Churches that want to impact the changing values of their communities will have to prayerfully consider what changes they may need to make to reach those who hold to a different worldview. It is vital that whatever changes are adopted remain within biblical parameters. Biblical truth is always relevant in all time periods and all cultures. The challenge for churches then, is which things are open change, and what are bedrock values that simply cannot be changed no matter how out of step they are with culture. Since many churches are resistant to change of any kind, pastors and church leaders can expect signiﬁcant opposition from traditionalists within their congregations when trying to implement those changes that are needed.
Many conservative Protestant churches have responded to the changing culture with a fortress mentality. Because these churches are determined to keep the changing culture out, they have encased themselves in a spiritual bubble that is rapidly shrinking. These churches refuse to consider any signiﬁcant changes in methodology or practice, even though past methods and practices fail to communicate the gospel to the current culture. A number of recent surveys have shown young people are leaving those kinds of churches at an alarming rate. Researchers vary in the exact numbers, but most agree that between 61 percent and 88 percent of young people leave the church after high school and that only 35 percent return, usually around age thirty. Churches cannot continue to pretend that everything is all right. Christians who hide inside religious fortresses often assume they are more spiritual than the communities around them. A growing number of individuals disagree with that assumption.
Michelle Melecson lives in southern Vermont. As a Christian, she is deeply committed to her personal faith in Jesus Christ and is active in a Southern Baptist church. Michelle also considers herself postmodern in her worldview and ﬁnds that she often relates to postmodern people better than to traditional conservative Christians. On her Facebook page, Michelle says, “I am a human, and so I fail. I am a Christian, and so I let God pick me back up again. I believe that the key to happiness is to ﬁgure out what gifts God has given you and then take those gifts and do great things with them.” Michelle uses her gifts in a variety of ways but most enjoys working through civic groups that address speciﬁc needs in her community. She seldom sees churches meeting such speciﬁc needs, which is why she often serves the Lord outside the conﬁnes of the traditional church where she is a member. To Michelle, spirituality is about making a diﬀerence in the world, not hiding in a spiritual fortress.
Michelle surveyed some of her postmodern peers about their feelings about modern churches, and Michelle’s friend Sheila said that some churches “feel more warm and inviting than other churches.” The lack of warmth that some churches display makes it a struggle for people like Sheila to participate in church. Michelle’s friend Becca said that in her experience, more than 50 percent of the churches she attended spoke “with empty hearts and empty minds, telling you to do this and that without any real commitment to what they are saying. They may talk the talk, they might even walk the walk, but they do not feel anything while they do it.” That lack of passion is also a deterrent to postmoderns. If the church is not passionate about what it believes, why should postmodernists be? Becca went on to say, “Churches are supposed to have people in them acting as good role models. However, this is not the case most of the time.” Like Michelle, Sheila and Becca are not convinced that everyone hiding behind the facade of religion is very spiritual. The fortress mentality adopted by some conservative Protestant churches is just not working. Such a mentality fails to communicate the gospel to postmodernists and also lacks warmth and passion, all of which are vital to reaching the next generation. Surely changes in those types of areas are well within biblical parameters and something churches should consider.
Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.