A few months ago, I asked the question of why Millennials are leaving the church, and why people aren’t going deeper with Jesus. But here’s a question I’m thinking through now: why today? We know Millennials are leaving the church and people are more critical of Christianity than ever, by why is this happening today?
Sure, our culture wasn’t always a Christian society, but still, we were more embracing of Christian beliefs in years past. Now, it seems like we’re struggling to keep them together.
There’s something working on our culture today that’s making it harder for Millennials to stay in church, younger people to go deeper with their faith, and for people of all generations to embrace an authentic, difference-making faith.
What is it?
I didn’t come to a realization on what this mystery factor might be until I was working on a writing assignment the other day. In the assignment, I told the story of how I used to be so concerned about my image and how others saw me. I spoke on how I didn’t love myself, how I felt I couldn’t be honest with others, and how I felt I should’ve been a better man with bigger muscles and a more athletic built.
I used to think this was a problem with my self-esteem, but then I took a walk in the mall the other day. My wife commented on how pictures of the “perfect women” are plastered everywhere to shame women into buying more to “improve” themselves.
I realized then that we all struggle with image, but now it seems we struggle even more so because of the heightened activity of our materialistic and consumerist culture.
People are always trying to sell us on something. It’s true. Ever since books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie came out, we’ve learned how to get what we want by crafting images for people. Society has taken this to a whole new level. We sell people all the time on how to become better.
And this is what I believe to be the mystery factor driving people away from churches today—our materialistic society.
With materialism and consumerism, we are given all the tools to put our best images forward. We promote shame in being ourselves and invent masks to make us feel better. This is the dynamic our materialistic/consumerist society needs to thrive.
In our materialistic society, we’re afraid to be honest with people for fear we need something new and shiny to wear in order to be loved. Well, I think we’ve taken this understanding and applied it to Jesus. We’re afraid to be honest with Him, but instead of dressing ourselves up in the latest fashions like we would in society, we dress ourselves up in better behavior.
This inauthenticity is driving Millennials away from the church. This disingenuity is killing faith from growing deeper roots in our younger generation. And this performance-based mentality is still choking the life out of our religious society.
Materialism and consumerism in our culture has only revived and exacerbated the idea that we need to be somebody else to be accepted.
And younger generations are getting tired of this way of thinking. We are becoming increasingly more bored with materialism preaching that we need to retouch our image in order to be loved.
So here’s the problem: we’re so immersed in our materialistic society—where everything is manufactured—that we think Jesus is trying to sell us on the Christian life, like it’s a product to improve our lives and make us feel and look better.
Because of this understanding, we think of Jesus in terms of pros and cons. We don’t go deeper with him; instead, we keep Him on our skin like fashion. We judge worship styles. We go church shopping. We critique a church’s cool factor—all because we’ve bought into the idea that Jesus is just another materialistic/consumerist schmuck trying to sell us on these things.
But here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t trying to sell us on how the Christian life can make us feel and look better. This means we don’t have to be so critical of Christianity like it’s a product in the mall.
With Jesus, we’re not critiquing fashion, something to make our image better. Jesus is concerned about who we truly are, not how we appear on the outside.
This means we can be honest with Jesus. We can shine our faults to Him. We can be whole with Him. We can go deep with Him. There’s no possibility of returning Him to the store because He doesn’t fit our needs. His solution is skin-deep; which means, He’s a one-size fits all.
People are leaving the church because we still think Jesus is about better behavior and looking better. We think Jesus is a salesman for this kind of life. But really, if we want more people to stay in church, we need to produce the environment where people feel they can be honest with Jesus.
In essence, we need to stop trying to sell Jesus to people.
The more we convey Jesus being about who we truly are rather than a moral person dressed in better behavior, then the more people we’ll see stay in our churches. After all, who doesn’t like to feel love for their self, to know they are accepted for who they are?
With materialism/consumerism, everyone’s trying to sell you on something to become somebody. With Jesus, you already are somebody. This is the message we need to hear the most in today’s society.
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