A Disturbing Trend in the American Church
In his book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity, Thomas Bergler, addresses some of the seismic changes in the American church. Bergler is a professor at Huntington University in Indiana and a church historian specializing in youth ministry. The book covers the American cultural shift in focus towards youth beginning in the 1930’s to the present time. His narrative and analysis covers not only conservative Evangelicals, but also the African-American church, mainline Protestants, and the Catholic Church. It is an insightful and challenging book on several levels.
Bergler is perceptive and prophetic as he puts his finger on a disturbing trend in the American Church. Over the past 75+ years, the American church has shifted its focus to “doing church” for the youth. In fact, this focus has come to define just about every aspect of how we do church. Consider the trends: pop worship music, falling in love with Jesus, wearing jeans and T-shirts to church, spiritual searching and church hopping, seeker-sensitive worship services etc. These now-commonplace elements of American church life all began as innovative ways to reach young people. They now define how many churches operate on all levels. They have gradually become accepted as important parts of a spiritual ideal for all ages. In his book, Bergler explores how this took place and states that it’s a cultural shift that most conservative Christians are simply blind to.
On the bright side, Bergler traces the way in which focusing on youth has breathed new vitality into four major American church traditions: African American, Evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic. But, on the down side, Bergler shows how this “juvenilization” of churches has led to widespread spiritual immaturity, broken lives, consumerism, self-centeredness, and a feel-good faith. This has further resulted in a lack of intergenerational community and widespread theological ignorance. Bergler’s critique further offers constructive suggestions for taming juvenilization. This is definitely a book for leaders to consider as they continue to contextualize how to “do church” in North America.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor
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