I, like most of my friends, fall into the category of millennials. We care deeply about the environment (not all of us, but most), we care deeply about social issues (not all of us agree, but most), and we care deeply about supporting one another’s spiritual journeys. As I study American Christianity, I’m struck by the public discourse happening in popular Christianity. There is this constant debate about which church is better, who is more spiritually deep, and defining success by numbers. And people are incredibly hurt by these categorizations. What? They have more members than we do? They must be spiritually shallow. What? We’re losing members? They must be leaving for contemporary music. And this continues into those who’ve left the evangelical church for more mainline denominations. They’re spiritually shallow. We need more depth. We can tell when you’re BSing us. The continual trope of how evangelical churches are inherently shallow, and more traditional churches are inherently deep is extremely dangerous to the future of the American Christian church.
However, I have a theory:
I wonder if evangelical churches serve a very specific purpose: not one they necessarily decided upon, but have fallen into. What if the evangelical church serves to bring young adults who’ve drifted from their church upbringing in a traditional church (as young adults are want to do) or people who’ve never been to church into the Christian fold. They’re drawn in by the contemporary music and easy to understand teachings. There isn’t any ramp up with understanding grand traditions, or having absolutely no idea what people are saying or what to do with our hands. This type of church is easy to jump into and worship God.
Yet, when people leave evangelical churches for more “deeper” Christian denominations after a while, people cry out that they were correct: they were really the superior denomination after all. This validates their disparaging remarks and criticism.
But what if that is specifically what this new brand of hipster Christianity is meant to do? What if, for some, evangelical Christianity is a middle place between secularism and traditional Christianity that familiarizes outsiders to the church until they’re ready to move on — or stay? This doesn’t mean that either church is spiritually more significant, or that people who go to either are more spiritual; they’re just different.
I always get so frustrated with people who are incredibly entrenched in their faith (I’m looking at you Christian bloggers), shouting from the rooftops that modern churches fall spiritually flat. If my thesis is correct, that many people go to evangelical churches for the non-threatening atmosphere and easing into Christianity when they’re seeking spiritual meaning through aspects that are largely seen in the secular world, then telling unchurched people not to bother because evangelical churches are a “BS” form of Christianity can only be classified as detrimental to the goals of all churches.
And, it’s worth noting: when people leave evangelical churches, the majority move onto other evangelical or mainline churches; when people leave mainline churches, the majority leave Christianity completely.