Our guest blogger today is Aaron Vriesman. Aaron has been solo pastor at North Blendon Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, MI since he was first ordained in January 2006. Aaron graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 2004 and earned an ordination certificate the following year. Currently he is chair of Classis Zeeland‘s Interim Team and Evangelism Team. He has a second-degree black belt in taekwondo and teaches a class through his church every Wednesday. He has been married to his wife, Deirdre, for eleven years. He also enjoys learning, reading, time with family and friends, discussing ideas and current events, movies, bowling and travel.
Why would young adults be attracted to conservative churches? Aren’t young adults more educated and scientific in their view of the world? Aren’t young adults more accepting of premarital sex and gay relationships? Aren’t young adults more interested in communities of dialogue than cold hard doctrine?
As a 33 year-old minister in the Christian Reformed Church, I can say with both personal and professional experience that conservative churches do indeed draw young adults. In particular, churches that have a self-consciously high view of Scripture, a commitment to the creeds and confessions, traditional stances on marriage and sexuality, and work to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ actually do draw young adults.
Here are some reasons:
Young adults want authenticity. All people, but young people especially, appreciate people who are up front about who they are and what they are about. As advertisements everywhere attempt to lure people into spending money with attractive images and promises, young people are constantly being played. Give it to me straight. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me where you stand and then I can form my opinion. Don’t be a jerk about it but at least be honest.
Some churches shy away from Bible passages that might offend certain groups or avoid verses about God’s judgment because it makes God appear unloving. Conservative churches with a higher view of Scripture are not shy about anything the Bible says. They will read and preach on the uncomfortable Bible texts. Even those that equate divorce with adultery, tell wives to submit to husbands and spell out horrifying disaster for sinners. Since conservative churches are not worried about political correctness of any kind, they present the true God and Jesus Christ in all authenticity, with (what some would say) “warts” and all. Even if some young adults disagree with what they hear, they usually respect a straightforward message without spin.
Young adults want to know the real God. Many people today build their own gods with the bits and pieces they like from various sources, but what is God really like? Some churches present Scripture as human writing, introducing Biblical texts with, “Paul says…” or “David says…” Conservative churches will say “The Lord says…” or “God’s Word tells us…” Human opinions are a dime a dozen, but the Bible is not another human opinion. It is God’s truth, and so it is worth getting up early on a weekend to hear.
Young adults hunger for meaning beyond themselves. The mainstream culture’s gospel of toleration and acceptance is loud and constant. While this can be a smooth elixir to swallow, the net result is a sour stomach of uncertainty and meaninglessness. Is there anything that is truly right and wrong? Is life’s ultimate goal just being nice to everybody and never rock the boat? Hearing about the ultimate truth from God’s own Word gives a measure of meaning beyond popular opinion and greater than our own selves. Truth that confirms what we already feel and believe only betrays itself as our own personal truth.
Truth greater than ourselves by definition will challenge our views, prick our hearts, cause us to humble ourselves and submit to God’s way. As awkward and unpopular as God’s way might be, its superior source and loving purpose is compelling.
Young adults resonate with sin. They are familiar with the suffering that comes from broken relationships, dead-end jobs, brittle commitments and love with strings attached. Even a self-centered and narcissistic generation like mine has burning questions about why so many awful things happen in the world. Preaching the reality of sin has a way of bringing light to the elusive suffering that is so apparent everywhere. Some churches might call for awareness, dialogue or assistance programs in response to the world’s problems. Some young adults are attracted to this because they feel the ache of sin and want to solve its problems. But such human efforts mostly produce fatigue and frustration. Sin, according to the Bible, is actually a spiritual problem that cannot be defeated by human efforts. The truth, pure and simple, is that we need a Savior. Instead of trying harder, we conquer sin in ourselves only as much as we trust God to work through us. This leads us to open ourselves to God’s grace that comes by faith. Grace calls for human activity, but activity that is motivated by thanksgiving and love for God, not a better world as an end in itself.
Not all conservative churches attract young adults. Some conservative churches simply attempt to hold on to the past. Those that recoil at different ministry tactics or refuse to try the newer (or older) worship music reflect the idolatry of comfort zones, which undermines the gospel’s power even if it is accurately presented from the pulpit.
The key component of conservative churches that attract young adults is the visible display of God’s love. Before and after worshiping together, the love of God is visible in the way people greet and speak to one another. People of a different color or socio-economic class are welcomed with the same smiles and greetings as everyone else. Truths are held without compromise but questions and discussions are always welcome because that is how we learn. The conservative moral standards are used to encourage sinners in their emerging faith, not as merit badges of superiority.
At the end of the day, people need to see that God’s truth as well as his grace and love are more than theoretical beliefs. God is true and his Son Jesus Christ is mighty to save. Churches that show Jesus Christ is real will always attract people of all ages.