Friday, June 15, 2007

Where Are the Young Folks?

Last Saturday night I did something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I visited one of the ten fastest growing churches in America. It is not a Baptist church, and it is located in my area. In about 20 years of existence, it has grown from zero to about 7,000 members. (Prospective members must go through a six-week series of classes before they are official members.) Fortunately, the church has a Saturday night service which is exactly like its Sunday morning services, so I was able to get a good taste of its worship essence. I went with my wife, my two sons, a seminary student that I mentor each week, and his wife.

I enjoyed the experience. The worship building arrangement was unique. The podium was between the gymnasium and sanctuary, where I suppose a wall used to be in place. I assume that neither the gym nor the sanctuary would accommodate the crowds, so the decision was apparently made to utilize both. When I walked into the sanctuary, I thought at first that I was looking at a mirror when I saw people sitting on the other side of the podium in the gym. A couple of praise team members faced one side, and a couple of them faced the other side. The pastor switched sides at regular intervals during his sermons, but his face was always projected on the screens on both sides. The music was contemporary in style. The pastor utilized some movie clips to make his points during the sermon. The whole thing lasted exactly one hour. The church is presently building a new worship center.

What surprised me was the average age of the people gathered to worship. I looked around the room, and I noticed that most of the people were baby boomers like me. Everyone dressed very casually, and some guys my age wore shorts, etc. I had expected to see a lot of teenagers and younger adults in that type of atmosphere, but they just were not there. I was shocked. The experience confirmed what I have been hearing about young folks in America—they have left the churches. We went out to a restaurant for supper after we left the church, and we discussed the experience during the meal. I remarked that I had recently heard that seven or eight out of every ten students who grow up in American churches leave them within two years after graduation from high school. My seminary student friend, who is a youth minister, told me that 88% of our church kids leave church soon after high school graduation. I responded by noting the stats that each generation has a smaller percentage of Christians. The WWII generation has the highest percentage of Christians, and then the percentage lessens with each succeeding generation starting with the baby boomers. When one takes into consideration that most people become Christians when they are young, the stats are sobering, indeed. In most of the SBC churches that I have seen recently, there is a lot of silver hair but not much else. I fear for the future of our denomination and our country.