How is the church continuing to change and what impact will this have on the faith development of youth? The latest survey coming out of George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, puts additional weight behind his contention that people will not be worshipping via the conventional church in the future and that they are moving to alternative means.
A recent random sample phone survey of 1,005 adults taken by The Barna Group in December 2007 reported the following:
Each of six alternatives was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.” Those alternatives include engaging in faith activities at home, with one’s family (considered acceptable by 89% of adults); being active in a house church (75%); watching a religious television program (69%); listening to a religious radio broadcast (68%); attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity (68%); and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).
What does this trend mean for postmodern youth? Should we be concerned about this shift away from conventional church gatherings or be encouraged that perhaps kids (and adults) want to express their faith in more action-oriented ways?
Barna has now taken the revolution a step further. In his latest and controversial new book, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Christian Practices, coauthored with Frank Viola, he suggests that much of our current institutional practice is not biblical but can be traced back to third- and fourth-century pagan roots. Naturally, this is causing a firestorm within the organized church. Yet some are saying this book is potentially the most important book on spirituality written this century. Since I have not read the book, I can only suggest that you check out reader reviews of the book and consider prayerfully reading it.
If we who value the Reformed faith really believe that we are to be “always reforming,” we certainly need to take a good hard look at this book. Hopefully, it will serve to drive us back to the Word, to the study of history, and to the reexamination of our thinking about church. Perhaps this book, like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15:1–20, will help people rethink what is truly biblical in the practices of our church life and what is merely man-made tradition.
We should not be afraid to fully discuss these things with the young people in our care. Hopefully, we will be able to demonstrate a spirit of humility—a “seeing through the glass darkly” attitude—to teens who sometimes are turned off by their perception that we have all the answers. Could it be a helpful exercise for us, together with our students, to investigate a particular church tradition and see how it lines up with Scripture as well as how it has been adapted to reach culture? If we love truth more than tradition and believe the Holy Spirit is guiding believers into all the truth, what have we really got to lose by it?