In my post yesterday I mentioned a USA Today article describing how many churches, their youth groups in particular, are having a great deal of trouble attracting people with the same entertainment-based ministry model that has been widely used for the last few decades. Kids are no longer coming to church for the pizza parties and rock concerts.
I mentioned that there might be a few different reasons why this is the case, and discussed the first: that we are insulting and shortchanging Christian teenagers by giving them what we think they want instead of what they need. Today I move to the second reason I believe this model is not working.
2. Churches are not, by nature, entertainment centers. Not only are we spiritually stunting Christian teenagers with an entertainment-based ministry model, but we are failing to reach their unsaved peers. Why? Because we’re trying to draw them into the church by doing something that everyone else in the world is doing, and doing it less well. The Bible says,
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2, KJV).
In short: a) God tells us not to imitate the world. b) We imitate the world. c) It doesn’t work. d) We can’t figure out what went wrong.
Think about it this way, which animal is more effective at carrying heavy burdens over long distances: a camel or a sheep? Obviously, the answer is a camel. Sheep were not designed with the necessary strength (or intelligence, I’m told) to carry heavy burdens and travel in caravans. Which is more effective at producing wool? Sheep are, because they were designed to grow wool that can be sheared and used.
So, who is more effective at entertaining kids: the church or the amusement park? the church or the movie theater? It’s not the church, because nowhere in the New Testament (which provides the basis for our understanding of what the church is and what it should be) is there any mention of God designing the church for entertainment purposes.
Kids have so many options today for entertainment. The church certainly could provide entertainment, but we cannot compete with these other options in terms of the quantity or quality of entertainment. And as we try to compete, it will increasingly consume more and more of our energy, time, resources, and focus. We will kill ourselves (figuratively, of course) trying to be as fun and entertaining as the world, yet for all of our effort, we will never catch up. We are just like the sheep that tries to carry a heavy pack across the desert; we may get there, but we will never be as good as the camel, and we will kill ourselves by trying.
Instead of dabbling at being all the things we are not, and doing all the things we’re not designed to do, we should commit ourselves to doing the things God created the church to do. It is interesting to note that Paul said of his own ministry that he was focused solely on serving Christ.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV).
Paul says, “this one thing I do,” not “these twenty things I dabble in.” Paul was totally committed to the mission God had given him. The church doesn’t work when it tries to be an amusement park, any more than an amusement park would work if it tried to be a church.
The bottom line is that kids can go anywhere to be entertained. But there are precious few places in this world where kids can go to be loved, discipled, and taught the truth. And that mission is where the local church ought to shine!
More still to come. Stay tuned…