How the Church Has Changed

Sitting here reading Thomas E. Bergler’s new book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity , I got to thinking about how the church has changed since I was a kid growing up in America’s heartland fundamentalist Christianity. Well here’s how Bergler defines this condition: “… any way of understanding, experiencing, or practicing the Christian faith that conforms to the patterns of adolescence in American culture” (8).

I drew up a list of changes, and did my best to ponder what other churches in my hometown (Lake Wobegon, of course) were like … and I hope the following list represents a fairly accurate set of characteristics and changes. This is not really a journey into nostalgia but an exercise in comparison. But here goes, in no particular order of importance:

Questions: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen? How many of the changes can be called “juvenilization”?

1. Music: we sang hymns from a hymnbook called Great Hymns of the Faith with someone directing us by waving his hands in ways that never made a lick of sense to me. And we had a choir; the choir folks wore robes. We began with a set song and finished with a Doxology (after an invitation). Most churches I have been in these days do not sing from hymnbooks; there are not many choirs. Instead, we have what is called worship bands and they are usually young people and the band always has a drum – and often there are stage lights. The bands tend to dance around a bit and hope around. No one danced or hopped when I was a kid.

2. Style: we wore our Sunday best to church, and for me that meant coat and tie with leather shoes (wing tips were the favored choice); women wore dresses and lots of women wore caps of some sort; yes, it was hot because we didn’t have air conditioning in our first sanctuary (we had fans, which gave us something to do, something to bend, something to write on). Today’s style is uniformly informal. I’ve seen pastors wear tennis shoes, no socks, shirt out, t-shirt, jeans.

3. Tradition was everywhere present; things on the wall didn’t change; the organ and piano and choir and platform and pulpit and chairs — all the same place. Same things done week after week. Every year we had a “revival” and a prophecy conference and a missionary week. Today’s approach to the service is innovation, newness is the name of the game, and one never knows quite what one will experience or see or hear.

4. My pastor prayed for everyone and everything, and he did so at length. I once counted a 20 minute pastoral prayer. I sometimes slept through the thing. Put my elbows on my knees, head on hands, and kerplunk. In the last 10 years of speaking in churches I can count on one hand the times I’ve heard a genuine, old-fashioned pastoral prayer.

5. The big difference is local and small churches have been replaced by megachurches. In my church, a visitor was noticeable and the pastor knew people by name; in megachurches long-time attenders can still be visitors and I can’t imagine that pastors even try to learn names. Megachurches are colossal enterprises with all kinds of employees and rooms and services and … well… it’s like a village and not a church. My local church had a pastor, a youth pastor, a secretary, and a janitor. One of the janitors was a big ol’ guy, about 6-8. He polished the floors and made things smell like church and cut the grass and shoveled snow.

6. My pastor preached through books, and I remember 1 Corinthians and Ephesians — but he was a Pauline guy. At night, he preached on other texts, and I don’t recall which ones. Maybe the Old Testament or the Psalms. Some of my friends went to churches that used a lectionary. Most churches I go to don’t do that anymore. They preach on topics and themes. Even when they preach on books of the Bible, they turn the series in a theme about something practical. Sermons today are more focused on application.

7. Church architecture: our church had the old shape of a basilica. It was hall-shaped: longer than wide. We all faced forward in pews. Everything faced the pulpit. We had a balcony. Sometimes we sneaked up there; it was cool to see things from a different angle. It was also easier to goof off up there. Sometimes the pastor observed our shenanigans and said something. My parents always defended the pastor’s warnings. Today more and more churches are wide and not long; they have chairs not pews; the front is a stage more than a platform. It’s not as holy as it was. At least for me. Churches today have the feel of a theater with the big screens — sometimes I’m speaking and people aren’t looking at me but at the screen. That’s weird for me. In some places they can’t really see me otherwise. That’s weird too.

8. Church in my youth smelled holy; it smells love today. There’s a difference.

9. When I was a kid church was about words: we sang words; we read words; we heard words. Today there are more images — we see the songs on a screen; we read the Bible from a screen, if we read it at all. Which reminds me: we had the public reading of Scripture as a kid. I rarely have been in a church where the leader (liturgist) reads a verse and the congregation reads one back to him (or her). The preacher can often be seen on a screen. Lots of churches don’t have a cross anywhere to be seen. Some older churches were made in the shape of a cross.

