A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Thomas Bergler — professor of ministry and missions at Huntington college, church historian, and long-time teacher of youth ministry to undergraduates — to talk about his forthcoming book The Juvenilization of American Christianity (due out in April but available for preorder now).
In the book, Bergler traces the way in which, over seventy-five years, youth ministries have breathed new vitality into four major American church traditions — African American, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic — even as their methods have also engendered widespread spiritual immaturity, consumerism, and self-centeredness, and have popularized a feel-good faith marked by neither intergenerational community nor theological literacy.
The preponderance of pop worship music, jeans, and T-shirts in church services? These, he says, can all be traced to juvenilization. So can the ubiquitous language of “falling in love with Jesus.”
Mission trips. Spiritual questing and church hopping. Modern faith-based political activism. Seeker-sensitive outreach. These now-commonplace elements of American church life all began as innovative ways to reach young people, Bergler says, yet they have gradually come to be regarded as important parts of a spiritual ideal for all ages.
How did this “juvenilization of American Christianity” come to be? Has it ultimately left the churches in its wake stronger or weaker? How can churches keep what is good about juvenilization even as they strive to tame what is perhaps less than good?
Watch Rachel Bomberger’s interview with Thomas Bergler in its entirety today to get a glimpse of Bergler’s answers to these questions and more.
(If — like some of us — you have the attention span of a two year old (ooh! a penny! a kitty! shoes!) and think a fifteen-minute video may be too grueling for you, check back tomorrow. We’ll post a few brief excerpts from the interview for your enjoyment tomorrow morning.)