How The Next Gen Resembles The Last Gen And Breaking The Unchurched Pattern

One of the websites that I read frequently for information on church trends and people is The Barna Group. They conduct research on the intersection of faith and culture. I would say they’re on the cusp, providing good information for keeping abreast with a changing world.

Image by Cynthia Koch

Image by Cynthia Koch

I’ve read many times about younger people – how they’re different from previous generations. It reminds me of my generation and what the older folks thought then. Sort of the same thing. My thought process from there drifts into our communities and how we tend to continually focus on the next generation as the one we can help shape, with the thought this will change the world and break the pattern when we see difficulties and struggles in our world today. So I have been trying to come up with some ideas on how we could lead with the desired impact. Let me share with you an example of what I’m referring to, and how we may be more effective in leadership.

The twenty-something generation that we see today is the same age group that was identified a decade ago as the “unchurched.” The new data comes from The Barna Group. They either had a bad church experience, didn’t find church to be particularly relevant, or they thought church people were all just a bunch of judgmental hypocrites. Then what happened to the twenty-somethings? Let’s look at the 3 reasons listed above separately to see where they are now, and then we’ll visit breaking the pattern.

The bad church experience. This may be, at times, an excuse more than a sound reason for not wanting to join at the hip with a church. I’ve maintained for a very long time there aren’t any bad churches. However, there are differences between denominations and churches that we often only find out through experience. Not every church is for everybody, for sure. Finding one where we feel comfortable and that feels like family is important. Also, recognize that the church, just like the rest of the world, is full of sinners and the people in the church are growing in their faith. Always strive to be one of those people who is bringing people into the church, not one who is running them out of it.

The church today isn’t relevant to me. Let’s take a look at twenty-somethings of a decade ago again – this group we called the unchurched started families, matured a little, and all of a sudden the churches that were founded with the great gung-ho of “we’re going to change the world and bring in the unchurched” turned into their parent’s churches: They tuned out on their mission and folded inward. It got comfortable and at times clicky too.

Church people are a bunch of judgmental hypocrites. Well, I don’t like to be the one to bear the bad news to you but a recent survey by The Barna Group showed just that: Church people, particularly Christians, have a tendency to be more like the Pharisees than Jesus.The Pharisees were a self-righteous religious sect described in the New Testament. This really dives into the depth of our faith and where we, again, lose on bringing people into the church instead of driving them away. The revealed attitude, at times, seems to be: “I said the prayer, joined the club, and obey the rules; therefore, I’m good to go. You church newcomers, on the other hand, will need to pass the test before we’ll let you in.” Sad but true.

I think the twenty-something generation needs us.However, I don’t think the twenty-somethings need to change as much as we do in how we approach this life-cycle. I think every other generation needs us too. So I got to brainstorming about this and came up with a possible solution that centers around a change in how we do life. When we typically thing about congregating we usually tend toward affinity groups. This is natural because it’s comfortable; we tend to flock with people who are just like us. Same life stage, age, marital status, dress code, etc. Our churches often times resemble that to a large degree. Many churches define small groups that way too. But does that really resemble what Jesus taught us? Remember, His life intersected with every walk, not just those whom we would call insiders. It seems that when we segregate our congregations we end up with repetitive life-cycle that holds us back from achieving all that we can in every generation. Our churches grow and die out in this cycle, they’re not sustainable. They fold inward.

If we take the click out of a situation that tends toward isolate or detachment and make our interactions in churches and their groups resemble real-life situations we will have much greater success in achieving the diversity that Jesus showed us.

It seems, to me anyway, the place we lose the next generation has more to do with us than them. The next generation is saying the same thing that the last generation has for as long as I can remember, dating back to the time when I was a part of “the next generation.” That was long ago. I think we lose them when we fold inward. That seems to be the turning point to breaking the pattern.

Question: How do you feel we can reach out to the next generation more effectively? Do you see the pattern or cycle in your church or community? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

This is a guest post from Chris Vonada. Chris is an author and geologist, and also enjoys reading, running, anything outdoors, travel, family, friends, music and life! He writes about his passions at I’m Just Thinkin’. You can also follow him on Twitter.

I’m always looking for guest posters. If you would like to guest post, you can find the guidelines at An Invitation To Guest Post.

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