10. Overall, I think churches today have a desire to please those who are present; I don’t remember the pastor worrying about that as a kid. Maybe he did. I always felt like our pastor thought his aim was “to tell it like it is” whether folks liked it or not.

11. My youth church experience was made up of lots and lots of rules, like not dancing or smoking or drinking or having sex or getting close to it. And people talked about the moral lives of others. Today there’s a pervasive feel of freedom, but it’s more like “I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone.”

12. This is my last one. It’s a choose-your-church world. I don’t remember thinking if we didn’t like things we could change churches when I was young. The church was stuck with us and we were stuck with that local church. We were, after all, Baptists and we weren’t about to cross the street and become Lutherans. They probably weren’t saved anyway.

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  • RJS


    I relate with many of these – but some of them seem to me to be more nostalgia than reflection of a juvenilization. Others I wouldn’t describe as juvenilization but institutionalization. Church is now a business not a gathering of people … and the prime mark of a successful leader is charismatic entrepreneurship not godliness, sound biblical grounding, or a concern for and knowledge of people. Yes it is possible to have both, but most people who aspire to lead don’t.

    Megachurch success and megachurch envy is destructive of church … the latter (envy) more than the former. The tentacles of pride and ambition become intertwined in the process in ways that are destructive of good leadership.

  • James Petticrew

    I remember someone saying that a generation ago when you came home from church the conversation was about what was said and now its about what happened.

    Might be a cliche but I think that is a pretty good summary of the difference between my dad’s generation and mine when it comes to church.

  • So do you think it was better? Cause in general, I am glad we have most of those changes. In general, I think most of those changes are the result of changing general culture that the church adapted to, not changing church culture. But I could be wrong about the driving force behind the change.

  • Sorry about two posts in a row. But how much of this do you think is a result of the fact that you were a juvenile at the time?

    Perception from a kid is different from perception as an adult. For instance the pleasing one, I am pretty sure both EM Bounds and AW Tozer wrote about the problems of church pleasing pastors and both are quite a bit older than you.

    I remember when I was about 12 complaining to my Dad (the pastor) about his long pastoral prayers that people fell asleep during. He said that might be the only time that people prayed during the week. I said that they might not be praying because they think it has to be a 10 minute prayer. He started doing shorter pastoral prayers after that.

  • scotmcknight

    Adam, overall I don’t think they are juvenile perceptions but reality; on pleasing, I suppose that is right, but there is an overt strategy today based on studies of consumption or customer satisfaction. That, it appears to me, is a major change.

    I don’t think I was trying to think if things are better or worse; I was thinking of how things have changed. (But I do like pastoral prayers.)

  • SuperStar

    Most all of these changes are a God-send. However, the one that is most challenging is the size of church. I must confess that being part of a megachurch has it’s perks, but being one of thousands is not great for building lasting relationships. Maybe that’s why the small group movement has been so well adopted by large churches. If you don’t have a small circle of relationships in a larger church you can feel very disconnected.

  • DRT

    I hear all of that. But aren’t there both kinds of churches where you are? The modern kind is the minority here.

  • Wow, Scot! You just articulated every change I’ve experience since 1979.
    Constant variables. Thankfully, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”

  • Your list is pretty accurate for me, too. I don’t attend a megachurch. We still have a choir, but also a praise “band.” The drums were actually taken out recently and the praise “band” is now just 3 choir members leading “worship style” songs over an instrumental track. It’s so watered down now.

    The pews were taken out and replaced with chairs, much more comfortable. Apart from the Pastor, I think I’m the only one who wears a suit and tie to church. I do it because no one else does. If everyone wore a suit, I’d be the guy in jeans.

    The one thing that bothers me is the youth girls look like they’re dressed to go out to a night club. There’s no modesty anymore.

    All in all. Some of these changes are good and some not so good. In my experience, it depends on the demographics of the congregation. Most of the churches I visit frequently have an older population, so they still use choirs, hymnals, etc. And you can tell there’s a push to cater to a younger generation with more and more “worship” style services.

