Secularisation: Are Evangelicals Losing Their Young People?

Secularisation: Are Evangelicals Losing Their Young People? October 13, 2023

Road sign that points to lost and to very lost
Image courtesy of Canva

 

This article raises concerns over the increasing secularisation among the young people in evangelical churches, noting a trend where the current 18 to 29-year-olds, the Mosaic generation, seem to disconnect from the church’s narrative, seeking answers elsewhere for their life questions. The author emphasises the challenge faced by the churches in maintaining the relevance of the Biblical story in an age where young people encounter numerous narratives daily and have developed a filtering mechanism to decide which stories resonate with them.


Do we see secularisation among the youth happening?

A while ago, the leadership team of a large evangelical church asked me to brainstorm with. They wanted me to think with them about their vision for 2030. What trends are we witnessing? What’s happening in evangelical churches and in people’s lives? Where are we headed? Do we see secularisation among the youth happening?

Over the coming months, as a follow-up, I would like to share some of my personal concerns about the future of evangelical churches. In addition to all the beautiful and many positive things happening here, I also see a number of trends that worry me and that I want to share in the hope that either I’m unnecessarily worried, or a discussion can be initiated. So, let’s begin…

Many of these young people feel they can’t or shouldn’t ask their biggest life questions in church.

The first concern I see is increasing secularisation among a certain group of evangelical young people. You may be familiar with the book ‘You Lost Me‘ by David Kinnaman, director of the Barna Group, one of the leading Christian research groups in the U.S. In his book, Kinnaman describes why the (evangelical) church in the U.S. is currently losing a large number of their young people. The group in question is primarily 18 to 29-year-olds, also known as the Mosaic generation. According to Kinnaman’s research, 59 percent of this generation leaves the church, causing a demographic black hole in the U.S. church.

These young people are already being called the ‘blue glow’ generation – because of the blue glow of their mobile phones on the balcony during the service.

Of course, it is known that this age group has long been the age group in which people leave the church, but in the past, many of them fortunately returned to the church later. According to Kinnaman, this is not automatically the case this time. While every Mosaic individual has their own reasons for leaving the church, their overarching message seems often to be the same, namely: “You’ve lost me, because what the church stands for no longer adds up in my eyes.” Many of these young people feel that they can’t or shouldn’t ask their biggest life questions in the church. Instead, they turn to technology, current culture, and their peers for answers about big life questions on science, lifestyle, sexuality, and culture.

My concern is that the same phenomenon is occurring in evangelical churches in our country and that it will only increase in the coming years. To my knowledge, there are currently no concrete figures for our country about this phenomenon, but I see it happening in evangelical families in my immediate environment. Regularly as a travelling speaker, I converse with worried parents who express their concerns about their children who no longer believe and therefore do not want to attend the church anymore.

“I no longer adjust to the story. The story must fit me. The story must make sense to me.”

In the 60s to 80s of the last century, a significant secularisation occurred in the traditional churches. I fear that it is now the evangelical movement’s turn. We are dealing with, among other things, the first ‘internet and mobile phone’ generation. In certain churches, these young people are already being called the ‘blue glow’ generation – because of the blue glow of their mobile phones on the balcony during the service.

In this new normal, we as churches need to address the question: how do we prevent them from filtering out our biblical story?

This secularisation among the 18 to 29 target group, in my view, is largely related to the question: “How do we as Christians deal with the Biblical message?” Until recently, it was ‘normal’ for you as a young person to adjust your beliefs to the preaching in the service and the biblical teaching in the church. You could compare the preaching to a cookie cutter. Just as the dough is shaped by the cookie cutter and you get identical cookies, so my generation and I were shaped by the biblical story in the church. It was taken for granted that as a young Christian you would adapt to the grand narrative in the Bible. Nowadays, the (unconscious) mindset seems to be reversed: “I no longer adjust to the story. The story must fit me. The story must make sense to me.”

On Sunday morning, they wear the Christian rubber band. At school, they wear the secular rubber band.

Instead of the grand narrative as a cookie cutter, the story now works like a rubber band that you wear around your arm. Christian young people often wear several rubber bands around their arm. On Sunday morning, they wear the Christian rubber band. At school, they wear the secular rubber band. They have learned to filter stories. Every day, hundreds of stories come in via Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, Netflix, internet, and other social media. They’ve had to learn to deal with fake news and constant advertising messages. Filtering is an absolute necessity. Our biblical story is just one of the many stories coming their way. This can’t be changed or undone. This is part of the new normal that is beyond our ecclesiastical power and influence. Within this new normal, we as churches need to ask ourselves: How do we prevent them from filtering out our Biblical story?

 


 

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Matt Vlaardingerbroek, a former seasoned church planter and pastor in Holland’s inner cities, brings Bible stories to life through ventriloquism and magic. He’s authored three books, and founded www.creativekidswork.com, providing over 1,500 innovative Sunday school activities worldwide.

About Matt Vlaardingerbroek
At 52, I’ve worn many hats. For 14 years, I have been a church planter in one of Holland’s tough inner-city estates and served as a pastor, deeply immersing myself in community life. I have authored three Christian books and am a regular columnist for the Netherlands’ premier Christian website. A role close to my heart is that of a Christian children’s artist. Using ventriloquism and magic, I breathe life into Bible stories, sharing God’s tales in schools and churches. My creative streak also led to www.creativekidswork.com, a rich resource offering over 1,500 Sunday school activities. This platform aids children’s workers, teachers, and parents globally in imparting Biblical lessons to youngsters You can read more about the author here.

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