In the early 1970s, I noticed a shift in the emphasis of many evangelical churches. They increasingly incorporated methods such as “easy to understand” Bible versions and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) to “draw in the youth”. Today, over forty years later, many evangelical churches are postmodern and youth oriented, lacking the leadership of the elder generations. Many attenders (particularly the young people) in evangelical churches have not even had a born again “crisis conversion experience”. Tragic!
Concerned Nazarene John Henderson posted a more detailed article about this shift in youth ministries, here in the Concerned Nazarene Facebook Group. I have emphasized certain points by bolding, and inserted comments in [brackets].
Reaching Today’s Youth
By John Henderson
Life has spanned enough years for me to observe the different modes leaders in the church have used to reach the youth of our generation. My wife and I are products of the youth outreach of our time. There has been a noticeable change in the approach to reaching the young people from that time to this.
Even before our own time, there was the YMCA and YWCA. Those were actually evangelistic arms of the church. We have seen now that not only has evangelism ceased in them but any real semblance of Christ or Christianity exists except for smatterings of some sort of general morality. Even that is not all that much emphasized.
We were exposed to Youth for Christ and came to Christ and grew spiritually under its banner. Churches had Sunday evening youth services that have now gone from what they once were to being hardly noticeable, if at all. Not much is heard of YFC these days. It, Campus Crusade for Christ, and others seem to have faded and some have taken on the identity and mission of the emergent church movement.
Somehow and gradually, the notion arose that assumed young people should be reached in their own sub-culture. That sub-culture was largely identified by the worldly influences in vogue at the time, especially in the “music” of that sub-culture. The choruses and gospel songs were soon replaced with rock-and-roll sounds that contained hints of being gospel in some way. That was further enhanced by “worship” music set to shallow ditties that were justified because they somehow alluded to something Christian. Gone were the youth songs and choruses of the past that always supplemented the major hymns and songs of Christ and the entire shebang was replaced by this new music.
Music has always been a teacher of theology and so it still is. It is just that the theology changed to suit the music or else the music was changed to reflect the new theology. We may sometimes call it contemporary but [it] is far from contemporary. It is just rehashed out of the world into a veneer of gospel.
Frankly, we have it all wrong. We shall never reach young people for Christ by giving them amended worldliness. If nothing has changed over the years, it is the simplicity of the gospel. It is like a beautiful girl and when we gaudily dress it up like a floozy, we ruin the beauty that is there by nature. I have peered into areas used for youth activities and saw what resembled night clubs more than places for prayer. Add to that the stage performances—and the stages themselves—and there is no doubt as to what is being learned.
We should be bringing our youth into environments that more resemble the church as it should be. They should be exposed to learning the Bible and memorizing the Scriptures. They should be trained in praying and in witnessing so that they can actually pray with a fellow young person until that person meets Christ in repentance and faith. Their music doesn’t have to sound like it is from the Middle Ages but it should have the same depth of message in it that they should be hearing in regular church. In other words, they should be in training for taking the leadership when they become responsible adults. If they remain trained in shallowness that is what they will carry into the church’s leadership when it is their turn to lead. That is, those who hang around long enough to actually take the reins of leadership.
I can fondly remember the experiences [in] the youth services of my day. I loved walking into a meeting being conducted by youth and hearing gospel songs being sung and a young person preaching as well as many adults I ever heard. I loved standing around a [bonfire] on the beach at night while we shared memory verses and testimonies of the saving grace of Christ and the struggles we were having at school because of our testimonies. I recall youth camps that were reflections of the old-fashioned camp meetings the adults were running. In fact, there were no serious differences between youth and adult services except perhaps ours were more youthfully vibrant. The content was just as deep biblically.
By the way! Good marriages were bred in those environments. Calls to the ministry and the mission field were answered there. Lives I still know about were rooted in Christ there and are still grounded in Him. Time never changes anything. The only thing that ever changes is commitment to Christ and the Word of God.