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Gaines: Don’t lose the next generation

The church is losing the next generation.

Maybe you’ve noticed.

Look around your congregation this Sunday. Where are the all the kids, teens and young families?

Just this past Sunday, George Rogers Clark High School hosted their baccalaureate service (a Christian commissioning service for graduating seniors); 88 out of more than 400 graduates were in attendance.

Last year, 100 out of more than 400 were in attendance.

Eighteen years ago, when I graduated, more than 80 percent of graduates came to the service.

According to a recent Pew study, only 56 percent of millenials (people born 1981-1996) are professing Christians; that’s down from 75 percent of Gen X (people born 1965-1980).

These are alarming trends.

The church must act!

The next generation is and always has been so important to Jesus. See the account found in Mark 10:13-14: “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”

Many churches are unintentionally hindering the next generation from coming to Jesus.

Here are two of the ways:

— Valuing insiders more than outsiders.

Too often churches make ministry decisions based on business principles. I served in a church that hesitated to make programming changes that would attract the next generation because those changes would not be well received by the “big givers.”

I specifically recall a board member telling me, “We can’t upset the people paying the bills.”

This leadership mentality is not in step with the way of Jesus. Jesus was uncompromisingly evangelistic; He sacrificed everything to save lost souls.

A mark of spiritual maturity is the willingness to give of self for the benefit of others. When churches pander to their own people, they are creating a consumer culture, undermining The Mission (which is outsider-focused and self-sacrificing, see Matthew 28:19-20).

When churches value insider more than outsiders they are forsaking the call of Christ. These organizations are no longer churches; they have become country clubs.

Clubs don’t make Christ followers; they make consumers.

— Valuing religion over relationships.

Religion is anti-Jesus. Religious people hated Jesus. They killed him!

Jesus didn’t come to set up another legalistic religion. He came to establish a loving relationship.

Christians are not called to follow a list of rules. We are called to follow a person named Jesus.

Churches can be hard to love. Church people can be hard to love. Jesus is hard not to love.

Young people are drawn to the loving Jesus, who relentlessly pursued people on the fringe of society, who loved and accepted even the worst of sinners.

His love changed the world. He has called us to carry on that legacy of love.

Churches that value rule-following over people-loving lack the transformative power needed to affect change in the next generation.

Are these impediments present in your church?

Start a conversation with your church leaders about what changes need to be made in order to reach the next generation for Christ. The next generation, the future of our churches, the call of Christ on our lives is too important not to act.

Jeff Gaines (jeff@ccwky.org) is the preaching minister at Christ Church Winchester, where real people can find real hope in Jesus name.