This week I’ve had some discussions and read some great blog posts from the perspective of young adults and their impressions of the church.
One excellent article is this one: “a letter from an exhausted/exasperated young person who has a complicated love/hate relationship with the church” It has really generated a lot of traffic this week, I’m sure. It’s been posted all over Facebook and Twitter by many of my generation.
So, go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.
Done? Ok good.
I resonate with a LOT in that letter. I’m a minister working in a mainline traditional church that doesn’t always meet my spiritual needs. Change is hard to come by, and all the talk is about “the good old days” when everyone went to church, and the longing for the church to be exactly like it was back then. Well, it still is exactly the same, which is why it’s where it is now. Through deaths and changes in the world around the church, membership and attendance is crashing down around us.
Then I also read this article by my friend Dave, “Do We Believe?” It details his experience about talking to the upcoming leaders of the church, and their general unease and dissatisfaction with the church they feel they are being called to serve in.
As I reflected on these I came to the following conclusion.
We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves!
Seriously, no one else but ourselves!
For my generation and following, we’ve done a great job at blaming the boomers and their parents for many of our problems. Sure, most of it might hold some truth, but not all the blame needs to fall on them. The church is one place where we cannot force upon them the whole blame. We need to take ownership of our own part in letting the church erode to it’s meaningless state in society.
The point is, we claim to be great innovators, adaptable, multi-taskers with the world in the palm of our hands. People of our generation have created things our grandparents could have never ever envisioned. Yet, the church seems to be one place where we’re stuck.
Our grandparents and their grandparents, roughly 80 to 150 years ago built churches like there was no tomorrow. They opened their wallets, pulled out their tools and built churches like we create snarky Twitter accounts.
They saw something they needed, and they built it.
Now these churches leave little for us to absorb. They are “too traditional”, “too stale”, “too old”, “too dreary”.
You know why this happened, because this is what our grandparents needed as they aged. These churches were once vibrant centres of the community, but now they are meeting the needs of those who go. They are meeting the needs of worshippers who have done it all, and are now looking to slow down and look to the promises of God that they will be cared for in eternity as their mortal lives approach the end.
This is the church they need right now, and since they built them, maintain them, and run them, they deserve it.
So if you are a young adult in one of these churches, and hating it, do something about it.
Be the great innovators we claim to be. Be adaptable. Be entrepreneurial.
If all you are going to do is sit around and whine about it (I have been very much guilty of this), then you have no right to blame anyone else about the state of the church today.
If you want something, build it. It’s what our ancestors did.
Build your church, whatever that may look like. It may not be what our ancestors would recognize as a church, but make it yours. Make something that you can call a spiritual home where you can meet Jesus Christ, our Risen Saviour.
And the church that exists today, please support us any way you can. Pray for us. Offer us support, either morally or financially (or both).
We can make a difference in the world. We just need to find our place, our church home where God can speak to us, teach us, and guide us to br the next leaders, the next sharers of God’s hope, grace, love and mercy to those who need it in our communities.
In closing, I want to apologize to the traditional church for not noticing this before. I want to apologize for times when maybe I made you feel like you were failing me and not realizing this is the church you need. I ask your forgiveness and ask if you are willing to pray for me as my generation seeks to build it’s own church, something we can all be proud of as we show the world Jesus Christ is still Lord of lords and King of kings, Saviour for us all.
So, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Millenials and so on, what are you gonna do about it? This is the challenge we face today…
Where is our church? What is our church?
Lots to think about. At times we can be overcome by problems but we can’t lose focus on the big picture. Worldwide the church is not in decline. There are areas it is, but there is such explosive growth in other areas that the numbers are rising. For example there are segments of Christendom that if they grow at the same rate this century as they did in the last century almost the entire world would be followers of Jesus. Who knows what we are really in store for. Another thing that was recently brought to my attention was how many Churches are starting in Cape Breton. In fact there has not been a time in recent history that there has been as many new works as there is today on our Island. This does not mean some churches aren’t facing a crisis, but the Church may be advancing far more than we know. It seems God is raising up many voices here to remind people of what truly is important. I am very optimistic.
