The Juvenilization of the Church
“I don’t wanna grow up. I’m a Toys R Us Kid.” So says the classic Toys R Us commercial, but no one ever imagined it would become a mantra for the evangelical church. Yet, as Thomas Bergler, author of “The Juvenilization of American Christianity” writes, that’s precisely what’s happened.
This so-called “quiet revolution” happened over a period of about 80 years and had the noble intention of reaching the young – and so it did. Para-church groups like Youth For Christ and Young Life created “youth-friendly versions of the faith” and saved scores of young people. But, the church struggled to incorporate these converts into a mature way of living in Christ. After all, what person attracted with games, rock music, and stirring testimonies wants to submit to spiritual disciplines and learn doctrine?
Over time, the church succumbed to the pressure to appeal to these immature appetites. As Bergler notes, it transformed its services into glorified youth rallies – and reduced Christianity to a “self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty faith.” True, this approach, to some extent, preserved the church: it kept church attendance and belief in God in strong in America despite decades of increased secularization. Yet, this juvenilization also has created an epidemic of Christians “mired in spiritual immaturity.”
Bergler suggests that churches tame this juvenlization by intentionally making church more intergenerational. In other words, children and adults need to engage each other at church – not be segregated into separate spheres. Bergler also advises the church compensate for the excesses and shortcomings of youth culture. For example, don’t just sing songs about how Jesus makes us happy; sing some that challenge believers to embrace suffering and sacrifice for God.
I would add that churches need to foster a love and respect for tradition and the ancient rhythms of the church. Fasting, solitude, adhering to the church calendar – all these are tried and true ways of maturing in the faith. In Ephesians, the apostle Paul said believers should no longer be children, but should grow up. I think it’s time the American church takes his advice.
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