A youth pastor friend, Jake, recently brought up the subject of consumerism and its impact on the Church. Unfortunately, the adult generation has treated going to church like belonging to a club or owning a car. We trade up when the current model gets outdated or join a new club when we want to try something new. This attitude has been transferred to youth who tend to view student ministries in much the same way.
Jake said, “Churches rotate the new hotness.” This quip made me laugh at first. Once I got the real impact of the statement, it made me sad. The problem is that people go to church instead of belonging to a church, which should be a local expression of the universal Church.
Rotating churches too often means that students never develop roots in one community of faith. This allows them to be spiritually isolated and soulish in their everyday life. They come for the food and entertainment. Then they leave for the next thing when the “hotness” moves. They don’t learn what it is to go through troubles as a dedicated part of a church because they go to another fellowship if things get dicey.
The danger is whatever you use to attract people is what you have to do to keep them. Over time you have to do more and reach new extremes. Or else you face the possibility of the “Hotness” sign moving to another church.
The “hotness” phenomenon pits student ministries against each other. It can be difficult for various churches to want to work together. Envy can develop between leaders as the “hotness” moves from place to place. Then pastors start talking bad about each other and the unity of the local Church suffers.
While I wish that most pastors were spiritual enough to get beyond ministry envy, I know that I have struggled with it even as a lay leader. We should celebrate the success of each ministry in the area. But it is easy to try to figure out what they are doing right and copy their secret. Only we want add a few twists to make it better.
I believe that most churches need to revisit what it means to belong. While this starts with the adults, it needs to be modeled and taught to youth and kids too. Changing attitudes and hearts toward church is the only way to get people to belong for Biblical reasons.