Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., is defined as a megachurch; its worship style is a blend of traditional and contemporary worship; and the attire there is both formal and informal, according to a church directory.
Senior Pastor Jim Shaddix describes his church as "somewhat contemporary." It has a robed choir and a praise team, hymnals and Brooklyn Tabernacle songs, and a big screen. One elderly lady believes the church needs to incorporate more hymnals into their worship services while the twenty-somethings want to ditch the choir and the robes. "What is a pastor to do?" Shaddix posed at a recent Southern Baptist conference.
"We generalize this trend as simply a choice between the traditional and contemporary," he noted.
But Shaddix does not see it in that light. Young people, he believes, are not opposed to hymns. In fact, they sing revisions of hymnals sung by contemporary artists such as Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. And they are not opposed to the organ, or else many of them would walk out of ball games. Pastors clad in a suit and tie are also not a turnoff to the younger generation who watch late night show hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman run their monologues in a suit and tie.
Beyond the form of traditional churches and worship styles, young people, who are labeled as the future of the church, are opposed to the "fabricated Christian culture" within the traditional churches.
"They're opposed to the lifeless and heartless way we often sing those hymns," Shaddix said at the second Baptist Identity Conference in Jackson, Tenn.
Many young adults are leaving the traditional churches they may have grown up in and searching for alternative forms, including the popular emerging church movement. Shaddix said such alternative forms are more appealing to "the marginally churched within our own camps" than the unchurched population.
In 1980, the Southern Baptist Convention baptized more than 100,000 18- to 30-year-olds. Twenty five years later, the figure dropped to slightly more than 60,000, according to Shaddix. And only 31 percent of twenty-somethings attend any kind of Christian church although more than half of them attended church weekly when they were in high school, he further noted.
"If that statistic holds up, our young Baptist friend who was an active churchgoer as a teenager won't be a member of anybody's church by his 30th birthday."
If young believers are not dropping out of an organized church altogether, they are being "captured by philosophies" like the emerging church, said Shaddix.
Making a bold statement that some Baptist church leaders agree with, Shaddix said that "both of those venues - no church at all or the emerging church - champion for a belief in nothing."
On a general note, Shaddix pointed out that the postmodern church movements downplay and depreciate sound theology, and that they will be short-lived as they are built on passing styles and forms, making "perceived relevance impossible to keep up with."
Young people are not necessarily running to something, the Southern Baptist pastor highlighted. They are running away from something.
And the standard answer church leaders would give to the question of what they are running from is the church form, the worship style, the traditional denominational affiliation the tangible. But Shaddix believes the young believers are running from "lifeless Christianity."
"They're so turned off by it that they're running to nothing," he said.
This generation of young people "can see through" the emotionless expression during worship and the frequent listing of prayer requests but the little time allotted in services for actual prayer.
"They can see through our hypocrisy," said Shaddix.
This generation has the gift of discerning authenticity in the church, Shaddix plainly stated. And this generation wants to do missions, not just study and give to missions.
In 10 years, the churches that these young people form will be churches that are built on a biblical model and focused on the Great Commission; are desperate for God for revival, for the transformation of culture, for the evangelization of the lost; make sacrificial callings to prayer that take priority over sleeping and eating; have a spirit that makes them accepting of all people and creates intimacy with God; and are always preparing financially to take the gospel to other places. Shaddix cited this future picture of churches from Richard Ross who leads True Love Waits, an international Christian group that promotes sexual abstinence outside of marriage for teenagers and college students.
The churches of the future are not focused on musical styles or denominational involvement.
Shaddix thus exhorted his fellow Southern Baptists to give their young brethren such an authentic church. If they don't find it, they won't stay, he said.
"The traditional church will survive and thrive if its people have a change of heart about their God."