The Real Reason Why Young People Are Leaving the Church


A few weeks back, I touched on the issue of the increasing loss of people under 30 years of age in our churches (“The Church’s Lost Tribe“). The post was less about my thoughts and more about reader explanations for why this well-documented loss is occurring.

I’ll offer my thoughts today, but first, one more commentator.

Skye Jethani, one of the ascending names in post-Evangelicalism, attempts to pin the reason on the Internet’s favorite whipping boy: right-wing politics. Or more specifically, the Religious Right / Moral Majority interpretation of right-wing politics. For more, read his “Christianism Leads to Atheism” post.

Jethani cites an article “God and Caesar in America: Why Mixing Religion and Politics is Bad for Both” and attempts to data mine it. But like a bad doctor who automatically equates all headaches with brain tumors, Jethani assigns blame to the symptom rather than to the underlying disease.

In Jethani’s post, he states young people today are more politically liberal than older people. But if recent figures in the GOP primary are an indication, this is more a media sacred cow than reality. The most conservative candidate running is Ron Paul, and the hidden story is that Paul is crushing all the other GOP hopefuls in the 18-30 age demographic, winning (at last count) that group in every state that has held a primary. (If the 18-30 demographic, which has never been consistently enthusiastic about primaries, actually got to the polls in higher numbers, this might be a different race.) Even more compelling is that Paul is drawing young people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and are disillusioned with that president’s broken promises.

What young people find compelling in Ron Paul is he’s not ringmastering a dog and pony show. There are no smoke and mirrors. With Paul, they see a man who is not a political reptile but an authentic conservative from before the neo-cons grabbed control. They see a man with a real plan and genuine vision to fix problems and not just talk, talk, talk. To young people, authenticity matters more than just about any other trait. As they see it, Ron Paul lives what he believes, and what he believes rings true to them.

Can you see where this is going?

Oddly, the title of Jethani’s piece is more accurate than what follows in his post. Christianism does lead to atheism because Christianism (which is to Christianity as truthiness is to truth) isn’t genuine Christianity. It’s a twisted clone, inauthentic to the core.

It’s not that young people don’t like the politics of churches today. What they can’t stand is the dog and pony show that our churches have become. Dog and pony showWhat throws Jethani and others is that Christian political maneuvering is nothing more than a natural outgrowth of churches gone bad. It rushes into the vacuum left behind when genuine Christianity is gutted. The political mess and the culture wars are symptoms, but they are not the root of the disease.

Young people aren’t stupid. They can read the Book of Acts too. And the Church they find there is radically unlike the American Church of 2012.

If you want to blame a demographic for stupidity, look at the 35-65 group. We’re the ones that created these bogus churches that are all fluff and no substance. We’re the ones who are not feeding the poor, not evangelizing the world, not living in community, not building up each other’s gifts, not looking out for the needy in our own ranks, and generally disregarding every characteristic of the Church in Acts that made it vital, living, and desperately necessary to the lives of those early disciples. Young people today are not interested in boarding a train that has derailed. That many of us with some “maturity” are is a sign of our own ignorance.

Here’s the kicker: More and more of us who have been Christians for decades are fed up with pointless churches. We’re sick of the show too. With so many churches not living up to the standard we read in Acts, my peers and I will be the next group to go missing.

Christian commentators are wringing their hands over young people who when asked what their religion is say “none.” Honestly, I say good for those young people. Because the last thing the Church needs is more religion. What we need is Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and for the Church to stop with the sideshows and to start looking less like a carnival and more like the authentic faith it was almost 2,000 years ago.

If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the 18-30 year olds say, “What took you so long?”

Book Review: Jesus Manifesto


“We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll)”
—Wayne Raney

I don’t normally review books here at Cerulean Sanctum, but when offered the opportunity by Thomas Nelson to read an advance copy of Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, two of the most prominent critics of traditional American Churchianity, I couldn’t pass.

What drew me more than anything to this book, which released June 1, is summed up in the quote that leads off this post. Sweet and Viola mirror Raney’s song title in their insistence that the Church in America has descended into spiritual noise, much to the detriment of our grasp of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Manifesto by Sweet and ViolaWe seem to be about everything BUT Jesus. We act as if we barely know Him at all; if we did, everything about the Church would be different. Sweet and Viola diagnose this disaease as Jesus Deficit Disorder. Jesus Manifesto attempts to rectify that disorder.

Sweet’s and Viola’s manifesto starts with a purge. The authors go right to the heart of the matter of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by calling us to re-examine what is meant by Acts 2:42’s mention of “the apostles’ doctrine,” noting all the debris that modern churches tend to teach has nothing to do with that doctrine, which is Christ Himself. We get sidetracked into eschatology, how to live by faith, spiritual warfare, evangelism, holiness, Bible memorization, and on and on. That list of diversions features a large number of sacred cows the authors eventually gore and then ask readers to purge. No Christian is left unchallenged.

The authors write that the ineffective Church is the one that focuses on things rather than the person of Jesus. Instead, the occupation of each Christian must always be Christ and Him alone. Getting a revelation of Jesus and seeing that revelation take root and grow in our lives is all that matters. Anything of value in the Church begins in the Alpha and ends in the Omega. The authors quote Watchman Nee  (in one of the many sidebars filled with wisdom from Christians throughout the ages):

“The characteristic of Christianity lies in the fact that its source, depth, and riches are involved with knowledge of God’s Son. It matters not how much we know of methods or doctrines or power. What really matters is the knowledge of the Son of God.”

Much of the Jesus Manifesto centers on the Book of Colossians. Sweet and Viola mine an excellent Christology from the book, not only elevating Christ to the position He deserves, but also noting how Christ’s elevation is our own by virtue of us being in Christ and Him being in us. The contemporary Church’s failure to tell Christians who they are in Christ has done massive harm, and it’s a blessing to read works by modern authors that address this lack.

Indeed, Sweet and Viola have given us in Jesus Manifesto a timely book filled with spiritual food a starving American Church needs to digest. If you have read Cerulean Sanctum for any length of time, you know my concern that we have lost our connection to the Head and have forgotten who we are and what we are to be about. Jesus Manifesto hits most of those points.

But the book is not without flaws, despite the fact that it focuses intently on our flawless Lord. As much as I found the book compelling in spots, it lacks the cohesiveness and majesty found in a similar book, A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. Tozer’s book, which examines the character of God, is always riveting and powerful. Sweet’s and Viola’s book, in contrast, soars but equally drifts. One paragraph may be life-changing, while the next adds nothing—or worse, diminishes the profundity of the preceding words.

The book struggles with flow, too. This may be due to attempting to cram the ideas of two fascinating thinkers into a sub-200-page book on the Lord of the Universe. While the authors have much to say, their framing methods for doing so lack a coherent base. Jesus Manifesto reads as if it were written by a committee.

Together, these issues render Jesus Manifesto a huge paradox: a book that is too short and yet too long, profound yet prone to reader skimming, exciting and yet dull. In short, it needed an attentive editor to manage and direct these two intriguing authors.

I would encourage others to read Jesus Manifesto, for it contains a valuable reminder of the real point of the Christian faith we believe and practice. Too much “rock ‘n’ roll” exists in the American Church. Less of that and more of Jesus Himself is most definitely the cure for what ails us.