  • I’m now in an area where attending church in the morning and in the evening on Sunday is common; I’ve never experienced it before. I doubt I’ll become a twice-per-day person, but I was commenting to a couple of friends yesterday how much I thought that puts a lot of pressure on a pastor to do two sermons every week!

  • Rick

    Separation by age groups. Elementary, Junior High, and High School students largely go to a different room/location/service.

  • Scott, thanks for this. I would not want to lionize the past (and I don’t believe that you mean to for a second). It was not without its defects and the church of the 50s and 60s was something of an anomaly in American church history. But things have decidedly shifted. To the list that you’ve offered, I would add the way in which we tell the Gospel story itself (although it had its antecedents in the church of our childhood) — i.e., it’s all about us and not enough about God. There must have been something in the water last week, because that was on my mind as well:

  • I think the one that resonates with me most is the last one. My dad was a pastor and therefore I really didn’t have much of a choice in where I was going on Sunday. Our church was a great place to be, but I always wondered what it was like everywhere else. So, when I went to college I had a choice and I went EVERYWHERE: Community Church, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, AME Zion, you name it.

    What I came away with was a sense that church is less about fulfilling an obligation to attend, but about finding a community of believers to which you feel a sense of belonging. I realized that we all worship the same risen Savior and the rest is just a stylistic preference.

  • Tom Howard

    I can relate to all of your points Scot. Personally, I have a hard time sorting them as bad, good, better, best. I often return to a family church of the past in a rural setting. I am at once surprised, and then time warped back. In many ways, I suspect that time warp is nostalgia. I don’t think I would want to live there again. The thing I do miss most. . . If I was away from that old family church, someone missed me. Today, except for my small group I could disappear for a year and not noticed….I kind of think that is a big loss. We have after 20 some years in a “modern contemporary church” moved back to some of our early married roots of small Anglican worship-I find it refreshing. It seems to be both current and nostalgic, caring and small. By the way, RJS hits a strong note for me.

  • Jim

    Back in the day we used to talk about the ‘hidden curriculum”- how our forms displayed our biases and prejudices. We noticed, e.g., that Sunday School literature always featured white faces.

    What is the ‘hidden curriculum’ of the juvenilizing the church – that we are biased toward the young. That is understandable in terms of the long term.

    However, one of the great challenges of our era is that we have a rapidly aging population that is putting terrific strains upon family caregivers, usually women, and often women who are also still parenting children. (That is not meant to slight men who are caregivers…there are many.)

    We need to address the “hidden curriculum”. that favors the young and all but disenfranchises the aging who are simply expected to “get with the times.”

  • MD

    the holy/love comparison caught my attention. i think a lot about the tensions between holiness/love and truth/unity. aren’t we called to “live” all four?
    also, if “church” is people – not organization, building or program – what insights do these observations provide?

  • Tom

    But to the point of the book (I haven’t read it.), isn’t it Bergler’s contention that the focus on meeting our consumeristic/feel-good needs by the church, in an effort to attract us, left us with an immature faith? This seems to support Mike Breen’s contention that Jesus discipled with high invitation AND high challenge and that it is precisely that environment where spiritual growth occurs. He says a high invitation – low challenge environment is comfortable and maybe immature would be a better word.

    Putting the two thoughts together I guess I think all the changes you mention could be good, but, it has to be recognized that most of them are on the invitation side of the equation and we can’t overlook the challenge side along the way.

  • Joyce

    I agree with Jim that our church has an overwhelming focus on the young but pays little attention to the needs of the elderly. There is also increased age segregation where the two groups don’t worship together and rarely gather for other reasons. When a church worships intergenerationally, I think both young and old benefit.

  • Phil Miller

    I actually don’t know what it’s really like to be part of a church that doesn’t use drums. I grew up in the AoG, and I think for all of our quirks we were quicker to adopt modern instruments. Ironically, there were also many people in my church growing up who talked about the evils of rock music. So, I guess there was a sharp line we drew between “good” music and “bad” music.

    As far as regarding the church building as holy, again, it’s a foreign concept to me. We lived in a parsonage that was physically part of the church building for most of the time I was growing up, so I grew up doing things like playing dodgeball in the foyer and having pew races with my brothers during the week. But my brothers and I also took on most of the responsibilities of cleaning and doing the yard work. It’s harder to consider a building as holy once you’ve cleaned its toilets!

