Are young people just another demographic, waiting for advertisers to sell them on the latest consumer goods, lifestyles—or religions?
As I read the comics one recent morning, a strip caught my eye. Its first panel showed a young man skateboarding, talking about something exciting: "It's totally awesome, dude!" The third panel revealed the punch line: the skateboarder was in a commercial trying to get kids to invest in the stock market. The last panel showed two teenagers watching the commercial, as one said to the other: "I hate the way they all pander to our generation."
This reminded me of a huge billboard I used to see during my daily commute in Dallas, Texas. It, too, showed a skateboarder—and featured a similarly blatant attempt at pandering to a market: "Look! This is cool! Check it out, teens!"
That billboard, however, was advertising a church.
There is nothing wrong with a church helping all generations see how God's word is relevant in their lives. But, like the teenage protagonist in our comic strip, I am tired of seeing churches pander to teens and young adults.
"Hey, teens—our church is radical! Look, there's a guy on a skateboard! You teens like skateboarding, right? And hey, look! A picture of a guy playing an electric guitar! All you young people like 'rocking out' like our middle-aged marketing execs said you do, right? Awesome, dude!"
Please! Such condescending appeals risk two dangerous consequences. First, they may cause exactly the opposite of the effect intended, as more savvy teenagers shy away from church because of the shallow attempts to "market" to them. Second, they may demean—or cause others to demean—the God to whom they are trying to point a generation. They portray God as someone so desperate to get teens into the church, that He is willing to do whatever it takes to seem "popular."
In his August 24, 2002 World magazine article, "Stupid Church Tricks," writer Gene Edward Veith noted that "status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect." He is right, and appeals like this make God hard for teens to respect.
Give our youth more credit! As two important articles in major newspapers last year noted, there is a growing trend among young people toward more serious religious faith (Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2007; USA Today, July 9, 2007).
Newspaper reports tell us that some young people are even being drawn into the strict religion of Muslim fundamentalism. Do they convert to find a release for some pent-up anti-society sentiment? Or because they think they have found a religion that demands their respect, and does not pander to them? How sad!
The true God of the Bible panders to no one. He demands loyalty and faithfulness, and sets standards He expects His followers to strive to meet, saying: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2). Yet He is also a remarkably personal God, who is relevant to our daily lives and who cares deeply about the trials we go through and the experiences we have—at whatever age we have them (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).
We should strive to present the true religion of the Bible to our teens and our youth: a religion they can respect—and a religion that respects them too much to pander to them.
If you would like to learn more about the true religion of God the Father and Jesus Christ—a religion beyond the pandering billboards—please write to the regional office nearest you (listed on page 30 of this magazine) or go online to www.tomorrowsworld.org to request your free copy of our booklet, Restoring Apostolic Christianity. It will help you grow closer to the God of the Bible—a God young and old alike can truly respect!