If You Build It, Mean It
Recently I have been spending a significant amount of time thinking about the various changes that Christian communities are experiencing and how we are framing those changes. I have listened to the sermons of such luminaries as Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago. He reminded a gathering of pastors that the people have always been a people rejoicing and a people lamenting the changes that come in the life of the faithful.
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A helpful reminder. No doubt.
As a liturgical musician, I have sung praise and worship songs with the Catholics and and old time Gospel tunes with the Anglicans. I have chanted in Latin with the Presbyterians and I have contemplated in deep, abiding silence with the Baptists. We're borrowing and learning from one another all the time.
We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.
"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"
So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."
Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.
Said one, "I wish people, even Millennials themselves, would stop speaking for Millenials. I can only speak for myself. And I agree that what she says is true for me. Is it what my fellow Millenials want? I do not pretend to know. Ask them!"
The author falls prey to that trap. That said, it seems that the author is also right on target.
Said another, "Once one gets past the gross over-generalization, I certainly agree with the overall thrust of the piece ... 'If you build it, they will come' is a poor quote to use; nobody comes to a shiny stadium to watch a mediocre game (see: White Sox attendance). Play a great game, though, even in a dirt lot, and people see what's going on and want to get involved. It's not really about show or tell, but do."
The same person followed up with this comment, "The point is not to build something that will draw people in; it's to live in Christian community for the glory of God and the benefit of the congregation and the larger community, which in turn happens to appeal to the values being espoused by many who are currently dissatisfied with their church options. Don't play the game to draw the crowd; play for the love of the game."
This gets to the nugget of goodness from the post that echoes much of what I have seen in the last 20 years working in the church: if you want young people involved in the church, you must give them room to be involved.
Don't, however, build an ecclesial play-lot hoping that young people will come and spend time with you.
Sometimes I think that "contemporary" or "alternative" services function more like cages in a liturgical zoo rather than a means to encourage participation in the life of a congregation.
Instead, simply offer opportunities to engage and be involved. Then, of course, people will change things. Yes, change things.
And this isn't just about young people. Not in the least.
This is what happens when people get involved in what they love. New leaders, young and old alike, will change things. That's simply what happens.
So, offer your truth. Be yourselves. Show your love and enthusiasm for God and what God has asked of you. Pray. Preach. Sing. Build community in the ways that you believe God is calling you to do so. But hold on to the reins loosely. Because others will join you and they will lead you in directions that you might never have anticipated or imagined.