    I don’t know what my point is, exactly. Other than I guess that it depends a lot on the tradition you grew up in as to how much this list pertains to you. I think many people in Pentecostal traditions would read it and say not a lot has changed. Although, I will say I too did have to get dressed up a lot more growing up than I do now. I certainly don’t miss wearing ties to church.

  • I think the major changes that have been made are cultural changes. If you have ever worked with the youth or with someone under 25, most likely, the changes suit them better than it did 40-20 years ago. The attention spans are irking sometimes, so the church needs to figure out how to reach out to them, especially now because we’re losing so many people in the church. Eventually the older generation is going to die off and who’s going to be walking through the doors…? Certainly not them.

    We’re also at a time in this world where hope is lacking. We have so much access to technology, we actually know what’s going on in the world compared to 100 years ago. If we preach about love rather than being holy, then perhaps they know what is truth. Preaching about going to heaven and hell just isin’t doing it for most people anymore.

    About worship, I take it you don’t spend time with people on the worship team. I highly suggest you do to gain a greater understanding of what worship means to them. I would also study it on your own. Psalms is a great place to start. God did not intend for us to stand in church quietly, he wanted us to dance and praise him- and loud! I have been to dead churches where I had trouble feeling the spirit. But when you walk into a church where God is moving, it’s so much better!

    About the screens, I go to a church where this is very useful. By the way, I’m Deaf. Which means, if I miss what the pastor says, I can catch it on the screen or for music, if the words don’t make sense, at least I can see it. Don’t ignore what resources there are in the church to minister or reach to people. Some things simply work better than for others.

    🙂 Great post!

  • Many changes with the exception of one – The Platform/Pew; Performance/Passivity Paradigm. The dependency persists that the culture we’re endeavoring to reach must be invited. They must come to one address on one day of the week for an hour or so.

    Reggie McNeal’s 10-year old challenge is still worth consideration.

    • If you build the perfect church (the way we think about
    church), they (all who aren’t already there) will come.
    • Growing your church will automatically make a difference in
    the larger community.
    • Developing better church members will result in greater evangelism.
    • The church needs more workers (for church work).
    • Being involved in church results in discipleship.
    • Better planning will get you where you want to go (in terms of
    missional effectiveness).
    Those assumptions describe a church world that has only a limited
    time left. A future already exists that significantly alters the spiritual
    landscape in North America. Church leaders and members
    who want to participate in a renewal of the North American
    church must face this “present future” and its new realities. These
    realities represent tectonic shifts in the ethos of the spiritual quest
    of humanity. Each reality requires the church to shift its thinking from answering the wrong question to pursuing the implications of a tough question.

  • JohnM

    I can relate to most of the changes listed. A couple more I’ve observed are multiple Sunday services, even in smaller churches where it isn’t necessary, and earlier start times. When I was young 9:45 AM Sunday School for all ages and 11:00 AM worship service were the norm. Now we see more of 8:00 AM services followed by 10:30 AM services.

    Along those lines, does anyone do Sunday evening services anymore? Or Wednesday evening bible study? Now that I think of it another trend seems to be away from those types of gatherings and more toward multiple small group meetings throughout the week. That’s one thing I can’t complain about as, to be honest, I only occasionally attended evening services anyway, and apparently that’s the way it was for most of my generation.

  • Scot,
    A very good post. I identified with so many of your earlier experiences as well as your current observations. Throughout your post, I thought you were basically emphasizing that there has been a shift.

    I think it is important that congregations, and particularly church leaders within those congregations, acknowledge some kind of shift. These shifts happen and sometimes even over a period of decades, no one acknowledges the obvious. As a result, some people feel a deep sense of loss (which is often expressed in anger) while others who did not live through the shift are baffled by the strong reactions.

    Honest conversation in congregations, in a spirit of love, can do much to help a church not only deal with shifts that have taken place but set the stage for how future shifts are dealt with.

