Is there hope for a reversal of that trend?
Adam Proffitt and Alexander Greer think the answer may come in the form of the missional church movement.
Proffitt is the middle school minister and student ministry team leader at First Christian Church in Johnson City. He oversees the young people in his church from birth through high school.
“I think a lot of people graduate from high school and do turn away from the church,” he said. “I believe it is because they weren’t given anything significant to do. For postmodernism in general, I think doing is valued over knowing.
“You think of what we give students in high school. We give them a lot of education. We spend a large amount of time pumping them full of information. But we don’t give them the opportunity to practice that information.”
That’s where the missional church movement comes into play. Proffitt said the movement is an alternative way of getting people into church.
“I’ve got a friend who is a pastor of a church in Columbus, Ohio,” said Proffitt. “His church is predominantly focused on the Ohio State campus. They invite people to a missional community of 15 to 40 people, who are focused on a specific neighborhood, a school, or something like a nursing home. Through the missional community, they get plugged into church.”
Greer, who is the welcome and involvement director at First Christian Church, said a big part of the idea is simply going.
“Looking forward we need to make sure we are not always asking people to come to us,” said Greer. “The Bible says to go and make disciples. As a church we’re always trying to figure out how to go.”
The steps toward going aren’t easy, said Greer.
“It’s hard, and you have to be willing to be in awkward positions,” he said. “But in the context of Johnson City, being invited to church still has a positive connotation.”
In other places, it might have a negative connotation.
“There might be a big gap because people don’t go to church, their parents didn’t go, and their friends don’t go,” said Greer. “It’s a really hard thing for them to say yes. In a lot of places in America, the answer is still yes. But in quite a few places, more and more the answer is no. The cultural gap between Sunday morning and people’s everyday experiences Monday through Saturday is getting wider and wider.”
But Greer said the missional approach can attack the gap.
“For me, the missional church is thinking about how you can bridge that gap,” said Greer. “We need to meet people where they are and let them know God is for them and church is for them. We want them to know Jesus put on flesh to become one of us so he could make a difference and die for us and give us new life.”