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Putting on More Makeup Doesn't Make You Pretty

I was in a bookstore in Cincinnati the other day, and I saw a book title that caught my eye: Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom and Joani Schultz. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I would imagine it connects with Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons' book unChristian and Kinnaman's other book, You Lost Me. Both books give solid research on why younger generations are leaving the church.

Without question, the church in America is in decline. Consider the following: the number of megachurches in America has nearly doubled during every decade over the last half century. One would think that as a result of more megachurches, there would be fewer unchurched people in America. And yet, according to The Barna Group, during the past decade the number of adults who do not attend church has nearly doubled to over 125 million. So, with all of our marketing, big buildings, and budgets, we’re not even keeping up with population growth in America!

I recently had lunch with a man who has a grown child who has walked away from the church. When I got back to my office, I saw an email (not sent to me but another pastor) that said, "I have watched each of my grown children walk away from the church. They all pray and have some sort of belief, but do not have a use for the church. I now think I am beginning to understand why. It is irrelevant to them. I am a leader in a church and lead a small group each Sunday night. It, for the most part, is a church of older dying members who are the main financial support . . . I pray for God to use me and bring more families to serve Him, but it is not happening."

I've been a full-time pastor now for 21 years, and I've seen more churches than ever use culturally relevant music, facilities, dress style, and marketing, and yet the unchurched population continues to grow. Now, believe me, I'm not against relevant music, facilities, and so forth. In fact, as a former church planter, I understand quite well how important these tools can be. However, I find it interesting that when young adults who grew up in the church but have left are asked, "Why did you leave?" their answers have little to do with these issues. The most predominant answers given by young adults who have left the church are that the church is shallow, repressive, anti-intellectual, hypocritical, judgmental, and too political. Whether or not you agree with their assessment, notice that these are substantive issues that get at belief systems and Christian behaviors and attitudes.

Unfortunately, many churches keep focusing on the window dressing and not what's inside the room. While we tweak our music and dress styles, we're not addressing the core issue which is WE'RE THE PROBLEM! It doesn't matter how "cool" we are or how relevant we try to be if we're shallow, repressive, anti-intellectual, hypocritical, and judgmental people. These are behavior changes we need to address. We can't put on more make-up and think we'll be more pretty, if we're ugly on the inside.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tested and failed. Genuine Christianity is rarely tested.” What is genuine Christianity? That which looks like Christ. Perhaps if we focused more on looking like Jesus, we would see more people focused on Jesus and attracted to a community of Jesus followers. In spite of great obstacles, persecution and being the minority in Jewish culture, the first-century church exceedingly grew. Today, in spite of nice buildings, great marketing tools and music, churches are in decline. Something is wrong with that picture. Let's get below the surface of just dealing with the facade, and let's deal with the deeper issues of our character, Christlikeness and commitment. I believe that when we do so, our church buildings won't be able to hold all the young … and older adults who will want to learn more about this Jesus we follow.

Breaking the Cycle

In his book, Man Alive: Transforming Your 7 Primal Needs into a Powerful Spiritual Life, Patrick Morley describes how his grandfather abandoned his family when Patrick's father was only two years old and the youngest of four children. He writes, "That one fateful decision set forces in motion from which our family has still not fully recovered." Patrick's dad never had a good role model for fatherhood, so when the size of their family grew to four young boys, his dad sent them to church. But their church had no vision to help men like Patrick's dad become disciples of Jesus. So Patrick grew up never having a good role model for fatherhood. When Patrick became a dad, he brought his father's and grandfather's brokenness with him. Morley confesses, "It's hard to silence the echoes of the past." Fortunately, Patrick sought help and Christian men discipled him and taught him how to be a godly husband and father.

Our nation is pandemic with generational brokenness due to poor fatherhood or father-absent homes. According to, 26% of all children in the U.S. are growing up in a household with only one custodial parent, and 84% of those parents are mothers. Among African-American children 49% are growing up with a single custodial parent. Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse." Children in father-absent homes are more likely to get pregnant as teenagers, have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records, more likely to be incarcerated, and are twice as likely to drop out of school.

I’ve shared this in a previous blog, but when I served as a prison chaplain in New Orleans, I asked hundreds of inmates two questions over the course of two years: (1) How many of you had a dad at home when you grew up? (2) How many of you are a dad? Over that two-year period of time, I only had two men tell me they had a dad at home who helped raise them. Many of them said they were raised by their grandmothers or extended family members. The answer to the second question was that almost all of them were dads. I asked the men if they believed their life would be different if they had a dad who stayed at home, showed them love and discipline, and helped raise them, and the men completely agreed. I would then tell the men that they have an opportunity to break that generational cycle, and they can be godly fathers who raise their sons and daughters to love the Lord and make a Kingdom difference in the world.

We need to break this cycle! And the only way it's going to happen is for older men to teach the younger men how to be godly husbands and fathers (Titus 2:1-8). We need godly men to come alongside single-moms and be role models to their sons and Christ-like examples to their daughters. We need Christian fathers to pour into other fathers how to love, discipline, and raise their children in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and others (Luke 2:52).

For those of you who have generational brokenness, you can break the cycle. You can move forward with your life in the love and truth of Jesus Christ. There's an old Irish proverb that says, "You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was." Regardless of how good or bad you had it when you were growing up, regardless of whether you had an abusive or absentee father (or mother), you can rise above and “do your own growing.” Prayerfully seek out a mentor whom you would like to emulate as a parent. And be sure to break the cycle of your own sin patterns. Be honest and own up to the destructive behaviors you may have learned or inherited and that you, unfortunately, might be passing on to your own children. Grieve what could have been, but then forgive, ask for forgiveness, repent for all the ways you have sinned against others, ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse and transform you by His power, and then be patient. For most of us, mending takes time. But gradually, incrementally, we discover that we "are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). And praise God that He does bring us freedom from generational brokenness through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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