  • Bob

    Loved this post Scot. Well done. Things have changed in the church (as they have everywhere, right?) and some for the better, some for the worse. I grew up in a megachurch (probably one of the earlier ones) and continued attending one for most of my life until recently. I appreciate hearing the gospel preached there and having parents who were involved. I realize now that one of the downsides for me is that my experience in megachurches has skewed my view on a great deal of things as it relates to Christian history, especially ecclesiology. I’ve found that the race to chase the next trend, the next big thing in megachurches was at the expense of ignoring the past. You know how it goes, “those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it”, or something like that. I’m all for change but not if it means ignoring the rich history that came before us or pretending that we don’t stand on the shoulders of giants.

  • To me any model is fine if the gospel is being well-taught. If so, small congregations like mine and huge one’s like Andy Stanley’s (only about 2 miles from us) will have many, many overlapping disciple circles (like Jesus’ disciple circle(s)). That old-fashioned church or yesteryear could do it well with the right gospel and so could the “Home Depot” church (sorry, snarky, I know). But books like your King Jesus Gospel are vital to whatever model for assembly is used. And the “Home Depot” churches, as I call them, can do well if they drive people to work and learn together in small groups (overlapping disciple circles).

  • RJS

    Jim (9:20 am),

    Great comment – as a 50 something Christian I can relate with all of it, from deep sense of loss to anger. But it goes beyond this in rather destructive ways. I have found my attitude toward clergy, church leaders, change from a basic sense of trust and respect to a deep viceral cynicism and distrust. This isn’t healthy and something I am trying to work through myself …

    At this point I will, as Liza put it, die off … but the current 20 somethings will become 50 somethings, and my real fear is that the cycle will repeat, and they will be shown the door by the next generation to die off. This is a process we all move through.

  • Phil Miller

    Someone mentioned Sunday Evening and Wednesday Evening services above. Yes, that’s a big difference I see, too. Growing up, I was in church three times a week, and I often had other functions at the church during the week. I was actually closer to the kids I knew from church than I was with the kids I went to school with. Part of that was that I was on the edge of a pretty rural school district that was spread out over a big area, and most of the kids in my church who went to different schools were actually closer to me than kids at school. But, in any case, I haven’t talked to the people I graduated high school with, well, pretty much since I graduated. But I have kept somewhat in touch with the people I went to church with. The church culture itself was a much bigger part of my life growing up than it is now.

    I see this as a big change. It’s not there aren’t people who are still very immersed in church life. I just think it seems harder to do that. Perhaps it’s just because I’m older, and I have less time to do all the stuff I did when I was younger, but I think it’s cultural, too. I can’t imagine, for instance, many parents having their kids be involved in a church activity opposed to doing something with their school.

  • Joey Elliott

    I obviously can’t argue with the observations of changes, even from less experience. I just am glad that my church still preaches through books of the Bible, has a choir, practices the public reading of Scripture and pastoral prayers, makes you comfortably uncomfortable with the preaching of the gospel, smells holy and loving, doesn’t frown on jeans but appreciates dressier attire modeled by leadership, and values membership to prevent consumers and church-hoppers from being the majority of the congregation. Not perfect, of course. But glad adapting to culture doesn’t always have to mean abandoning some very important things. I hope people aren’t settling for the negative changes!

  • Diane

    I remember my church–Lutheran–as more somber and awe-inspiring, more “Other,” than churches today, even Lutheran churches. It was a place of gravitas. Dressing up reinforced that. This is a child’s view, but I also remember church being about strict authority–but a strict authority grounded in mercy and love. I wonder if we have done a disservice in separating the two.

  • JohnM

    But the question as I go back and look was “How many of the changes can be called “juvenilization”?” I’ll pick my battle here, and this time it won’t have to do with music, 😉 but how about the way every thing has to be made into a game and has to be entertaining for children of all ages? Think of the little skits that have to end up with something messy all over someone, preferably someone in a postion of responsibility, best of all if it’s the senior pastor. Think of the pastors dying their hair, or shaving their hair, or eating something outlandish because the youth did something supposedly remarkable. Think of pastors dressing up in costume to preach.

  • Percival

    Drums and guitars are not so bad really compared with the music when I was a kid. Special music was either a mature lady warbling out a hymn that she had no business attempting without a net, a kid trying out a piano piece, an old man with a trombone, or a traveling visitor who played the saw, whistled, or did both at the same time. Truly, it was a sub-cultural experience.

