“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel…After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” – Judges 2:7-11
Written by Rev. Brandon Durán
At a conference 10 years ago, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said that Christianity in Britain is one generation from extinction.
“So many churches have no ministry to young people and that means they have no interest in the future. As I have repeated many times in the past we are one generation away from extinction. We have to give cogent reasons to young people why the Christian faith is relevant to them.”
For decades, the data from ongoing polls and surveys show a steady decline from generation to generation. In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that 49% of millennials in America identified as Christian. Compare that to the 84% of Americans born before 1945 who self-identify as Christian and you see the stark decline. Younger Americans are less likely to have been raised in Christian communities and practices than the preceding generation.
A similar phenomenon is lamented in the book of Judges. In Judges 2, the Israelites who experienced God’s deliverance firsthand were committed to God. However, as each subsequent generation grew farther removed from the acts of God’s deliverance, their connection to YHWH waned.
They “forsook the Lord” and served other contemporary deities. This is how the period of the judges begins.
Throughout the story of Judges we see a similar pattern:
The people are delivered
They praise God,
They forget that it was God who delivered them
They worship other gods
They are oppressed and they cry out
God delivers them, and so on and so forth.
In our day and age, the common response to the disassociation of youth is increased programming. Churches attempt to compete with a broad marketplace all vying for the attention of children and youth. Young people know when they are being marketed to. Rather than make a sales pitch to children and youth, the church should be engaged in the holy work of love and truth that sets people free.
When the church is engaged in ministry that, as Christ said,
proclaims good news to the poor
proclaims freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind
sets the oppressed free
The community will see it, young and older alike. They will see it and they will want to be a part of it because it is life-giving work for all involved.
The loss of youth is not an indictment of how hip we are as a church; it is not a criticism of our Christian education curriculum; it is a sign that we have forgotten to engage in the great work of our Lord.
The gospel sets us free from condemnation and shame, it sets us free from death-dealing ways of living, it sets us free in order that we might set others free.