol and maybe worse, it is little wonder that they drift away. Not easy to reverse either.

  5. Diane R

    There is way too much age segregtion in our churches and this is why young adult evangelicals are in trouble today. Why do we have to have separate services and groups? I’ve just begun to go to a new church that has small home groups. There ae two in my area. I was talking to the head of these groups and was telling her I wasn’t sure which group to try, but I was tending to one group. She said, and I’m not kidding, “Oh, those are younger people. You probably want to go to the other group.” So, I have to be in an age ghetto now? If I went to that group would I be ostracized? I think this has become a very serious problem in this country. Teens and young adults need more older input IMO. Third country Christians don’t do this and their churches are vibrant.

  6. Treating teens as young adults and making them part of the church body rather than a coddled and distrusted subset would help. The concept of teenager is a 20th-century construct; a 16 year old would be working and part of the adult community in the 1800s rather than looking at two more years of high school and four years of college to be a full adult in the intelligentsia.

    Barring some severe cultural shift, we can’t change the dynamic that makes kids physically mature at 14 and economically mature at 22 and creating a near-decade of cultural limbo, but we can treat teens as fellow adults and expect them to act that way… most of the time at least.

    • Jeremy

      I am not sure the example of the 1800’s is a good one given the fact that teens were expected to grow up earlier because they died earlier (life expectancy between 37-50 in a good decade), survival rate was slim, working conditions were horrible, most teens weren’t getting an education unless they came from money (so they might as well work), and the constant threat of invasion was everywhere (imperialism).

      I wonder if the recognition of their immaturity was progressive rather than digressive and treating them as fellow adults and expecting them to act like it may be slightly unwise.

  7. Jeremy

    I personally don’t know what to make of a lot of these youth studies. Being a teenager is usually about rebellion of some sort. Have you ever met a 16 year old that you haven’t struggled to convince them of the importance of serving God and loving His Word? Has there ever been a generation that hasn’t struggled with their teens? I really don’t think so, so I am not as alarmed as others. I am sure there are some teens that negate the stereotype but usually we all rebel at some point. For me rebellion was between 17 and 19. From there I returned more faithfully to the faith but then continued to search to find if what I had been taught about the Christian faith was kosher or not. I had to discover it for myself.

    On the flip side I agree with the thoughts of Jurgen Moltman in “The Crucified God” that there are two extremes the church can go in. First, we can become so irrelevant that no one listens to our message or secondly, we try to become so relevant that we no longer have a message. In other words, don’t water down the gospel so that it is comfortable instead of counter cultural.

    • I think that the bigger implication in the articles is that the teens leaving the church are destined to never return. Time will tell if that is truly the case, but the message in both articles is quite clear, teens and young adults are looking to embrace something that is real. The unadulterated Gospel and the mission of Christ should be counter-cultural enough for them to embrace.

  8. My daughter is 15 and will be baptised on Sunday. What she has loved about our church (I have been there nearly 3 years, she perhaps half of that time) is that it’s authentic. Also the teens are expected to serve, to contribute. Teens recognise hype and they recognise what’s real. Give them what’s real, expect much of them and you will get a better response.

  9. Kyle

    I think we’ve set low expectations for Teens. Yes, teens only “existed” in the early 1900’s. And with that has come a lot of low expectations. Expectations that we have put on them (i.e. their lazy, rebels, can’t do this, can’t do that). Expectations that they have put on themselves too. They have bought into the lie that they won’t add up to much until they are out of college. Lies!!!! Teens are doing things. Teens are making a huge difference in this world. Check out http://www.therebelution.com/blog/ you will see stories of teens changing the world, making a difference. I took 6 students (5 guys, and 1 girl) through the Do hard things book this summer. It was all volunteer to do. They all walked away changed, and challenged to make a difference.

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