For some time, we’ve heard the gloomy forecasts about young people leaving the church. Some refer to it as a New Exodus. Fact is, millions have left – run from – denominational structures.
One can track this religious shift a variety of ways: news sources, polling, listening to ministry talking heads who are literally invested in church growth models. But you’re not likely to read or listen to a more compelling voice than that of Ken Ham.
The founder of the colossus apologetics ministry, Answers in Genesis, Ham has had his pulse on the problem of young people leaving the church for a very long time.
Many are now listening to him.
Aside from the fact that Ham directs a wildly successful para-church ministry, his take on this issue is unparalleled: He’s out in the trenches.
Actually, the Australian-born speaker and writer has been on the stump for some 35 years, pulling from his classroom teaching experience to really understand why the church is failing young people. To the dismay of those who would offer more superficial reasons (worship music needs tweaking, less “preachy” sermons, more comfortable seating, etc.), Ham actually offers real data and, well, answers. He also, in his latest book, “Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation,” offers solutions to bring back this lost generation.
As we learn in the book’s basic premise: “Having grown up in church, an alarming percentage of people have now traded in the timeless beliefs of Scripture for a more comfortable, postmodern faith or secular worldview. They have waded so deep into the culture that the current has swept them away with the pluralism of biblical compromise and materialistic indoctrination.”
Ham has always been really good at identifying the foundational problems related to young people and church, and he’s offered solutions in the past, but not like he does in “Ready to Return.” Here, Ham outlines the problems, yes, but he also offers solutions (and one of those solutions is really, really big: the Ark project!).
First, a fascinating look at the ripple effect the church exodus is having:
In 2009, I attended Sunday services at an impressive 19th-century church in London. In a building with seating for 3,000 in ornate pews, a handful of elderly people sat inside … in chairs set up in the foyer.
The service, held in a vibrant city full of millions of people, reminded me of a funeral – not the funeral of a person, but the funeral of a once-great institution. In the past 40+ years, 1,600 churches in England, with hundreds of years of ministry behind them, have shut their doors, according to an architectural preservation group called the Victorian Society.
Now, what makes Ham the tip of the spear in uncovering the reasons for church decline is his standard stump speech. He says that each time he speaks, he is asked the same questions:
- How do you know the Bible is true?
- Hasn’t science disproved the Bible?
- Isn’t the world millions of years old?
Answers in Genesis provides superb responses to the basic questions (perhaps the Number One question deals with the age of the earth). This stands in stark contrast to the pitiful church growth “answers,” which include outrageous presentations (circuses, pastors on motorcycles, sermons centering on Hollywood films).
Ham and Answers in Genesis already give people the tools, and in Chapter 9 (“A Game Plan”) of “Ready to Return,” a very doable list of action items is provided for parents, families and church staff. Ham is very good explaining to the average Christian that he or she is well capable of: first, teaching their children; and then, remaining solidly standing on the Word of God, which is self-authenticating.
“A Game Plan” is the real money here, and should serve as a blueprint or manifesto for churches across the country.
It is perhaps ironic that many pastors in the country now (let’s acknowledge, too, that there are also many thousands of fine pastors and churches in this country, teaching the Bible) try and adopt secular models for “growing” churches, while at the same time avoiding both the more sensible and Scriptural model of simply teaching the Bible all the way through:
Pastors should teach the whole Bible to the church. Not that they have to cover every detail in Scripture’s 66 books, but the idea is that they are given a solid working understanding of the Bible as a whole, along with an ability to understand and articulate a defense of God’s Word and the person and work of Christ. This helps to ensure churches produce a generation of well-rounded and fully equipped disciples.
Ham has his detractors, but they are hardly able to dispute his findings, which come from decades of church speaking, along with hard polling data. In the strongest possible terms, I’d like to urge all Christians who are worried about shrinking churches give a hearing to Ken Ham’s “Ready to Return.”