This is a re-post of an earlier post. I'll return to normal posting on Thursday.
Is Judeo-Christianity Dying With Echo Boomers?
Barna research recently put out a list of six reasons why the Millennial generation is leaving church (also see Do Echo Boomers Lack Religion?). To be fair, this article applies to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, as the growth or lack thereof of Muslims is unknown (and not discussed). A few of the reasons that the article lists, for instance, antagonistic toward science, are examples of how "trying to sell" can backfire.
Pertinent Blog Note:
I recently interviewed Dr. Thomas White on young men in Protestant churches to provide a perspective on why a branch of Judeo-Christianity is struggling with a particular demographic. On March 15th, I interviewed Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist to provide a secular perspective on the Millennial generation and how it sees atheism.
Of course, the Barna Group fails to offer decent advice, as I think the author recognizes the dilemma that churches face: change Judeo-Christianity too much and it ceases to be Judeo-Christianity, but don't change it enough and it fails to appeal to Echo Boomers. In both cases, the author warns of consequences that can come from either focusing on the young or the old. Essentially, it's the classic battle between the Progressives and the Traditionalists (from an economic standpoint, think Hayek versus Keynes). The below video, which features Dr. Jonathan Haidt, shows his perspective on this debate of traditionalists versus progressives, specifically conservatives versus liberals.
While Barna will argue its own way - a balanced approach, I would argue that its entire approach toward the young and old are wrong. Instead of focusing on what attracts people, focus on what can people, uniting together, produce. The first focus - on attraction - is consumptive and puts religious institutions in a dangerous place: they always have to appeal to people. This consumptive view assumes that people are trashcans of input that come to religious institutions to be filled by something.
The second focus - on production - sees what people can bring to the table to feed others beyond themselves. The productive view assumes that people are most fulfilled when they help others find fulfillment. In other words, "We eat to stay hungry so that others can eat."
Also, I would adduce that the energy of the young people combined with the wisdom of the old people will produce a congregation with a solid foundation in producing for their religious institutions. To draw a pertinent analogy: think of a college football game. The student section brings energy and excitement to the game environment, yet it is the wisdom of the older people who help the young people to understand that winning and losing aren't important, but showing up and supporting something that you love is.
A Lesson From History and Philosophy
Aristotle argued that the young people often brought change, and complained that it was for the worse. However, Aristotle understood that this change often occurred because of the energy of young people. He also recognized the wisdom of older people. While our culture may praise the energy of youth, any institution can also value the wisdom of age. This conflict of young versus old is not new, and if Aristotle had a wiser approach (see the Book of Proverbs1), he would have recognized that each carried their strength.
Essentially, there's no dichotomy, but opportunities that each bring to the religious institution, which can be used. Yet by placing a wrong focus on the generational conflict for attraction, most religious institutions will fall into the category of "failure."
1 See Proverbs 16:31 (regarding age) and Proverbs 20:29.