  • Jim –
    I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything like what you’re talking about outside of student ministry, except the hair stuff, and as a dude who shaves his head I’ll object to you calling that juvenilization. 😉

  • JohnM

    ScottB – Did you mean one of the Jim’s or me? Both of their posts by the way make a lot of sense to me too.

    Of course if/why you choose to shave your head is your business – except if/when you’re doing it to make a statement to everyone else 🙂 Anyway, I HAVE seen the kinds of things I’m talking about outside of student ministry. Yes, more frequently within student ministry, but the fact that started for and among the kids (and goes way overboard even there) just supports my point.

  • Kevin

    I’m a drummer. I worship through playing the drums, and have given this gift to God throughout my life. My memories from childhood involve angry deacons and church ladies telling me I was playing the devil’s instrument, that drums were un-biblical and had no place in worship. I remember one Christmas our church had a service of carols. We were invited to make requests, so I raised my hand and asked for them to sing Little Drummer Boy. I was told that such a song was out of line because of the drum. It was a lot for a kid to take in. I developed a joke to deescalate people’s hurtful words about my drums (I’d smile and say…”no need to worry, I’ve already beat the devil out of them”), but I never felt like my gift was welcome. If that is one’s definition of a “mature” church, I’ll pass.
    I for one, am glad that the church began to expand its vision, and have given people who play something other than the piano or organ a place to share our gifts. That sounds much more mature to me.

  • I am in a different generation that you, Scott, (I’m 32 now), but I can see exactly what you are talking about and would nod my head in agreement. It reminded me of the time I was in the church balcony when I was about 10 and I got busted playing Uno during the gathering. 🙂 Good times. I suppose there is nothing new under the sun, even though we think there is…

  • I’m sure there will be a list that someone, maybe even me, creates in 20 years from now when they say how things have changed… I don’t think the church needs to change… we just need to continually change into the image of Christ… do that, and the church will be just fine.

  • I’m a little worried (haven’t read the book, but will) about the implication of the title and the blurbs promoting the book. Juveniles did not make the church juvenile. Adults did that. I’m influenced by Christian Smith, Kenda Dean, et. al. who have shown that the “problems of youth” are really grown-up problems originally. So, if the book is saying that adults acts like juveniles, I’d agree with that analysis. (I know it’s bad to have an opinion about a book before reading it.)

  • Bruce Emmert

    Scott, that’s a humerous, tongue in cheek list! It made me think about some changes that I’ve noticed that I admit aren’t as good natured and humerous as yours. Here’s my list: 1. Back when we were young white churches were outrageously racist and sexist. 2. Back when we were young folks went to church out of cultural duty, not devotion to God. 3. Back when we were young our parents’ faith was more about sustaining an institution by being good members than about making disciples who put their lives on the line for Jesus Christ. 4. Back when we were young it was difficult to distinguish between civic clubs and congregations. 5. Back when we were young church smelled musty–I don’t recall mustiness being next to godliness. 6. Back when we were young the pastor would sacrifice his family (miss his children’s concerts, cancel wedding anniversary plans, etc) to visit a member in the hospital whether it was an emergency or not and would come back from vacation to do a funeral for some member or other who hadn’t been there in five years. 7. Back when I was a kid my pastor’s favorite hymn–and we sang it with regularlity–was “Before Jehovah’s Aweful Throne.” What can I say, good times, good times.

  • TJJ

    I can relate to all of those Scot. Also:

    1. Potlucks after the morning service….I don’t see that anymore.
    2. Church movie night for the pm service, could be a Billy Graham produced film, etc.
    3. Special music from regular the congregation, with maybe more good intent than talent.
    4. Picture of Jesus in the sanctuary.
    5. Singsperations or hymn sing nights.
    6. “Anyone have any more announcements to give?”
    7. Children in the service, the whole service!
    8. Testimony night!
    9. Flannelgraph children’s story front of sanctuary.
    10. “If you are visiting please stand up and……”

