Scum of the Church: How the drive for “excellence” is driving young adults from the church

Recently, Brian McLaren challenged us to ask new questions about the absence of young adults in most churches. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, continues the topic by discussing the divergent values he has encountered between older and younger generations of Christians.

You may recall Sares told the story last year of the poet who dropped the f-bomb during their Christmas Eve service - with his permission. That triggered one of the most vigorous conversations Out of Ur has ever hosted. While likely less controversial, I trust Sares will challenge your thinking once again.

Every generation is quick to point out the hypocrisy of the one that preceded it. The generation born just after WWII began rejecting the values of their parents during the '60s. Now it's their kids' turn.

Today's young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life. Boomers proclaimed in the 1980s that image is everything, and their churches have reflected that cultural trend. The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).

As a result, according to Dieter Zander, the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn't fit in.

Reece and Keith were twenty-one and still idealistic enough to think that church should be a place that accepts people just the way they are. But that idealism was challenged when the last church they attended asked them to "Please remove your lip rings and nose rings, and cover up your tattoos so you are not a distraction to the other worshippers." Thankfully Reese and Keith's commitment to Christ outweighed the misguided reverence of their older siblings in the Lord. They were able to find another place they could worship, learn, give, encourage, and be held accountable.

But what about the rest? What about the ones who never recover from the stares, whispers, or misapplied Bible verses that condemn the way so many young adults dress and live? What about the ones who never see Christianity as relevant past grade school? What about the thousands of young adults who have never stepped foot into a church, and judge Christianity solely by what they see in the movies, on television, or in other media? How do we welcome them back into our churches?

August 21, 2006

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments


August 30, 2006  8:22am

I don't know what the answer is, but I feel that our world is in trouble because we as Christians have not followed the teaching of the Bible. We do not stand up for moral values, we do not stand up for God and His "Word", we live as the wolrd lives. The Lord says we are to be in the world but not of the world. Even our churches reflect the world; inside and out. I don't think we should allow the world to infiltrate our churches but I believe we need to meet the youth where they are at and make learning and loving the Lord our God a beautiful and wonderful part of their lives. I believe that if we go back to the basics of preaching and teaching from the Bible without sugar coating it and our youth see us trying to live a Christian life and then let God do the rest. Our youth and young adults don't like hypocrisy, not do like, "Do as I say not as I do" Christians. I know prayer changes things and I'm praying that we finally get it, it's not about a fancy church, clothes, cars, money; any of that. It's not about us; it's all about God and our relationship with HIM! It's personal!

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Old School

August 29, 2006  9:21pm

Maybe the problem with young people not thinking that time tested methods are relevant is with thier own thinking. They need to conform rather than think that thier "feelings" matter at all. What does some punk 20 something know about anything? Very little. But rather than shut up and learn, they think that the problem is with every thing other than thier own warped worldview (which much of the blame can be laid upon secular pop culture).

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Brian Hawes

August 29, 2006  4:01pm

Young adults are leaving the church because we won't adapt our methods to suit their culture. Boomers sit back and "enjoy the service" or (probably more commonly) criticize the service while doing what they can to thwart any significant change that will enable the church to reach people for Jesus Christ. (Please keep in mind that I am a boomer with two young men.) As a whole, we'd rather be entertained that to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Christians have to be willing to make every effort to anchor their lives in Christ so that the methods and styles won't be the foundation of their church experience. Glorifying God by becoming like Him and bringing people to Him is what church is all about. I hate to say that we boomers will have much to answer for, especially those who actively resist change.

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August 29, 2006  2:27pm

I can totally attest to what was said. We crave honesty, and want the "meat and potatos" of the bible, not just the topical stuff. We want to LEARN, not just know how we should be. And I'm not saying that it's just 20-something's that want that, I think it's any Christian who really wants to learn and understand this life, Jesus' life, and what has happened, and what we can truly do in our time here.

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August 29, 2006  1:32pm

The lack of honesty about struggle may be one reason people leave churches, but it isn't the only one. I would say the main reason people leave the church is selfishness versus servanthood. I grew up in church and wasn't that excited about it. But I want to live for Christ so I stayed with it. I didn't ask anyone to accomodate my age specific needs. I have also seen the powerful influence of what parents teach. Parents who teach their children committment usually have children who are committed. I know 20-somethings who have stayed with church because that is how they were raised. I think we need to honest about struggle, but not abandon standards and committment. Jesus was real open with sinners and their sin, but he confronted those who should have known better.

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August 23, 2006  11:18pm

As a new church plant (last Oct.), we laid out our Core Values for the first six weeks of our teachings. Our first Core Value is "Struggle". I wish that I could tell you all of the stories that have come out of a simple invitation and encouragement to embrace stuggle in our spiritual journey. It seems odd, but the invitation is recieved with joy and relief, "I'm allowed to do that here?" The response I get from other pastors is disbelief. I had a friend tell me that it was too negative and that it would build a negative culture. So far, I'm happy to say that he is wrong.

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