FROM THE WELL - July 25, 2014

People often ask me why young people are not coming to church and participating like church goers from a previous generation. Here is some insight from my friend Rev. Steve James. I hope those with questions find this helpful.

Millennial Grace

by Steve James

Church leaders continue to receive a depressing litany of the reasons that young adults are not coming to their churches. Leaders are frustrated when they put together programs and invite young people to church and few (or none) show up.

But young adults are flocking to embrace brands, organizations, and churches that provide an extraordinary value to life and society and allow them to participate and co-create the value. Young people are drawn to churches that are attempting to make their communities healthier, stronger and more loving, and are cultivating opportunities for the gifts, talents and wisdom of young people to co-create that beloved community.

The practices of these churches are very different from past leadership patterns. For at least 100 years, clergy and elected lay leaders would gather in committees, seeking out trusted resources to produce a predictable experience of “church” for existing and potential participants.

Today young adults are drawn to churches which have lay and clergy leaders who are just as likely to be meeting outside the church building with a small group of young people who are deeply concerned about an opportunity to build a better world. The small groups of young adults I’ve observed are co-creating a response to issues:

  • shrinking the food deserts in urban areas,
  • reducing debilitating homelessness,
  • fighting human trafficking in every community (yes, yours),
  • overcoming the emerging social isolation in our hyper-connected digital world,
  • living more deeply,
  • developing stronger schools,
  • walking more closely with Jesus,
  • living healthfully in an industrial-consumer Western culture,
  • building sustainable models for being the church,
  • raising smart, wholesome, healthy kids.

These fruitful church leaders have one foot in each world – they continue to meet with existing church committees and teams to produce that predictable experience of Sunday morning “church” for existing members. They are also scheduling high priority time to seek out the company of young adults and are co-creating with them a new, sustainable way of being the church.

In place of certainty about the final form these new expressions will take, God has provided a beautiful measure of His prevenient grace: millions of young adults who have been blessed with concerns and passions aligned closely with Christ. The church in North America became fossilized in the 20th century. Its institutional concerns trumped its engagement with the world. The church preached sermons, wrote articles, did mission trips, but for all its busy activities, the church in some profound way forgot how to engage emerging generations. God is now doing what the institutional church failed to adequately do: raising up a new generation of living stones with whom to build the Kingdom of Heaven.

Will your church join the living Christ by seeking conversation with the young people in your community about what has stirred their hearts? Those who do will be amazed at the beautiful thing God is doing in this new day.

Something to think about.