This is a description of a generation of young people whose parents attended church and who attended church with their parents.
- They attended church as part of a family social convention, perhaps even from the time of infancy.
- The parents acted one way at church and another way at home.
- Young people who started to attend church or a youth group who weren’t a part of a family that attended the church were generally shunned, ignored, or ostracized if they were seen as a threat to the social prestige of the children of the parents who were church leaders.
- The ride home from church with their parents could and often did become a hostile critique of others who attended church, the pastor and his sermon, and some who were related to regular church attenders but who rarely attended themselves.
- Youth programs were generally social occasions, with singing and guitars, games and perhaps some kind of devotional from some kind of program. Attendance was more to get together with friends whose parents also attended the same church.
- Traditional church music was old fashioned, with organ, piano and an operatic style of vocal delivery. Most of the words of the music were pretty hard to understand, and the style spoke to no one under 30 years old. Congregational singing tended to be a few good singers with a number of others standing around looking at the words.
- Music that made an effort to be ‘contemporary’ and be hip and trendy to young people used guitars – sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric — and maybe some other instruments but the style was generally 5-10 years behind secular styles and seemed to be church cliches set to music.
- There seemed to be an unacknowledged social competition among the parents as to who was doing better financially, who had the most prestigious job, who had the best looking spouse and who had the best looking, most talented and most popular children.
- People who were even slightly out of place would be treated with disdain and gossip behind their backs and left out of many activities. Young people often saw the same kinds of ostracism that they saw in their high school social scene.
- Most young people never heard an explanation of the gospel clearly enough to make a personal commitment of faith, and most were profoundly ignorant about the Bible, and most heard more about political and social action in the services and programs than anything else.
- Social relationships among the adults in the church sometimes gave way to affairs, divorces and remarriages. The young people rarely closely saw a stable, loving marriage which they wanted to emulate.
- Church leadership was more or less dependent on popularity, chutzpah, heavy financial support or position within the business community. Church leaders were members of a kind of financial advisory board concerned with operations and activities. Meeting the budget, getting bequests and trusts and building and renovation programs got a lot of attention and generated a lot of heat when there were disagreements.
- No one on the pastoral staff had anything but the most superficial personal contact with anyone who was not a church leader. It would have been quite a surprise to any of the young people to know that any of the pastors had any personal concern for their salvation or spiritual growth or even to know that any of the pastors knew their names and were praying for them. Someone who would have taken a loving personal interest in them might have won them to Christ at an early age and helped them on the path to discipleship quite easily – but such a person would have been met with suspicion and opposition from the other adults in the congregation.
Is this the description of any contemporary evangelical church or denomination? Not at all! It is my compilation of my memories of how it was for myself and others of my age group who attended mainline, theologically liberal churches in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Any resemblance to the experience of young people today in any church is not coincidental – though I leave the reasons for such a resemblance to the prayerful consideration of anyone who sees such a resemblance.