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Young and Faithful

Authentic community

 

November 16, 2018



Bass reverberates through the auditorium floor as a hipster worship leader wearing skinny jeans and a polo shirt pauses to invite the congregation, submersed in the light of two giant screens, to tweet using #JesusLives. The scent of freshly brewed coffee wafts in from the lobby, where you can order lattes and purchase merch boasting a sleek church logo. The chairs are comfortable and the music sounds like something from the top of the charts. At the end of the service, someone will win an iPad.

The explanations I have heard for the “millennial void” often seem to miss the point.

It is not because you don’t have contemporary worship or a praise team.

It is not because young singles just want to be around other young singles and you don’t have a large group.

It is not because young adults are simply uninterested in church.

Yes, those reasons may be accurate for some, but the conversations I have had, as well as my own experiences, point to a different problem. Here are some suggestions for engaging young adults in the life of your church.

Listen to us! Millennials value voice and want to be heard. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input, we get the message loud and clear: nobody cares what we think. So then why should we serve an institution that we cannot change or shape? So create outlets to discover the needs of young adults both inside and outside of the church. Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference. And once they are there, truly listen and implement their ideas — they are not just a warm body on the board!

Practice what you preach! Millennials are looking for, above all else, authenticity. If you teach that we should “love god, love others,” then do it! Millennials will be unimpressed by the amount of time that you spend in bible studies, committee and planning meetings, specialty groups, building maintenance, etc. We want to know how you spend your time serving the least of these. Stop trying to make the Gospel relevant for us, teach us about Jesus who loved the poor and the outcast — and then go do it! Community happens best in service and action with a shared purpose.

All are welcome! Many churches say it, but do they truly believe it? Unfortunately, churches can be one of the most cliquey and exclusive organizations. This can also be known as the “You Can’t Sit With Us” affect. The church needs to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, or young people are probably better off without us. We need to create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service. Train a team of people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or other events — explicitly teach people these skills! Don’t blame the individuals who struggle to get connected, putting yourself out there even just once might seem like an overwhelming task. We have to find ways, as the church, to bridge the gap.

Be in relationship with us! We want to be mentored, not preached at. We have millions of podcasts and YouTube videos of pastors all over the world at our finger tips. But millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside us through the muck. We are looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch in our sweatpants? As a part of Christ’s family, I want to share my life with you. The good, the bad and the ugly. The successes at work. The fears of not measuring up. The failures I need to say out loud to know someone will still love me despite them. Connect adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them. Ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church.

Talk about the hard things … because no one else is. Young adults in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of our entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, substances, body image. We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas. These do not all need to be addressed from the pulpit but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching that millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either. Create real and relevant space for young adults to learn, grow, and be vulnerable. Create a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning us in our greatest time of need. Intentionally teach us how to live a Godly life instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves.

In other words, a church can have a sleek logo and website, but if it’s judgmental and exclusive, if it fails to show the love of Jesus to all, millennials will sniff it out. Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community.

——

The Rev. Maggie Lewis

First Presbyterian Church, Havre

Chinook Presbyterian Church, Chinook

 

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