That’s right Dave. I believe God has opened my eyes today. I’ve been very angry and tense lately with the state of the mainline churches. But I think I understand much more now. There will be a place for tradition, and I would have always said that, but now our generation needs to strike out on our own. We can work within traditional denominational structures, but maybe not traditional buildings.
I’m now very optimistic as well. Maybe we’re overdue for a chat.
I resonate with some of what you’ve posted. But the ache for me is what I see as the impending disconnect between the established (mainline) congregations, and the kind of Christian communities you call out. I’m UCC clergy, in between “calls”, and seriously contemplating non-church employment so I might have more freedom to do pretty much what you are describing. I will follow Christ’s call, and I am still UCC. But it would have been wonderful to feel like I was embarking on something that was more clearly an expression of a congregation’s mission. As it looks to be, things feel more separated from our particular expression of the Body.
I’ve felt the same lately Ed. But I’m not sure that we can’t balance the two. Maybe it’s my “youthful enthusiasm” but at this point I think I can provide to the needs of the traditional congregation and still make time to connect and help launch new community ministries.
I don’t really see it as a complete disconnect but rather the evolution of the church, which probably should have started 20 years ago. It really is going to be an interesting next couple of decades in the church.
I’m open to you being right. But my experience has been that the needs of the present church to be supported and cared for as they try to keep going amidst mounting pressure leave little staff/leader room for mission and evangelism.
I hope the best for you, and for all of us who still work for a both-and approach in this. I’m no longer there. I do not want to denigrate existing understandings of Christian discipleship and community. But the models of church and discipleship I feel will most likely engage today’s young families are just out of step with the established congregations around here.
For you, Orville, and others of similar heart, I give thanks. And I also am grateful to God for those who hop on other ships. Whatever the heading, it’s still the light of Christ calling us onward. 🙂
I agree with Ed here. I used to think it could all be done all together…that it should be the both/and. I’m not so sure of that anymore. In a proposal I submitted to my first church about 8 years ago, I suggested two sister congregations who functioned under the same roof but were connected through various events and ‘common’ aspects of worship, but pursued their engagement with each other and worship in different ways and times. The biggest objection to the proposal? People from the currently established congregation might like the other one more and ‘migrate’ over to it, leaving fewer people in the pews during the traditional Sunday morning service (even though the plan for the new congregation was to appeal to people not already attending) and the proposal was dismissed by the elder board of the church. The obstacles/objections to such experiments can be surprising.
However, I heartily encourage everyone to continue trying new ideas and formats! Each context is different and obstacles that exist in one place may not even be a factor in a different one.
I resonate with Ed here.
I used to think it could all be done all together, families and multiple generations all under one roof, everyone smiling and thriving and growing spiritually by leaps and bounds…that it should be the both/and.
I’m not so sure of that anymore. I still DESIRE it…but over the years all I’ve experienced–time and time again in trying to recommend proposals and attempt different methods–is the impending disconnect that Ed mentions.
Thanks Ron for coming over and commenting!
The more I think about it, the more I’m sure it won’t work. But we do need to find a way to make the transition. There needs to be new expressions of church that will appeal to the younger generations. I have no idea what that will look like, and suspect it will look very different in different communities. Which is great!
But we need the support and release from the “traditional” church to be able to free to explore. My question is, are they willing to do this?
Your column is much appreciated. Very perceptive; very balanced; appropriately challenging.
I dream of getting 500-1000 United Church ministers thinking and operating from an outlook such as you have written here. I think it could transform large segments of our society, to have 1000 congregations ‘regenerating’ toward passionate Christ-centered discipleship, in a format appropriate for GenX, Y, & millenials. Minister with and to the present ‘moderns’ while evolving and adapting for the ‘post-moderns’.
Patience & Perseverance to you my friend… ORV
This is a great idea Orv. Where do we begin?