Millennials

It Was Like This When I Got Here

Rev. Evan Dolive

**Also posted on Sojourners** (http://www.sojo.net/blogs/2015/02/10/it-was-when-i-got-here) 

A lot has been written about the decline of the mainline church over the years. There are 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. But 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.

You can contact Rev. Dolive at evan@evandolive.com

An Open Letter to All Those Who Came To Church

By Rev. Aaron Todd

To the one who came to church, 

It's a busy day.  You have a busy life.  You don't even have to be here.  After all, what is one Sunday out of the fifty-one others that will come and go during this year?  You've got a packed schedule and a brain and a heart that is full of thoughts, questions, and to-do lists. Some days, it's hard enough to get up and get moving when you have to be at a place where you get paid for your presence and participation.  Wouldn't it be nice to have a morning where you did not have to rush to get the family dressed and fed and hurriedly out the door?   No one would blame you if you were somewhere else today.

But you are here today.  There are many times when I long to crawl inside your head and your heart so that I may see more clearly what leads you out of your daily grind and into the Church and what good news you long to hear. 

What is it that brings you here?  Is it obligation and a sense of duty? Is it a need for refuge and a desire for sanctuary?  It is it a longing for community and companionship?  To you come here looking for a sense of belonging?  Do you enter through the doors of the Church desperately needing to hear the Good News that tomorrow can be brighter than today? What is it that calls you out of your home and into the house of God?  

Perhaps you come out of a sense of duty, and you sometimes feel under appreciated or that your commitment is not noticed or does not make a difference.  When you think those thoughts and when you feel like you are not making a difference, please know that I appreciate you and that what you do here is seen by the One we serve and that what you do matters.  

Perhaps you are coming here seeking sanctuary and safety. Feeling as if the world is an unforgiving and unrelenting place you coming here seeking to have the waves of life buffered by the sturdy walls of the Church.  As you seek that refuge, maybe there have been times when you have not felt safe even within the Church.  Perhaps you even come here slightly wary, feeling like you have to be on guard even as you want nothing more than to lower your defenses.  If you are coming here for safety, please know that I desire nothing more than for you to find it here.  

Perhaps you come here for companionship and to know that you belong..  Perhaps you have recently retired, sent your children off to college, or bid a final farewell to a parent or spouse. Perhaps life has brought circumstances to you in such a way where now all you need is someone to sit and to share with. