Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Young people…

I’ve heard the following question many, many times, “Why don’t more young adults attend church?” And, as a young adult, that question weighs deep on my soul. I like imagining my grandkids having a faith community to love and watch them grow; teaching them stories about Jesus, cheering their accomplishments, forgiving their failures. I pray a community of Christians will sing my life’s song whenever the good Lord asks me to join Her in eternity. At my core, I believe strongly in God’s faithfulness, meaning that whatever challenges and changes the church faces, it will endure- in some fashion- long after me.

But let’s be real, friends. Christian churches face challenges and changes galore. And chief among them is our continued struggle to attract more young women and men. Perhaps no bigger issue unites diverse Christians- Evangelicals, Main-Liners, Catholics, Pentecostals- all experience mass anxiety over their churches aging! And I’ve heard more ‘solutions’ to this conundrum than I care to remember. Is it because this generation finds our worship boring? Maybe. Are we too ‘set in our ways’ for people who crave change and experimentation? Sometimes. Perhaps today’s young adults are too entitled, self-involved or obsessed with technology to worship God? I detest that theory. Though I would, wouldn’t I?!

Then there’s the idea that this generation of young people hold negative stereotypes of Christians, and avoid church because they don’t think Christians share their values. Statistics show that more of today’s youth than any previous in America grew up with ‘no religious affiliation’. Church attendance isn’t much lower than American history’s average. It’s actually higher than years in, say, the mid-18th Century or post-Civil War. But even during such eras, non-church goers would say, “I’m Baptist, or Catholic, or Jewish, or…” That’s no longer true for many of my contemporaries. Cultural expectations that people ‘be religious’ have long been in decline. Many young people’s parents, then, had no faith allegiance, so they have none either. Thus, whatever beliefs they formed about Christianity were gleaned from media sources, friends, parental biases, web surfing. Meaning rarely did it come from direct experience; hymn singing, Sunday School, or- God forbid- preaching!

So now, some Christians worry that my peers hold a distorted image of ‘real Christianity’. Along with other young adult Christians, I have numerous non-affiliated friends who glance warily upon church. Thus, I (and other YA Christians I know) have endured many conversations that go something like this: “Shane, you’re cool- a little cheesy, but I like you. But you’re waaaaay different than other Christians. Aren’t you? They’re all judgmental, right? Disparage other religions, hate gay people, spend more time worrying about whether I’m cussing or drinking or having sex the way they want me to than whether the planet’s being polluted, poor people are dying, women are being know, what really matters?!” I’ve responded by saying, “Dude (alas, I still use this antiquated word), some Christians are like that, but that’s not the whole story…” Indeed, I wouldn’t remain Christian if I thought that matched with reality, that ‘real Christianity’ required such constant judgment and division.

But I don’t! I believe the heart of Jesus’ teaching is love- for God, ourselves, and every neighbor. His church and his followers have challenged me to respect others and myself more fully, to make better decisions with my money, my life’s direction, with the ideas and organizations I support. I have a richer spiritual life, more peace, generosity and hope in my soul, because Jesus’ Disciples have welcomed and taught me. And I wish- profoundly, earnestly- that such stories (for I’m not alone, right!?!) are what made the headlines, guided the conversation, shaped the expectations of faith for fellow young adults.

But wishing something doesn’t make it happen, does it? It’s up to me and like-minded Christians to tell our stories, speak above the din, distractions and distortions of the present day. Would a community of Christians committed to openness and service, shining brightly and speaking boldly about this more loving way, would that be an answer to this question of church decline that haunts us so? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I wonder…I pray…

Grace and Peace,

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