I am troubled by hearing reports that many traditional Protestant Churches are declining in membership nation wide. This includes our United Methodist Church (nation wide) though not necessarily in the south east United States. I understand that a high percentage of our young seminar graduates are leaving the traditional denominations. I do not have benefit of official statistics. Maybe I’m wrong?
However, if the trends in church commitments are not positive, what are we doing wrong? Is it because many young adults dislike our music or ritual or creeds? Is it the way our ministers present their messages? Since I am an elderly, senior, traditional Methodist, I like most of how our churches operate. I like traditional hymns like – Amazing Grace and the Ole Rugged Cross. I’ll admit that some sermons put me to sleep but not all of them.
In recent years a number of changes have occurred in my church. We have a very successful contemporary service that is well attended. We recently sponsored a “Big Band Dance” in the fellowship hall on Friday night that attracted a large crowd. Ten years ago such an event would have been unheard of in our church. We now have a very dynamic choir and a full size orchestra that are marvelous! Some things are changing for the good at least at our church.
My middle aged daughter and her husband recently invited my wife and me to attend a Mega Church in Buckhead in North Atlanta. We traveled up escalators in a multi-story, modern office building into a giant auditorium that seats 3000 people. We understand this church has three services every Sunday and they are all full. By the time the service began, the place was packed with young adults probably twenty five to forty five years old. A multi-instrument band played upbeat music from an enormous stage surrounded by three hugh video screens. People were dressed causally, carrying books, Bibles, coffee or bottled water. It felt weird to us ole folks. The speaker – who actually looked alive- appeared as a hologram image on the stage. We were in the balcony but could hear well and see everything up close and were amazed how real the speaker seemed.
Having some knowledge of the churches background, we came expecting a rigorous sermon with “fire and damnation”. This did not occur. The video minister spoke in normal tones, cracked jokes and generally caused his audience to relax. His message was upbeat, positive but direct. He spoke about the importance of regular Bible reading. He seemed very capable of selling his message to the congregation. While we were not particularly impressed with the loud, repetitive phrased music, in all fairness the whole service was a good experience.
We are not ready to transfer our membership but one has to ask the question – what’s wrong with the churches in these young peoples neighborhoods? Why does my daughter and her friends travel ten miles or more to Buckhead and pass two dozen traditional churches on the way?
Because of this unusual church experience, I have begun to ask questions of younger adults. Here are some of their responses:
- We feel like this church is more in tune with our needs.
- Traditional church services are generally stodgy and boring.
- There’s no excitement demonstrated by most traditional church services.
- We can go to church dressed causal and relax. Most traditional churches are too formal.
- We like the new upbeat music. Old hymns are not for us.
- The speakers seem to connect with us in the manner of his/her presentations.
- We are not particularly in favor of standard creeds – they don’t seem to relate to us.
Well, this is my report. I’m not suggesting that these young people are all correct in their feelings or preferences. This is what I have learned. My first thoughts were – Praise the Lord, they are going to some Christian service rather than walking their dog or playing golf. Can we learn from these new findings? Additionally, I wonder if these Mega churches are providing the kinds of support our traditional churches are providing? I wonder if these churches are sponsoring and financially supporting missions as we do? I wonder if these young people are meeting in small groups, like our traditional Sunday School Classes, and studying and discussing the Bible? I wonder if these modern, young people get involved in personal Christian service or are they just spectators who wish to be fed and entertained?
When most of us ole folks are gone to the heavenly Father, will our traditional churches survive? I’m less sure than I was ten years ago.
Oh Lord God – please show us the way, Amen.