As I get around the country there is one question I hear from pastors more than any other: How do we reach young people? They don't need research from Barna, Lifeway, Pew, and Gallup to tell them young people are leaving the church. They see it every Sunday as the congregation gets a little more gray.
But the evidence is mounting that reaching or retaining the young is going to take a lot more than new music styles or even a systematic rethinking of church leadership and organizational structures. There is the larger cultural matter of politics.
An eye-opening article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam titled "God and Caesar in America: Why Mixing Religion and Politics is Bad for Both," is a must read for pastors. Using research among young adults, Putnam and Campbell ask why the next generation is increasingly identifying their religious affiliation as "none." They conclude that politics is a significant reason. They write:
"The best evidence indicates that this dramatic generational shift is primarily in reaction to the religious right. And Millennials are even more sensitive to it, partly because many of them are liberal (especially on the touchstone issue of gay rights) and partly because they have only known a world in which religion and the right are intertwined."
Their last point is an important one. Those raised in the evangelical tradition under the age of 30 have no experience of Christianity separated from conservative politics–what some are now calling "Christianism." And the most visible Christian leaders in the media for the last three decades have been political activists fighting for conservative cultural causes. A 50- or 60-year-old pastor may have fond memories ...