Earlier this week I was at the mall. I hate going to the mall. I think I would rather have a limb amputated then go to the mall, especially during christmas time. But this post isn’t about me hating the mall, it’s about a brief interaction that I had while at the mall. The reason that I was at the mall was the Mac Store. I had to go to get something checked on my computer, ask a few questions and buy a few things. And while I was waiting at the Genius Bar (which for all you non-mac users, that’s what they call their in store help desk) I was reading David Kinnaman’s new book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith.
The guy who was helping me was named Nate. He was a twentysomething who had piercings in his ear the size of a quarter, tattoos all up his arm and a beard that went down to the middle of his chest and ended in three points. When he came out from the back with my computer, I closed my book and pushed it off to the side. We briefly talked about my computer, he gave me a few recommendations and suggestions and then I started to pack up. As I was packing up he asked me about the book I was reading? I could tell by the way that he was asking the question that something of the subtitle resonated with him.
Only seventy pages into the book myself, I gave Nate the best summary that I could. I told him it was the findings of a study done as to why twentysomethings (a demographic age group Kinnaman calls Mosaics, as compared to Busters – those in their 30’s and 40’s or Boomers – those in their 50’s and 60’s), who have grown up in the church and are now disconnecting or “dropping out,” as Kinnaman says, of the church even though some still claim to hold on to their faith. And with that brief explanation Nate slipped up his tattooed hand. He said, “Yup. That’s this guy.” He had other customers waiting on him, but quickly told me how he was raised in the church with a mom who was and still is a worship pastor. But there was something about the way that he said it that indicated it wasn’t a closed-door issue for him.
So again, as quickly as I could before the customers behind me could start a Genius Bar revolt, I told Nate a little about the journey I’ve been on the last few years. I told him how I have been reading, thinking and exploring what it means for the church to be more incarnational. What it could look like if the church were a place where people could experience true community. Wondering if there is a way for the church to become less produced and showy and more transparent and authentic. And as I was saying all of these things there was a slight smile that started to emerge on his face and a slow and steady affirmative head nod.
At that, I could tell my time was up. He was feeling the pressure of needing to tend to the people behind me and I had another appointment for which I was already late. But as I walked out of the store and through the consumer frenzy that is the mall, I had this little kairos moment. A moment where God broke into my life and said, “The reason the church still matters, and the reason why some of the current forms of church need to be re-imagined is for people like Nate.”
In Kinnaman’s book, in the first chapter he says, “The drop out problem is, at its core, a faith-development problem; to use religious language, it’s a disciple-making problem. The church is not adequately preparing the next generation to follow Christ in a rapidly changing culture.” And my brief conversation with Nate was evidence of that. For when I talked about the church being ‘less produced and showy,’ that’s where his expression was most responsive, as though to communicate that’s where the big disconnect was for him. It was more about impressing and attracting people more than it was about passing on a genuine faith that has substance and conviction.
So where does the future of the church lie if there is no movement toward something that helps adjust to the changing post-christian culture landscape in front of us? What sort of church will there be in another 50 years if more and more generations drop out? Are we as church leaders willing to do the hard work to re-think and re-imagine what God is calling us to be and do? Is there any sense of urgency and compassion for this generation, my generation, or do we think they are too far gone?
What are your thoughts?
Where have you seen similar stories play out?
How should the church seek to adjust in a new cultural landscape?