A lot has been written about the decline of the mainline church over the years. Numerous theories have been passed around. Nearly every pew-sitting faithful Christian in America has her or his own opinion. As a minister I have heard a lot of these complaints from the masses; the request is simple. They want the church to be the center of social and political life as it seemed to be in the 1950s and 1960s. They want the pews packed with people, the nursery overflowing with babies, and the church to have the same level of particularity that it did years ago. The church today finds itself having to share time and attention with the rest of the world. Because of this (and numerous other factors), the church for the most part has seen the number of people attending the hallowed halls of a church house begin to decrease.
In an effort to find a culprit for the shrinking size and popularity of church, a scapegoat has been named and they are "young people today” — a catchall term for people under the age of 35 (or thereabouts) who have seemingly left the church en masse.
They are vilified as the sole reason and cause for the church to not be busting at the seams with people. If only those "young people" could just stop being so selfish on Sunday mornings and just come to worship God at 11 a.m. like people have been doing for years, the world might be a better place.
Maybe you have heard some of these gems before:
- "Young people today don't care about religion ... unless they can find it on an iPhone."
- "Young people today weren't made to come to church and that's why they aren't here."
- "I know young people today like contemporary music but I don't care for it."
- "Young people today would rather sleep than come worship the Lord."
- "Young people today are too busy with sports and extra activities. They are too overextended. If they can put effort into sports, they can put effort into God."
- "Young people will spend all day getting ready for a prom or a dance but show up to church in jeans and t-shirt."
The list goes on.
How does a "young person" effectively convey the notion that “the church was like this when I got here?”
I have met some people who are deeply spiritual, caring, compassionate, loving people, but they don't attend church. Young people for the most part do not have a problem with the church or with Jesus or even with teachings of church. So why the absence on Sunday morning?
For many people, the problem is the people who call themselves Christians but don’t live up to Christian ideals. They say the church focuses on the wrong things; why are some people so acutely aware of the "sins" of others but cannot see the hungry child in their own backyard.
If you want young people in your church, give them something to do. Young people are ready to go, do, serve, be, and extend the ministry of Christ to all people — but they have to a place through which they are able to do so.
There is a drive in young people who want to do something greater than themselves and to give and love, but when it's met with pledge cards, committee meetings, condescending looks for wearing jeans and t-shirts, or saying they have to wait until they are 45 and have three kids to make a difference, then what's the point? I can worship God in my house or in nature just as easily as I can in a building with stained-glass windows.
Give "young people" the chance to and they will knock your socks off ... I promise. You will see movements of God that you would have missed if you had "stayed the course."
The decline of the church is not my generation's fault. It was in decline long before I was born; it was like this when I got here. But that doesn’t mean it is too far gone. The church does a lot of things right and can still do more.
Let the "young people" lead; let them be the hands and feet of Christ in the world and watch what happens. Listen to their passions, listen to their concerns, and listen to where they feel God is leading them.
It's not "young people's" fault for the decline of the church, but they can surely be a part of the answer.
Keep the faith ... all is not lost.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves in Beaumont, Texas. He is currently writing a book to be published by The Pilgrim Press (publishing house of the United Church of Christ). For more information about Evan visit www.evandolive.com. Follow him on social media at @RevEvanDolive and fb.com/evandoliveauthor.
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