Have you ever bought a McDonalds happy meal for your kids? I remember when our oldest two were young, we collected all of the mini beanie babies that came with the kid’s meal. It’s funny, but over the years, the food options are basically the same as they have been – Junior burger, small fries and a small drink. The item that constantly changes is the happy meal toy. One week it’s a toy from the latest Minion movie. The next week, it’s 101 Dalmatians. The week after, it follows another craze. The meal remains constant, but the attraction adjusts to the latest trending cultural theme. We can learn a good lesson from McDonalds. While our message must always stay consistent, we need to adjust our “happy meal toys”.
Have you noticed? Church attendance is slipping. Families that previously attended 3 out of 4 weeks only show up twice a month (now considered the new “faithful”). Families that used to attend twice a month now attend once a month or even less. According to research, only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important. Why is this? Research tells us that the issues are three-fold – kids have become disillusioned with the church, they feel that it is no longer relevant and worse, they have abandoned their belief in God. What can we do to help reverse this trend?
1. Restoring Belief: Help Them Experience God
There is a new category of Gen Z and Gen Alpha called the “nones” = “no religion” and they are the fastest growing group in the United States. Surprisingly, 78% of them admit that they actually grew up in church. 13% of Gen Z kids say they are atheists, 37% say you can’t know for sure if God is real and 58% say there is more than one way to God. 26% view the Bible as a book of fables, legends and history and 19% say they don’t believe in God. Of the 81% who believe in God, half of them say that the "god" (lower case "g") they believe in is not the God of the Bible.”
These statistics are depressing. Why are kids abandoning their faith? What causes them to say, do and believe the exact opposite of what they embraced earlier? There is no one-size-fits-all answer but I believe that we need to begin teaching the “why” behind our beliefs. Why is the Bible trustworthy? Why is it worth following Jesus?
Our entire culture (including secular schools) is aggressively teaching the apologetics of evolution and secular humanism...The secularists are teaching our children how to defend the secular faith, and connecting it to the real world—and here we are in churches teaching wonderful Bible stories and reinforcing in their minds that they can believe the secularists and that the Bible is not really connected to the real world.
We must find a way to restore biblical authority in their thinking. We need to teach our kids to be able to defend their Christian faith and answer the questions raised by our very vocal world. Introduce some apologetics into your curriculum and answer their tough questions. Share real life stories and testimonies of how God is working in people’s lives. True stories are irrefutable. They move our teaching from the theoretical to the practical. From principle to application. How has God answered your prayers or worked in your life? Maybe it’s time to share that story.
2. Restoring Trust: Practice what you Preach
This generation values integrity and honesty. Why be involved in an organization which preaches love and truth, but fails to show it? 20% of the “nones” who walked away say it is because they became disillusioned. 36% of Gen Z and Gen Alpha say the church has hypocrites. 66% of skeptics say that church scandals and abuse turned many of them away from belief in God. These are their perceptions, but to them, perception is reality.
They are watching. A hint of hypocrisy is all they need to see, and they are turned off. They observe church leaders who say one thing and do another. They see churches focusing on power, politics and money. They experience the trauma of a church split or the moral failure of a leader. They perceive their church behaving more like a country club, caring about no one outside their group while others see a church arguing over something as simple as the color of the carpet while war, poverty and disease wipe out thousands of lives. The hypocrisy continues at home where they see their parents playing “church”, attending because it’s the social, acceptable thing to do, but displaying no evidence of their faith during the week. worship songs are replaced with cursing and gossip and the Bible is never opened. Disillusionment follows and they make the decision that God and church are not for real. It is not worth their time.
It’s true, and we all know it. The church is not perfect and neither are we. But the stink on the ark sure beats the heck out of what is going on outside. We must prioritize unity wherever possible and then teach our kids to keep their eyes and their focus, on the perfect person, Jesus, not on the imperfection they see around them.
3. Restoring Relevance: Talk about Hot Issues
Kids today are struggling with serious issues and when unchurched people think about church, they often don’t see a connection to their daily lives. 25% of practicing Christian Millennials believe the church is irrelevant today. 45% of practicing Christians say they know people who are tired of the same old church services and 40% of churched adults say they leave disappointed at least half the time. Many of them say they are “tired” of church as they have known it growing up. It has become “irrelevant.”
Irrelevant is defined as having no importance or relation to what is being considered, being inapplicable or not pertinent; not connected with. We are failing to connect to the real world. How is the church addressing these real-life issues? Parents tell us that they want the church’s help. They are fearful and overwhelmed, not knowing what to do. We must step in begin to address the struggles our kids and their parents are facing.
I’m not suggesting that we ever change our message. God’s Word is timeless and we should never compromise His message. But we must adjust our presentation. Are you willing to change your Happy Meal toy? Let’s become RELEVANT again.
Endnotes  https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/  www.barna.com/research/atheism-doubles-among-generation-z/.  https://www.christianpost.com/news/americans-believe-bible-book-of-fables-not-literal-word-of-god-gallup.html  https://news.gallup.com/poll/393737/belief-god-dips-new-low.aspx The vast majority of U.S. adults believe in God, but the 81% who do so is down six percentage points from 2017 and is the lowest in Gallup's trend. Between 1944 and 2011, more than 90% of Americans believed in God. Gallup's May 2-22 Values and Beliefs poll finds 17% of Americans saying they do not believe in God.  Dalia Fahmy, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/25/key-findings-about-americans-belief-in-god/.  https://answersingenesis.org/church/sunday-school-syndrome/  Michael Lipka, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/.  Tessa Landrum, www.kentuckytoday.com/baptist-life/gen-z-is-spiritually-illiterate-and-abandoning-church-how-did-we-get-here/article_ea994828-6cd4-5fbd-8352-496ef3eb9c8e.html/.  https://www.barna.com/research/2015-state-of-atheism-in-america/.  www.barna.com/research/current-perceptions/.