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Slip Sliding Away: The 20th Century Evangelical Church

It hasn’t been the best year, or even the past four years, for those who have called themselves evangelicals. I know, as I confess to being one of them.    

Politically, the 2012 elections were a huge disappointment to the once powerful and influential evangelical voice throughout America. All in all, it was bad news for the aging Religious Right who failed to place a conservative candidate in the White House. Additionally, the nation witnessed four states vote in favor of same sex marriage, and the normally conservative state of Florida reject an amendment to restrict abortion.      

Oh, my aching evangelical!    

Whether we want to accept it or not, evangelicalism as we’ve known it throughout the 20th century is falling apart at the seams in the face of a younger and more progressive generation of Christians.

Recent studies indicate an increase in the number of people who don’t consider themselves a part of an organized religion. The X and Y generations don’t seem to be rejecting Christ, they just seem to be rejecting the Church.      

“Houston, we have problem [here]!”      

As a former pastor and current counseling psychologist, I’m seeing a trend of 30 somethings and younger children of Baby Boomer evangelicals who are disillusioned with church.  

In his book, Life After Church, Brian Sanders writes about those who he calls “leavers” of organized religion as believers who are committed to Jesus Christ, but often view church as a “failed experiment.” He goes on to say, “As easily as we have formed churches around cathedrals and buildings with steeples and stained glass, we can form churches around pubs and laundromats, parks and coffee shops.”  

As New Testament as this may sound, it’s a radical gear shift from the established institutional evangelical church look of the 20th century.

Something is missing within the traditional evangelical church of the past 40 years that makes this generation of believers not want to stay connected. They seem disinterested, uncommitted and even resistant to the evangelical surroundings that they were raised in. Young people and even young ministers are steadily streaming out of evangelical churches. It’s also becoming more common for young ministers to not use the name of their denomination when advertising their church or new church plant. In talking with some young pastors, they feel that there is often a “stigma” placed on them when bringing their ordaining denomination up in a conversation. They don’t want to bill themselves as Southern Baptist, Wesleyan, Assemblies of God, Charismatic, etc. They are very uncomfortable being labeled “right wing conservative evangelicals.”  

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fredantonelli@churchleaders.com'
Fred Antonelli, Ph.D., LPC is a former senior pastor of 23 years, a crisis marriage & family therapist, author and founding director of Life Counseling Center, Inc. with offices throughout the Eastern Shore of MD and DE. Learn more about Dr. Antonelli at www.fredantonelli.com.