Many twentysomethings who love Jesus don’t like His church. Their complaints are varied. Some say the worship is dry. Some say the theology is wish-washy. Still others decry the lack of strong leadership. And so, we know, they are voting with their feet and slipping silently away.
The response of the older generation and the twentysomethings who remain is often discouragement and sometimes even disgust. But what if the church took a different tack? What if the church reimagined itself in ways that worked better—not just for twentysomethings—but for all of us?
Here are 20 radical reforms that we might do well to consider:
- Invite the Whole Church to Construct Worship
When one person or a small “worship team” plans the experience, we fall short of God’s design. First Corinthians describes a gathering to which every member contributes—a song, a prayer, or even a teaching. When everyone participates, everyone takes ownership, and we have fewer passive pew warmers.
- Address the Architecture
Space speaks. Historically, congregations have worshiped in majestic cathedrals with stone and stained glass and steeples which pointed to God. When God designed His own tabernacle, it was a thing of beauty and symmetry and color. Now we repurpose factories, worship in darkened boxes, and our choice of space tells a different story. Can we let in the light? Can we choose our colors carefully? Can our space speak more to the majesty and artistry of our God?
- Turn Down the Volume
According to the research, 80 decibels is the optimum volume for group singing. When we crank up the volume higher than that, our hearts may pound but our mouths become silent. We can’t hear ourselves, let alone our neighbors. So we lose the urge to join in.
- Engage All Five Senses
The senses are the means by which we take in the world, acquire information, and learn. When we engage only one or two of the senses (probably sight and sound), we miss out on the other powerful possibilities. Modern life bombards all of our senses and often entices us to walk down wrong paths. Surely the God who created the senses designed them to reveal to us more of Himself.
- Talk Holy Spirit Power
Some of our churches may make a circus out of the Holy Spirit’s power. Other churches often preach a diminished trinity of The Father, The Son, and The Other One. But if the Holy Spirit were welcomed in biblical ways into our churches once more, we just may see a fresh wind and a fresh fire push back the encroaching darkness.
- Give with a Purpose
When people see pictures of abused puppies, they open their wallets. When an earthquake shakes another nation back into the Stone Age, we call in our credit card number. When we understand a need, many of us will respond. Most churches, however, simply expect attendees to give because “God loves a cheerful giver.” Perhaps clearer communication about where the money goes would help compel us to contribute.
- Create Time for Reflection
Every Sunday sermon communicates a wealth of ideas that a preacher has reflected on for hours, even days. Upon hearing these truths, we often hop into our cars and switch on the football and start discussing what is for lunch. We don’t make it a priority to process the ideas and apply them personally.
- Lead the Way in Being Vulnerable
We must end the pretense that the people on the platform or in the pews are perfect. Rather, we should acknowledge our own failings and allow others to admit theirs. Only open hearts can open other hearts, so let us lead the way.
- Say It as It Is
When we manipulate and manage our image, when we simplify scripture to make it more palatable, we create two-dimensional portraits of the world. Alternatively, when we authentically express both the darkness and the light, reality in all its many colors, we are more likely to sustain an audience.
- Open Lines of Communication
To be heard and understood, to have influence and impact—these are fundamental desires of every human being. When church members are simply receivers of a sermon, they have little voice or vested interest. By opening the lines of communication and encouraging a feedback loop, we bring people into the community.
- Connect People Vertically
In many of our communities, the toddlers are in the nursery, and Grandma is in the nursing home. We are segregated and separated according to our age and our stage of life. And we miss out on the richness that comes from connecting the wisdom of years with the wide-eyed wonder of childhood.
- Create Sustainable Service Opportunities
Mission trips are magnificent because they open us up to the whole wide world, but annual mission trips are not a part of daily life. We would do well to connect our congregation to the needs of our own community and put into place some sustainable ways we can sacrificially serve.
- Build Biblical Literacy
The prophet Amos said that in the last days there would be a famine for the word of God. Sadly, we are already suffering from malnutrition. Being able to name all sixty-six books has become a rare skill. Being familiar with them is even rarer. Our churches must own the task of training people in the truth.
- Raise Up Group Leaders
Jesus had twelve key followers with whom he did life. He arranged them, it would seem, into three groups of four. Peter, James, John, and Andrew were in the inner group. After three years of training, these leaders took on their own groups. This kind of multiplication makes for healthy growth.
- Train in Apologetics
If Christianity ever was in the majority in America, it is not any more. Start talking about religion in the marketplace and you will be told a thing or two about your backward beliefs. Many Christians walk away when science seems to rule out God. Some Christians resolve the existence of many religions by asserting that they lead to the same God. We must equip Christians so they are unafraid to engage with a changing world.
- Tell People They Are Evil
Jesus called his followers “evil” in the Sermon on the Mount. But this isn’t a popular message these days. The loss of this truth has lessened our effectiveness in evangelism. Evil people need a savior. Good people don’t. People who know they are saved from evil share that good news. They can’t help themselves.
- Create Access Points to Leadership
A senior pastor on a screen at multiple campuses, top-down organizational leadership, new church initiatives that appear out of nowhere—these things create power-distance. Twentysomethings today are used to creating their own culture, participating in politics, and collaborating in conversations. The church can use social media, town-hall meetings, and old-fashioned potluck lunches to keep communication with leadership a two-way street.
- Remove the Glass Ceiling
Rather than sending only select young people off to Bible college or seminary if they want to become professional pastors, let’s teach the priesthood of all believers. Let’s help every twentysomething uncover his/her giftedness and use those gifts to minister to others.
- Work with God, not for God
Those who work for God work really hard. They have something to prove, and somehow their success depends on them. Those who work with God find that God empowers them. He uses their gifts to satisfy specific and strategic needs. The joy and freedom of working with God can dispel the disillusionment that often plagues those who become burned out or burned up by working for God.
- Communicate a Gospel for Life, not Death
No one wants to go to hell when they die, so many of us receive Jesus as our pass to heaven, where we will spend eternity made in the shade by the pool. When we have this idea of salvation, we communicate a gospel that centers mainly around death and what happens when we get there. However, the Bible communicates a Savior who also made life on earth significant. Let us be bringers of life and light to the world.
When I shared these reforms with the twentysomethings that I teach, they were initially enthusiastic. Then some asked, “Could there ever really be a church like this?” Many thought these reforms were too radical.
However, throughout church history, reformers have challenged the status quo and have brought about change. Church planters with a unique vision have planted new ideas where they found fertile soil. These reformers have seen churches grow, churches which were particularly relevant and engaging for their Age.
So I believe that church can be different. But it’s up to us to gather like-minded people and make it so.