Thursday, December 11, 2008

KISS church trumps the theologians every day

On Tuesday, the neighbouring pastor and I were comparing notes. “What does missional mean for young people. We’re in decline. We’re losing our youth to local megachurch. Any ideas?”

I laughed. Maybe I’m cynical, but I am wondering (today) if sociology actually trumps theology. No matter how missional, KISS – keep it sociological silly – is powerful. People want to be with their friends. That’s more important than the preaching or the worship or the images or the practices. No matter what happens up front, it’s the pew-pew interactions, or lack thereof, that tend to win. Often we wrap the “story of growth” around a theology, when surely it’s as simple as friends attract friends and these are powerfully pragmatic reasons that shape people’s choices.

Or am I a bit too jaded in this current season?

Posted by steve at 11:16 AM


  1. Don’t worry, they’re leaving the mega church too…

    Comment by Anon — December 11, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  2. for the same reasons – KISS – keep it sociological? do you think?

    or are people always coming and going?

    for me as a pastor, i want to keep it theological, to keep thinking it’s about God. but what if it’s not and if it’s for other reasons?


    Comment by steve — December 11, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  3. Does it have to be theological OR sociological? My guess is it is a blend of both.

    Where are the teens and 20’s that used to be here in huge numbers? They are down the road, at the church the new CU president attends. If the next CU president goes elsewhere, so will the crowd.

    But there are less of them overall, and they are turning away from a church and an expression of faith that doesn’t seem to help them develop a whole-life spirituality, as John Drane prvocatively asks “Do Christians really know how to be Spiritual?”

    So, they go where the crowd is, but the crowd is thinnning out – we need more than just our theologies to figure this all out.

    My question is, does this then push us further into responding with niche churches? If that’s what teens and 20’s want, do we give it them to maintain some kind of meaningful interaction? And if so, what other niches, and where is the expression of the diverse church Jesus seemd to want to create?

    Grace and peace

    Comment by Jonathan — December 12, 2008 @ 8:08 am

  4. Jonathan,

    great comment. the secret to dynamic church growth in your town relying on CU president. fascinating.

    we’ve invested heavily in the niche. but i do wonder if youth are different than young adults sociologically. i wonder if in terms of faith development youth need numbers more to reinforce faith, while as young adults start to process an adult faith, niche is important.


    Comment by steve — December 12, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  5. I know a mega church where the pastor makes 1.7 million and lives on the water. I don’t think that’s what God had in mind. To live humbly and not call attention to ourselves, but these churches seem to recuirt people money which they believes leds to salvation.

    Good post.

    Comment by Mattie — December 14, 2008 @ 12:25 am

  6. Mattie,
    I was not intending to attack megachurches. I was trying to process some thoughts and I think you helped me. Often people criticise the megachurch – for theology and ethics. But what does it mean to stop and consider the needs/hopes/desires of the people who go to these churches. If they are human beings who can make good choices, then what “choices” are they making and why are they making them? I’m not trying to defend, simply trying to understand,


    Comment by steve — December 14, 2008 @ 7:55 am

  7. You may find this research by the barna group

    I would say their is a huge difference between young adults and youth and what they require. Steve, I wouldn’t say youth need numbers to reinforce their faith I would say the key issue is belonging. While this is important for all people, it is particularly so for youth. They need a place where they feel they belong. Some get this sense of belong through being part of something huge (the megachurch) and such people will be attracted to place with the crowd and all the bells and whistles, some people find it hard to believe that young people feel they belong in a crowd of 100s but I have seen very strong sense of ownership and identity in some pretty big youth ministries.

    Others get a sense of belonging through being part of something small and so will be attracted to a smaller community. These people feel lost in the megachurch youth ministry. As a youth ministry that has grown from 25 to 50 over the last two years we have largely done so through a mix of new converts and also people who did not get a sense of belonging through being part of something large and so left a megachurch youth to attend something smaller. So one of our challenges is we need to build larger and smaller at the same time.

    Obviously this is painting in very broad brush strokes.

    These issues are important for the Church as youth have amazing opportunity for evangelism. Sadly the longer someone is a Christian the less non-christian friends they have, this is a generalization but a pretty fair one based on what I have seen. Through school and sports youth have far more social interaction with non-christians then most Christians do. Couple this with the fact that repeated studies show most people who make a decision to follow Jesus do so before the age of 25 and a large percentage of those do so before the age of 18 and we see the importance of having an effective youth ministry. So we need young people who can be shining lights in their different environments. Also if young people can learn to be a relevant witness in a high school (one of the hardest environments) and see fruit from this, then this will develop a life long passion for reaching the lost.

    Comment by Aaron — December 15, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  8. Helpful thanks Aaron. I think you are right to emphasise belonging, but I still think numbers are important. If you feel you’re the only kid at school who’se a Christian, to be part of larger settings like Easter Camps etc and Parachutes is hugely important. Doesn’t it take the “nerd” out of following Jesus?

    Great last para.


    Comment by steve — December 16, 2008 @ 9:06 am

  9. Mnn over here in the UK i think its the other way round

    looking at our local branch of the antipodean megachurch (by local i in our country actually london is far far away from me), I would have said it was the other way around, demographically their youth ministry is small for the size of the church which is mostly young adults (this then leads to small youth groups due to less mature family with teens) and teens here still on the whole tend to stick to the church their parents go to, leave altogether, or stay at the family church and part time with other youth groups or evening services.

    Altough the summer camps or more realistly now THE summer camp (in terms of youth now anyway) is a majorly established part of the young-christians experience of faith, most youth ministers build it into part of their year of activities fo the very reason you mention, taking the nerd out of christian.

    Comment by matybigfro — December 18, 2008 @ 4:31 am

  10. Getting back to your original question, I am in my 20s and I left a church where all my friends were but were the theology was questionable, to a church where i did’t know many people but where the theology was sound.

    Comment by Unsure — December 18, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

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