  • Richard

    For those commenting, Tom is a former professor of mine and a friend and co-worker in ministry in our community. He isn’t against making church a more welcoming place in this text. He is more focused on the long-term trend of consumerism in church life and the often assumed (and sometimes implicitly taught) inability of people to mature and grow. We expect juveniles to be juveniles but in the process of accepting that as a life stage, our churches (reflecting our culture) are not good at walking people past that stage to adulthood. We keep people busy but we don’t help them grow. This is reflected in other documented studies with the development of “emerging adulthood” where someone is legally an adult at 18 but doesn’t take on the responsibilities of being an adult until much later (i.e. 28). He sees this as a historical development in the youth ministry of the 40s and 50s alongside of the birth of the concept of “teenager” in post WWII America.

    He’s really not concerned with the forms of worship, etc but he does have a concern about the functionality (or lack thereof) of helping people grow into maturity in Christ.

  • Tom Bergler

    I thought Scot’s post was both fun and thought provoking. And the comments reflect just the sort of conversation that I hope my book will provoke. Let me clarify what I am arguing. Juvenilization begins with the praiseworthy goal of adapting Christianity to younger generations in an attempt to help them become followers of Jesus. But at the same time that Christians were learning how to create youth friendly versions of the faith, adulthood in America was being decoupled from mature traits like commitment, service of others, and self-control. Since the new adulthood looks a lot like the old adolescence, it is not surprising that churches look more and more like youth groups. I want to stress that this change is not all bad. I agree that conservative Protestantism was a lot more dour and legalistic 50 years ago than it is today. Bruce Emmert’s list provided a great summary. I show in the book how churches became less racist both to appeal to young people and because young people pushed them in that direction. And if we were still counting on people to go to church because it was their duty or a social obligation, our churches would be empty. So juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity by providing ways to be Christian that seem more emotionally satisfying and relevant to people’s everyday lives. But sometimes, by making Christianity more appealing to a population that values the traits of maturity less and less, we make it harder to see spiritual maturity as both desirable and attainable. It’s hard to really believe that “it’s not all about me” when the church’s music, activities, and theology are all pointing in that direction. It’s not that drums are of the devil, but that we have a hard time providing thoughtful answers to questions like “what happens to our view of God and ourselves when the worship experience looks more and more like a rock concert?” When such questions arise, Evangelical Christians tend to fall back on one of two equally impoverished theological positions. On one extreme, some people think that most change is good and cultural forms are neutral. Just scoop out the worldly content and pour in some God content and you are good to go. On the other extreme, some act as if all change is a corruption of the pure faith of their childhoods or of some other mythical golden age. The fact is that every inculturation of the gospel message and way of life highlights some elements of the biblical faith and obscures others. I cringe when I see an interview with a pastor at Willow Creek who can claim that by using “marketplace” terminology and calling Christianity a product “we have not tampered with the timeless truths of the faith.” Christian leaders need to have a more sophisticated theology of culture than that. But many of them don’t, so we end up with churches in which spiritual maturity gets lost in the race for cultural appeal. On the other hand, I try to show in the book that those churches that refused to adapt to the preferences of the young often ended up in worse trouble than those that did adapt.

  • Audrey Geddes

    The church has certainly evolved to be more focused on youth, which I believe is a great chance to reach those who are seeking and being inundated with worldly views from the media and social media. Another way the church has become more mainstream is by advancing technologically, especially through mobile apps and an online presence. This can be an excellent evangelistic tool – Jason Caston, who has helped pastors like Rick Warren and Ed Young, writes about this in his book, The iChurch Method: How to Advance Your Ministry Online. With the advancement of the Internet, every ministry can have a global presence with the help of Caston’s book. You can learn about it here:

  • Rachel Jobe

    I feel like your example of a mega church is pretty faulty, at least in some cases. I attend a church that would be considered a megachurch. And I do know that my Pastor/Pastors make an effort to know ALL the members in their church, even by name. They make an effort to keep the church a family, even if it is large.

  • Even though many resist change, it is a good thing for many reasons. Change causes the brain to wake up and pay attention. It’s all too easy to walk in church, sit for 2 hours, then leave without hardly thinking about it. I think change is even good for “contemporary” churches who are, or were 🙂 , on the cutting edge.