Why are churches losing upwards of 80% of the youth?
Why are Christian youth increasing in childishness?
What can be done to stop the demise of the next generation?
A new, provocative movie, Divided, seeks to give an answer. The movie was shown on June 17th at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado conference in north Denver.
The movie was fifty minutes long. The producer, Mr. LeClerk, takes the viewer on a grim journey into the heart of youth ministries. He interviews church kids, youth ministry experts, statisticians, and pastors.
In an ever-spiraling descent into marketing madness, the film ably portrays the deep-seated pragmatism of the teenagers and their would-be pied-pipers. One youth leader bluntly told the camera that the youth did not need more Biblical truth but more practical things, more relationships, more fun.
Mr. LeClerk then "discovers the shockingly sinister roots of modern, age-segregated church programs..." The roots do not begin with Mr. Raikes of late eighteenth-century England but with Plato and Rousseau. And even more, there is no biblical precedent for such programs. Therefore, the solution is to tear down the entire youth ministry--branch, root and all.
To rescue a lost generation it will take churches and families following the Word of God. Churches should stop usurping parental responsibilities. And parents should take back their God-given duty to train and nurture their own children. This will rescue the next generation.
The movie was created in conjunction with the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC). The president of this organisation, Mr. Brown, figures predominately in the movie.
The photography, mood and music were spot-on. This is obviously a professionally made film. The pacing was good. Its presentation was not over-the-top or in-your-face, but subtle and dramatic. Aesthetically, the movie deserves full marks.
But presentation aside, what of the content? Given the applause at the end of the Friday night showing in Denver, it grabbed the audience. Setting the problem up with multiple teen-interviews, peppered with real-time video of Christian "rock concerts," LeClerk masterfully guides the audience through the entertainment-minded youth ministries of today.
This is a serious problem. Children, teenagers and youth alike are baptized in a sea of childish entertainment all for the sake of "relevance." If the statistics are only partially accurate, they are astounding enough. Too many youth are leaving the church.
And the parental problem is equally heinous: too many parents feel godly sending their children off to youth camp while neglecting family worship, home discipleship and basic doctrinal fidelity. Added to this problem are too many churches willing to accept the status quo.
In fact, a Pew study shows 57% of confessing Evangelicals deny that Christ is the only way to heaven. Barna numbers suggest that being a homeschooler is no sure defense either: half of those polled believe that salvation is not by faith alone.
Although the show does a good job presenting the youth problem, it misses the wider context of that problem. With such wide-spread doctrinal ignorance, is it any wonder the youth leave the shallow churches?
Unfortunately, the history section leaves much to be desired. Pointing out that Plato wished to send children to the state schools is not the same as proving this as the intellectual source of today's age-segregation. The omission of the fact that the Reformers and Puritans practiced age-segregation is another problem.
What of the solution: to demolish youth ministries and incorporate family discipleship?
The solution is wonderful...if understood correctly. But proper understanding cannot come from the movie since it leaves out important pieces of information. For instance, Mr. Brown believes there are times and occasions for the family to be separated (see his book, A Weed in the Church). Likewise, Mr. Phillips thinks there are times to speak to teenagers as teenagers.
In other words, the rhetoric of the movie would forbid any and all age-segregation. When in actuality the leading proponents have a more nuanced position. If the film were twenty-minutes long this lack of nuance could be tolerated.
What family discipleship entails was lightly touched upon. But the proper role of the church was not clearly articulated. In contrast, Mr. Brown's book helpfully clarifies that the pastors and laymen have a role in the life of the youth.
Overall, the movie delivers the content and delivers it well. The problem is that the content is one-sided. There is a youth problem but there is a larger problem of Gospel ignorance. It would be better to read the book, but at least the movie will challenge Christians to rethink the role of youth ministries.