Unlocking the Church
Can We Strengthen Our Congregations Before It's Too Late?
by James M. Kushiner
Our last two Touchstone conferences have included more young people than ever before. At the 2021 conference, "No Neutral Ground: The Cost of Discipleship in a Secular Age," about a third of our audience was under 40—and most of those were under 30.
Many of them came to hear Rod Dreher. His recent books, The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies, have attracted world-wide attention from devout young Christians (as well as older ones) who are alarmed by the moral disintegration of the West and its increasing secularism, especially its growing antagonism toward Christianity.
Young Christians today whose faith has been tested by assaults in high school and college are not lukewarm Christians. They are ardently committed, but also concerned about the future and the future of their children. Such concerns and serious commitments among the young is not new.
Many young Christians in the 1960s and 1970s also were restless, troubled by mainline Christianity's détente with consumerism and the embrace of prosperity as a gospel witness. They were further disoriented by establishment Christianity's tepid responses and acquiescence to sexual "liberation" and the resulting disintegration of familial bonds.
The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of the Jesus Movement, charismatic Christian communities, and house churches of Christians attempting to live what they saw as New Testament expressions of Christian community. Unsurprisingly, idealism and inexperience, as well as sin, led to burnout, abuse, loss of faith, or surrender to the spirit of the age for some of them. Others persevered, embracing a deeper study of Scripture, theology, church history, and a commitment to serious discipleship in their churches. Enlightened by the wisdom of previous generations of Christians, they attempted to follow "the Great Tradition" or "mere Christianity."
Despite the growing rejection of Christianity by secular society, it appears that many young Christians today are seeking authentic forms of discipleship and Christian community. We hear from many sources and have ourselves seen a growing number of young people show up at the doors of orthodox-minded churches, seeking instruction in the faith. They wish to belong to Christian communities and congregations that will not bend to the growing pressure of the surrounding culture to conform. They wish to live disciplined lives regulated by the gospel, to grow in faith in Christ. Many resonate with The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies. But how do our churches measure up as the kind of formative communities of faith new seekers hope to find?
The recent and ongoing coronavirus pandemic has exposed weaknesses in orthodox-minded churches. The vulnerability of many Christian congregations was revealed by the initial responses to the state-mandated lockdowns in several ways: by what was done, by the responses to what was done, and, more importantly, by what was not done.
James M. Kushiner is the Director of Publications for The Fellowship of St. James and the former Executive Editor of Touchstone.
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