This past Sunday I preached on the state of the church-at-large. Here’s a part of what we talked about.
The state of our church at large is declining. Not just in numbers and percentages but also in perceptions and attitudes, specifically when we look at the younger generations. Pew Research, which does a lot of church surveys and statistics, shows us that the amount of people calling themselves Christians is declining at a rapid rate.
- 85% of those who were born in the Silent generation (that’s those who would be 70 years old and above today) classify themselves as Christians.
- 78% of the Baby Boomers (those who are 50-70) classify themselves as Christians
- 70% of the Generation X (those who are 35 to 50 year old) classify themselves as Christians,
- 56% of the Millennials (those who are 20 to 35 years old) classify themselves as Christians.
- In about 35-50 years, it went from 85% to 56%. We cannot let this continue to happen!
Millennials should be a priority not simply because they are the next generation or the now generation, but because this generation is trying to learn faithfulness in a rapidly changing post-Christian culture. I’m in this camp and let me tell you it is hard to navigate this world that is constantly changing. There’s pressure and stress that we have that the older generations didn’t face. There’s new temptations that have arisen that our generation has to deal with. Millennials need the help of faithful believers from older generations if they are to make sense of it all and move meaningfully forward in their life and faith.
More must be done to reach this generation. When we did a demographic study a few years ago we noticed of course that there are a lot of retired people that live in and around this community. But the interesting thing that really stood out to me in that report is the only age group that was going to see a significant increase in population trend were the 30 to 34 year-old’s. More and more younger families, more and more millennials are moving to our city and commuting into the larger areas for their work. We have wanted to position ourselves to be a church that the young families would be excited about not only coming to, but also inviting their friends to. Those who are 20 to 35 today are a huge mission field for us at the church and so if it seems like we may be going out of our way at this church to reach that specific age group, there’s a reason for it: they are the most “lost.” If we focus more on websites, app, going mobile, etc. than we do on printing bulletins the reason is not because we don’t value our older members who are more print-driven, it’s because we only have limited hours in this world and as a staff and we want to do everything we can to reach a generation that doesn’t know Jesus near as much as they ought to and they are much more driven to go to website and use smart phones than to reading newspapers and buying magazines. And if you are older, if you are not a Millennial and you’ve been coming to theCross, you know there’s ample ways for you to get plugged in, you know that we absolutely love you, and you also know there’s no way we can reach the younger generation without you. We need you to be a part of the answer!
We have to do things differently if we are going to be a church in 2016. The things that worked in 1960, 1980, and even in the 2000’s won’t work today. The Gospel never changes, but the way in which the church brings that message can and should change. Change is almost always very hard. It’s hardly ever easy. I get that. But we signed on to do a church a little over 4 years ago saying we will do whatever it takes to reach the lost, and if that means that my needs or our needs go by the wayside for the needs of someone who might come to know Christ, then I will sacrifice my wants and needs in order for my lost brother and sister to be found and to be saved by Christ, period! If it means that we will get more people to come to know Jesus Christ, I’ll do just about anything I have to do with the exception of sinning, and even then, I might even think about it, as long as it’s a little sin and not a big sin!
One of the people that I look to in the Bible for guidance when it comes to doing whatever it takes is the Apostle Paul. I love how he puts it when he is instructing the Corinthian church in chapter 9, starting in verse 19:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.
He says Jesus has freed me. I don’t belong to anyone, but even though that’s the case, in my freedom, I lower myself to make myself a servant to all. And he does that for this one specific goal: that he might win as many as possible for the Lord. Paul knew what it meant to give everything for this one goal. And then he goes on to give specifics here:
20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
Paul was relevant, he was modern, he was smart. But most importantly, he was caring and friendly. He knew what it was going to take to reach a broad audience, and that sometimes, of course, without compromising his faith, he knew that he would have to be different in some situations than others. And he wasn’t afraid to walk into many different situations and speak up about who Jesus was so that he might save some. Do we have that same attitude today?
23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I love that Paul was always kingdom-focused. Everything he did in this world, he did it with intentionality and because he believed in heavenly rewards. We get so focused in this world on today and about how to maximize our life here that we lose sight of the fact that we are only here for a fraction of time before we spend our eternity with Christ. One of the major dangers that has happened that has not set the Millennial and the Gen X’ers up well is this focus on work and materialism, money and possessions that has crept into the Baby Boomer mentality. What’s amazing is statistics tells us that:
- The Baby Boomer generation controls 70% of our country’s disposable income.
- Boomers and Seniors have a net worth that is 3x the amount of younger generations.
- Every year, the 55-64 year old category outspends the average consumer in nearly every category.
- 80% of all travel is spent by Baby Boomers.
- Boomer account for 55% of consumer packaged goods sales
But the statistic that blows me away is Boomers outspend younger adults online 2:1 on a per capita basis. It’s amazing all I seem to hear about is how Baby Boomers don’t have enough money for retirement but it certainly isn’t effecting the way they are spending money.
I feel like the Millennial generation gets a bad rap for where we are today but we need to look at why is that? We hear from older generations:
- This country used to be a Christian country.
- There’s no morals anymore.
- All they care about is themselves.
Let me ask you, where did we learn that from?
Might it be that because the Baby Boomer generation specifically, and some of you are saying, Zach, you better move on, listen, I’m not highlighting any individual person in here, but rather trying to look at a 30,000 foot view and ask the big questions that we need to ask…but might it be that because the Boomers tried to marry God with money, I just wonder, if that’s one of the main reasons why the church and why Christianity is declining.
If your kids and grandkids aren’t going to church, where do you think your kids and your grandkids learned that from? Oh, but 78% of our generation is Christian. We went to church. Ya, for an hour in a week, and then the other 167 hours it was about building your massive kingdom and your kids got to see you much more excited about extra square footage in your house than a new worship song at church. They got to see you more excited about getting a new flat-screen TV than about serving in the community. Rather than blaming someone else perhaps we need to look at ourselves. And I’m not putting it all on you. Millennials have their issues and just because someone else went down a wrong path doesn’t give us an excuse to do it to. But your witness matters, especially if you have children. Your children watch you. That’s why if you get divorced and have kids, they are now at least 40% more likely to get divorced than if you hadn’t got divorced. And check this out if your parents marry someone else after divorcing, your children are 91% more likely to get divorced. That’s why it such a big deal! It’s not just you. You are affecting the generations behind you. And here’s what I’m asking quite frankly and bluntly, if you helped make the mess of the church, will you help clean it up? We need you.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I love the intensity at which Paul writes. I love that he mentions a race and he mentions running in it. Maybe I love it because I’m competitive. Paul mentions I’ll become whoever I need to be and I’ll run like I’m trying to win a race to help introduce somebody to Jesus. In other words, I’ll do whatever it takes. That’s the mentality that the church-at-large and our church needs to have to move forward.
You do whatever you have to do to reach the lost. For Jesus, that meant giving his own life and rising from the dead. Almost all of the time that I’ve ever reached someone for Jesus it involves sacrifice on my part, and some compromise at times, but it’s hard. Don’t expect to reach new people for Jesus by just maintaining the status quo and by everything being really easy. Expect to give of yourself a lot. But rejoice when that person finds Jesus for that’s what this life is all about! And that’s why we exist!