Evangelical America is changing quickly. This is what the future could hold. Watch our full VICE on HBO report here: bit.ly/1aG44iT
Posted by VICE News on Sunday, September 9, 2018
What will the future of evangelicalism look like? This is a question not only those in the church world, but also secular media, are asking these days. After the Southern Baptist Convention reportedly lost more than 200,000 members in 2017, even Vice News, known for being a tad off-colored and boasting a mostly-Millennial audience, wanted to know what was up. They turned to Matt Chandler for some answers.
A young, trendy looking reporter caught up with Chandler at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas—one of the fastest growing churches in the nation (also one of the only SBC-affiliated churches that IS growing). Given Vice’s audience, it made sense that the reporter asked questions from an outsider’s perspective. She wanted to know why Chandler felt the broader church was in decline and what he was doing that was actually working with young people.
Why Is the Church Declining?
Chandler said the de-churched left because of “hypocrisy” and “cowardice” when it came to the concerns and pains of the present day. Chandler cited things like domestic violence, “which the church has been painfully silent on,” and racial reconciliation. If you try to address those issues in the church, Chandler said, “you’re going to draw a lot of flack from the evangelical world.” For this reason, many young people left when they couldn’t reconcile the world they lived in on a day-to-day basis with the couple hours they spent in church each week.
And while Chandler’s answer to what his church is doing to “keep young people engaged” didn’t make it in the clip, one could assume that Chandler’s deft answers about cultural issues and current political tensions portrays a pastor who is “in touch” with the tensions younger Christians face today. He neither alienates conservatives in his answers nor vilifies liberals, which is the divide in culture many young people who are trying to hold on to their faith feel they have to straddle on a daily basis.
Evangelicalism And Political Agendas
The reporter was also curious to know why Chandler felt evangelicals were instrumental in electing President Trump when Trump “isn’t of the utmost moral character.” It is Chandler’s belief that Trump was elected because “people are frightened.” When Obama was in office, Chandler said, some of his policies and the way he “rolled them out” really alienated people. To compound the rapid change in society and politics, Chandler says the news media “really whipped us into a frenzy and made people feel desperate.”
Take, for instance, the bathroom bill of 2016. While it may not seem like that big of a deal in our broader culture, Chandler says “more than anything else” that policy “terrified” the church. “The thought that their children were going to be in a bathroom with the opposite sex…that made them go ‘whoever the opposition is to that, I’m voting for,’” Chandler explains.
And while some on the left are likely listening to Chandler and wondering why that bill caused such a controversy, Chandler explains there is a blind spot that often trips up the left when they interact with conservatives. They feel as if the country is more progressive than it actually is, Chandler explains. And the more they press into this blind spot and assume everyone is on the same page, “the more it makes conservatives dig in their heels.”
Of course, this is not to say every evangelical falls into a conservative category—politically, theologically, etc. Chandler describes evangelicalism as a “junk drawer.” It’s so confusing, in fact, that “for some people now evangelicalism is a political party divorced from its theological roots.” While he didn’t use these words, Chandler implies that the evangelical church is going through a crisis of identity.
The Future of Church
However, the church has been here before—three or four times—Chandler says. Based on that history, Chandler believes people will go in one of two directions in the future:
There will be those who try to reach the world by becoming like the world.
There will be those that try to hold fast to Orthodox Christian faith in a way that’s compassionate and kind. The challenge for this group, Chandler says, is that they’re going to have to weather the backlash of all the wrong that’s been done in the name of Jesus the last 50 years.
Take the topic of homosexuality, for instance. While Chandler says he holds to a traditional view of marriage, he admits sometimes churches who hold to that view “pretend like we’re not talking about human beings with souls, who sometimes are deeply conflicted—it’s just a grave error.”
According to Chandler, “To be right the wrong way, is to be wrong.” He implies that if we want to keep young people in our churches, we’re going to need to hold to what is right, but in the right way.