This article was originally published by The Mennonite

An aging church

“You’re aging.” Nobody likes to hear it, however, getting older is inevitable.

Unless you are grape juice being made into wine or a beef aged by the butcher, it is probably meant to be taken negatively.

When my aunt joyfully pointed out that she saw a grey hair on my head, I tried to take it positively—if I am aging then it means that I am not dead … yet.

But when you are a church there is no easy way to hear it.

Institutionally and personally we all hope to get older every day, but aging is a different story. After all an aging congregation, like an aging human being, can host a plethora of ailments that could be lethal if not diagnosed and treated.

And the truth is, according to the Hartford Seminary Institute for Religion Research, the Church in the United States is aging. An entire generation is disappearing from our pews.

That generation just so happens to be my generation. Gone.

And I find this painfully ironic, considering all of the time, energy and money that was poured into youth ministry for my generation, as well as for those who came before and after me.

Ten years ago when I became a youth pastor, all of the youth ministry information out there exclaimed an immediacy for reaching youth. The message was clear, “If they aren’t saved by the age of 18, they most likely will never be saved.”

The strategy for this urgent work? Structure a youth ministry that is fun, that youth will want to eagerly attend.

Design it around their preferences, their schedules, and their desires. Don’t inundate them with too much churchy stuff. (Try not to say or do anything that might scare them away). All we have to do is get them there and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

However, our good intentions created a theological monster and that monster has a name: “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”… the preferred god of our United States brand of Christianity.

A god of prosperity, happiness, and convenience? This god only speaks of Jesus Christ and his cross as a ticket to heaven, a “get out of jail free card” if you will. This god loves me and wants me to be happy and good. And the problem with this god is that it is not only catering to the preferential desires of youth, who would much rather sleep in then get to church Sunday morning, but this god has slowly begun to corrupt the rest of the church as well.

The strategy for the work of the church has been designed around our preferences, our schedules, and our desires—church has become all about us!

Fellowship, everybody loves fellowship (oh, and try not to say or do anything that might scare someone away). All we have to do is get them here and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Why are we surprised that church is less and less of a priority for our people? If God just calls us to be happy and good, then we don’t have to do it on Sunday morning within the context of community—we can do that anywhere!

What would happen if we really started proclaiming the gospel—I mean the kind of gospel that gave testimony/witness its original meaning (Hint: those terms are derived from the Greek word for martyr). What if church stopped being centered on our personal preferences and started being the place that preached the cross… not as a ticket to heaven, but as Christ’s call to selfless discipleship.

I believe the reason my generation and those before me and after me are leaving, is because the faith we have been equipped with gives no reason to need or want the church.

Faith/spirituality is a personal thing. It’s about me and the more the church bends over backwards to try to attract us back just confirms that.

Proclaim to us a faith worth dying for! Tell us a story a story of redemption! What does salvation look like before we die? Why do I need the church? Speak to my generation. Give us your testimony, not just what it was like to go to church when you were my age. Where has God been active in your life? Air your dirty laundry and how your faith in Christ cleaned it!

We don’t need a coffee shop and comfortable chairs—we need to hear The Story and why we should want to be a part of it!

Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg

Jessica is on the pastoral team at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio where she lives with her husband Shem and three children. Read More

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