Engaging Culture

The Next Generation’s Perception of Church

I had the opportunity this year to speak at a leadership event at Ivy Church in Manchester, England. The pastor is Anthony Delaney, who’s done a brilliant job building a multi-site church in a city that’s experiencing enormous growth in business, media, and education. As a result, Ivy has a great number of young members and it’s making an enormous impact. Keep in mind this is during a time when many established churches are shrinking – so much so that many denominations such as the Methodists and Church of England are looking for ways to partner and sometimes even give some of their buildings to growing churches like Ivy.

When I asked Anthony if he’d considered taking one of those magnificent buildings, he surprised me. He said “No.”

He told me that while some Church of England congregations like Holy Trinity Brompton are doing remarkably strategic things, most young people in England have such a negative perception of “church,” that he’d rather launch a new campus in a bar or warehouse. They won’t come to anything that looks like a “traditional” church, but will visit another site that seems familiar.maxresdefault

Think about that for a moment. The perception of “church” for this generation in the United Kingdom is so negative, that it’s often more effective to start a church in a local bar than in a traditional church building.

Anthony also pointed me to a survey the Church of England did about 15 years ago for a report called Youth A Part which asked young people what would be the nearest feeling or perception they could think of that would compare to stepping through the door of a church building they had never been in before. The box most checked by far was that it was comparable to going into a public toilet in a strange part of town…

Anthony understands the culture in which he’s working.  The question is, what will it take to turn that culture around?

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13 Comments

  1. “The next generation” has grown up in a participatory culture — a culture that invites them to express themselves. Traditional church still uses authoritarian methods, and lectures that allow no response or comments. Perhaps it is time for church to go back to the New Testament concept taught in 1 Corinthians 14:26 — that a gathering of believers should allow anybody present to speak up in the meeting. Isn’t it odd that social media and our contemporary, participatory culture has discovered the New Testament concept of open sharing and participation!

      1. Interestingly, churches like Hillsong that still have a platform led/directed worship and one main speaker are attracting millennials by the bucket loads in almost every continent now. I don’t think going to a ‘freefrawl’ concept of church is the answer to attracting millennials. My experience has shown me that while some one like Steve (obviously a boomer) enjoys it most of these gatherings are small and attract other boomers, not millennials who prefer excellence in presentation and teachers/ preachers who are able to articulate a solid biblically based message.

  2. Phil great post as always. I think he makes a strong point here and what he is doing is working because he is creating “new spaces” for the church to affectively operate in. This redefinition of church is a great way of attracting segments of the next generation that have a negative disposition to church or have even hostile perceptions that are tied to the churches old architecture. However I believe that churches like Holy Trinity Brompton and others are being effective as well by “recapturing” old spaces and reimagining them in fresh new ways that are proving to be effective as well. I don’t think it’s an either or solution but what is common is the need to reimagine, redefine and represent a fresh new interpretation of our eternal truths to a generation that is hungry for spirituality and will respond to authentic and fresh revelation.

    1. Absolutely correct Rob. I’m a huge fan of what Nicky Gumbel is doing at Holy Trinity Brompton. The key to both Nicky and Andrew is that they understand the culture’s perceptions, and use those perceptions as the key that unlocks the door. A major media leader in Hollywood told me last month that “Attention is the new currency.” We live in such a distracted culture, that just getting the audience’s attention is incredibly important. But I’m afraid too many Christian leaders have been tone deaf, and are answering questions the culture isn’t asking. Thanks for your comment. Great stuff…

      1. Phil your reply here supersedes even the main article!
        The sorry thing is that others are stepping into this gap and recruiting young people into cults, vices, practices etc.
        Oh for deaf ears to open and blind eyes to see by the Spirit of God!😢

  3. I’m fascinated with our (and with my own) proclivity to a “form” or a “type” even to our (my) peril. It takes a significant amount of disciplined intentionality to know what to keep as is and what to reimagine. It looks like Ivy and Holy Trinity are both succeeding in that critical work. Thanks for sharing Phil!

  4. It’s a shame the traditional church building is now viewed so negatively. I drive by an historic white steepled building and feel a sense of peace and safety. Now that Christianity is counter-culture, maybe our traditional buildings will one day be seen as radically appealing.

  5. Thanks for the post. It is a conversation starter. IMO, there needs to be a lot of different styles, offering, brands, meeting places, etc. There always have Benn and I don’t foresee any big change.

    I think there is a need for a bunch of smaller communities that unleash the gifts of every member. A tight fellowship with a unique way to live. I led a house church for three years in the Jesus Movement because the people looking for Jesus on campus were caught up in drugs, sex, rock and roll. Nobody else wanted them and my wife and I along with some other Seasoned Believer’s put together 4 house churches that were really therapeutic communities and transformational centers. (I was a University Dean and Counselor.)

    Then I headed a Discipleship and Counseling Center at a big church and we equipped thousands to be Care Givers plus a hundred to be Peer Counselors so the big Church was small in care. Variety is good, necessary, and productive. People vote with their feet and move around a lot.

    People cannot authentically lead that which they are not committed to, gifted for, called to do, and talented enough to lead.

    1. Approve.

      Phil Cooke, Ph.D.
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    2. That’s a great point Gary. Small churches are a great incubator for gifts, which is why even larger churches should have vibrant small groups. I also agree about different styles, meeting places, etc. Good stuff!

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