Youth Culture Window

Where Did God Go?

The differences between an 85-year-old and a 15-year-old go much deeper than just their wardrobe and music preferences. Research says they also have very different ideas about God, and faith in general.

One has faith, the other doesn’t. But the Church can help…if its wants to.

One Nation…Under No One
The Pew Research Center has been polling Americans on countless topics for years; but since 1987, they’ve studied American’s religious views, as well. Their latest studies have found that America, as a whole, is still a nation focused on religion and spirituality. For instance, 76% of the total population claim that “prayer is an important part” of their daily life. An identical amount, 76%, also believes that “we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” An even higher percentage, 80%, said they “never doubt the existence of God.”

Sounds pretty good, right? If we’re honest, most youth workers would love for that to be true of the students in their ministries.

But therein lies the problem.

A closer look at Pew’s research shows that the youngest American generation holds very differentreligious views than older generations. For instance, 89% of the Silent generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) have never doubted God’s existence, while only 68% of Millennials (those born after 1981) can say the same.

Making matters worse, it seems as though Millennial’s abandonment of God and faith is actually accelerating. In 2007, the “God gap” between the oldest and youngest generations was only 6 statistical points. In 2012, just five years later, the gap has widened to 21 points.

Is this reality caused by the socio-economic quagmire that many of today’s young people are stuck in? Is it because faith is continuing to lose ground to reason and/or technology? Is it because God seems irrelevant to today’s enormous problems?

Regardless, Millennials seemed to be headed in the wrong direction…in a hurry. You can bet there will be lots of finger-pointing as religious people try to place blame for this reality.

But maybe religious people should look in the mirror.

No Church…No God
Those numbers (above) clearly show that where there is no church, or where the church is inactive, the people have little belief in God (and even less understanding of Him).

Even Jay Z and Kanye West know this.

The two rap superstars collaborated with Frank Ocean on a music video entitled No Church in the Wildthat provides some cutting perspectives on Millennial’s religious views. Though the song peaked on Billboard’s Hot 100 at #72, it’s by two of the biggest names in hip hop, which explains why the music video has been viewed on YouTube over 8 million times.

At its core, the video is about a group of protestors fighting against their perception of injustice. There are plenty of raw scenes; episodes of police brutality, flaming Molotov cocktails, violence, profanity, destruction, and looting fill the 5-minute long video. While the video ends with the mob winning the battle…it’s clear they’ve got a long way to go before they win the war.

The song’s entire lyrics are available online, but a few key lines are worth highlighting because they are indicative of Millennial’s views on religion. The song actually begins with the chorus, crooned by Frank Ocean. He claims:

Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

Though there are elements in this song and video I can’t endorse as a pastor, that’s still a pretty good question to raise. What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?

When Jay Z chimes in, during verse one, he starts off like this:

Tears on the mausoleum floor
Blood stains the coliseum doors
Lies on the lips of a priest
Thanksgiving disguised as a feast

It’s pretty clear that Jay Z has a dismal view of faith. He associates tears, blood, and lies with all things religious. (In 2009, he pulled no punches about Jesus in the lyrics to his #1 song Empire State of Mind.) But the criticism only gets worse when Kanye steps up to the mic in verse two:

Coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra
I call that jungle fever
You will not control the threesome
Just roll the weed up until I get me some
We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission’
And deception is the only felony
So never f**k nobody wit’out tellin’ me
Sunglasses and Advil
Last night was mad real

According to Kanye, there are “no sins” – and therefore no consequences – as long as “there’s permission.” Whether or not we agree with Jay Z and Kanye isn’t the point. And no, I’m not blaming Kanye or Jay Z (or any other rapper) for the loss of faith in America. But the bottom line is, these guys produce music and messages that they know will connect with young listeners’ minds…and money.

No Church in the Wild is a creed for many unbelieving young people. It should also be a call to the Church to change things.

Restoring Faith
As bad as the religious landscape may be right now, America in 2012 is still far better off than Romania (or other Communist countries) circa 1986. As a whole, our (free) society still has an overwhelming desire to cling to the spiritual, and in many cases, Jesus. But if the Church wants to avoid a completely faithless society, it will have to make some focused efforts to help young people restore their trust in God.

  1. We need to put the Church in the wild. Jay Z and Kanye talk about a hopeless state of existence because there is no Church presence in the wild parts of life. To some degree, they’re right. Is the Church as excited about inner city outreach projects as they are Chris Tomlin concerts? Does the Church pour as many resources (energy, time, and money) into helping the broken and destitute as they do their own programming? Is the Church taking risks to make sure the Gospel is taken into scary places? Yes, the Church must take care of itself, but it also has the responsibility of reaching the lost who are trapped in the wild. Once upon a time, Jesus – the One who started the Church – hung out with prostitutes, thieves, corrupt leaders, and even demon-possessed people! He lived in the wild. So must we.

  2. We need to teach about suffering. Everywhere I travel and speak, I meet youth workers and ask them about their ministries. I discover plenty of fun activities, see lots of cool video clips, and find evidence of many sermon series on relationships, God’s will, dealing with temptations, and so on. But there’s always a distinct absence of any teaching on the subject of suffering. Only occasionally do I run across a poster or flyer in a youth pastor’s office about that topic. (And then, it’s usually one brief message taken from Job 1 & 2…without ANY mention of the last 40 chapters where the real grit is.) Why is this? Don’t we know that our kids see suffering? That they experience suffering? That in some cases, they even cause suffering? The reality of suffering is the biggest roadblock for most unbelievers and it’s the chief complaint in Kanye and Jay Z’s song. We need to teach young people about suffering so they can have an accurate perspective on it. By the way, Pew’s research shows that some of the biggest drops in faith occurred during 2002…when the nation was still suffering from the terrorist attacks of 2001. So, do your kids a favor and teach on something that impacts them every week. (If you need a little help in this department, check out this free resource on suffering, or this one.)

    These two strategies are nothing new. In fact, they are both thousands of years old. Even a cursory reading of the Bible will yield story after story of God’s people venturing into wild places to help those who suffer. There will be costs for sure. But there will also be costs for the Church to continue business as usual.

    The Church must decide which price it wants to pay.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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