A Quiet Crisis in the Western Church
It’s no secret that today’s church is shrinking. Sociologists are beginning to make predictions about a looming death awaiting the American church. The statistics are compelling, if not depressing.
This decline is largely due to the church’s inability to effectively reach the Millennial generation and those following on their heels. Faithful churchgoers are aging in our pews, and their children are out to Sunday brunch. The Western church is hemorrhaging. How do we stop the bleeding?
The church I pastor is situated in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn—the cultural “trend-setting” neighborhood of New York City and the epicenter of rising Post-Christianity in the U.S. A church-going Christ-follower is an endangered species around here. Sunday church attendance in our slice of New York City makes up 0.1% of the population. On any given Sunday, you’ll find approximately one in a thousand people in a Christian Church, and that statistic accounts for Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic churches combined. As a pastor in a global city, leading a congregation made up almost entirely of people between the ages of 22-38, the generation flooding the church’s exit doors is my audience.
The Road to Emmaus
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” -Luke 24:13
On the original resurrection Sunday, Luke’s Gospel paints a picture of two disillusioned disciples, heavy with symbolism. They are walking away from Jerusalem—the great city of faith and the setting of their spiritual formation. They are walking toward Emmaus, a city of escape, a new start without the baggage, a consolation. These aren’t a couple unwavering dreamers looking for a reason to keep the faith. They’re a couple of realists dealing with the death of their rabbi, and symbolically, the death of their hope.
It may come as a surprise that Jesus’ first sermon in a resurrection body, the original Easter Sunday altar call, was not preached in a Roman Colosseum, a Judaic Temple, or even an upper room hideout. It was preached along the dusty hike to Emmaus to an audience of two disenchanted ex-disciples who walked out on the God of their ancestors.
They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” -Luke 24:32
Beginning with Moses and the Prophets, Jesus walked them through the redemption narrative they memorized in school, rehearsed every Sabbath, and celebrated every high holiday. Christ didn’t present a new story. He re-cast the story they were familiar with in a new light. And when he told them the very story they walked out on in this way, their hearts burned with passion and longing.
Beneath the public culture wars, toxic political climate, and changes in philosophical thought, there’s something more troubling lurking. The way we preach the Gospel is no longer connecting. The church must re-discover how to cast the same old story in a new light that burns in the hearts of a whole generation walking along the Emmaus Road.
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“How do we reach Millennials?” That’s the number one question I’m asked by other pastors, and there isn’t a close second. My answer? Develop an emotional apologetic.
C.S. Lewis’ first book on apologetics, The Problem of Pain, was published in 1940. After a series of reputation-making radio interviews on the book’s contents, it was re-released as Mere Christianity twelve years later. Mere Christianity is an intellectual exploration of the basic tenets of the biblical Gospel.
Nine years after that, Lewis released another book, A Grief Observed. It was raw and honest, presenting more questions than answers, interweaving the Christian Gospel with the very personal memoir of a grieving man of faith slowly, painfully, and tragically losing his wife to cancer. The book’s contents were so shocking that Lewis elected to release it under the pseudonym “N.W. Clerk,” later discovered to be C.S. Lewis.
In Mere Christianity Lewis interacts with intellectual apologetics, addressing the questions presented by sin, suffering, death, life, love, and hope. It’s a masterpiece.
In A Grief Observed Lewis honestly documents his personal and emotional interaction with the very doctrine he believes. He tells an unfinished story, recording the experience of life, love, and hope in in a fallen world wrought with sin, suffering, and death. It’s equally a masterpiece.
Mere Christianity deals with intellectual apologetics, A Grief Observed with emotional apologetics.
The Millennial generation is leaving today’s church in droves because they’re seeking emotional peace and soul-level fulfillment but getting explanations aimed at the intellect. The twenty and thirty-somethings elusively absent from the vast majority of American churches are searching for a story that gives language to their deep longings, and finding a church preaching a Gospel seemingly too simple for the complexity of their pluralistic worldview and the internal riddle of their deep desires.
Essentially, today’s church is addressing the wrong questions, the questions that resonated with Boomers and Gen-X are not the questions of these emerging generations. Previous generations wanted Mere Christianity. Emerging generations want A Grief Observed. Rather than, “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” today’s young adult is asking, “Have you really found abundant life? And if so, would you mind pointing the way?”
In every generation, the church must re-discover the language of the heart. The Gospel will never grow tired, but today’s church is still addressing yesterday’s questions, slow to gain fluency in a new heart language.
When the Gospel story is re-cast to address the deep, emotional questions of a new generation, we discover language for an undefined emotional angst and ambient anxiety, and the heart’s door swings open.
“How do we reach Millennials?” We must develop an emotional apologetic. I searched for a book that explained the Gospel from a premise of emotional emptiness and existential crisis but found none, so I wrote the book I spent years wishing had been written.
How to Use This Book
Searching for Enough: The Hire-Wire Act Between Doubt and Faith by Tyler Stanton:
- An immersive introduction to the Gospel explanation resonating with the church’s absent generation.
- A compelling diagnosis of the empty promises made by the modern, Western life script.
- A broad introduction of biblical theology, beginning with emotional angst and leading to biblical truth.
- A portrait of Jesus that affirms the good and appeals to the unquenched longing of today’s unchurched, de-churched, and bored in our pews.
- A re-introduction to the disciple Thomas, whose doubt is not a state to be feared but a pathway through disillusionment to encounter with Jesus.
- A practical toolkit for pastors with a passion to reach young people.
- An accompanied video guide by the author for those reading in groups of any kind.
Get your copy today to awaken hope and renew vigor for the Way of Jesus in modern, Western world.