How would you feel if you voted, but your vote was never counted? What if you found out a large portion of votes weren’t counted because the counting system malfunctioned? How do you respond when the higher-ups refuse to hold another vote? What do you do when the “winner” of that invalid vote declares victory and gives an acceptance speech? Is it okay if the person you voted for “won?”
Rigged elections, voter suppression, illegitimate presidencies. Sounds like stuff straight out of recent Congressional hearings right? Nope, that happened in the church. The church claims to be different from “the world” but is it really?
I find it amusing when older people question why our generation is leaving the church. I understand their alarm. The average age of Adventist church members in North America is over 50. The average pastor in the NAD is also over 50. But, Adventists aren’t the only ones facing the trouble of an aging church. American Christianity is dying. Big churches, small churches, Catholic churches, Baptist churches — it doesn’t matter — they’re all struggling. I suppose one could argue that megachurches are doing well, but their weekly attendance numbers are starting to drop, too.
So, why are churches dying? Why are young people running from Christianity and organized religion? That’s a complicated question with multiple answers. I’ve noticed how many try to simplify the answer and attribute it to things like the separation of the wheat and tares, or my personal favorite, “the shaking.” I’ve heard yet others claim young people don’t want to sacrifice or live “Godly lives.” Technology and the desire to be entertained have also been blamed.
I think people want to accept those answers because they’re afraid to confront the truth. The truth would require them to change, and let’s face it, we’re terrified of change. We live in an already rapidly changing world, and many are fruitlessly grasping at the past, trying to find that one thing in life that won’t change so they can hold on to it. It’s as if these churches want to survive, but they’re doing exactly the opposite of what survival requires. Survival requires change. But for many Christians, church has become that one thing they cling to, and they’ve concluded it cannot or should not change. But now it’s hard to ignore the dwindling youth population, and everyone is wondering what happened.
I think it comes down to a few overarching problems. In my opinion, power struggles and politics are at the top of the list. I have seen people literally fight for power only to do nothing but sit in the pew and play politics once they have it. Additionally, many churches lack vision. We tend to ignore the future, focus on the here and now, and lull ourselves into a false sense se of security by saying, “Jesus is coming soon!” Since we don’t think about or plan for the future, we don’t adequately train or mentor future leaders. The power struggles and politics, lack of vision and mentorship explain why Sister Agnes has been the choir director for 50 years and why and the choir is still singing the same songs they sang in the 60s.
Then there are things like poor leadership, outdated religious dogma, lack of purpose, and equally lacking spiritual growth. How can we expect people to relate to Christianity when there’s no life application? Christianese and overused cliches won’t cut it anymore. I need to understand exactly what you are telling me and how it affects or applies to my life. Many older Christians struggle with this, and I think it’s because secretly, they don’t know how to apply their beliefs in their own lives, either. They oftentimes just say things that sound nice, but when you start poking at what they’re suggesting or start asking questions, they’ll either quote a text out of context to prove a point or provide an irrelevant Ellen White quote instead of engaging in meaningful conversation.
It’s no wonder our generation is leaving. We’ve been given a faith that can’t be questioned and doesn’t mature with us. That kind of faith won’t hold up in the real world where many of us are looking for a faith that does. Imagine fighting so hard to survive that you are actually hurting yourself in the process. That’s where American Christianity and perhaps the Adventist church has found itself. Fighting so hard to hold on to the past that we don’t even notice the empty pews. Maybe it’s time to lay some of the churches on life support to rest. Maybe then we’ll at least pay attention to the autopsy reports.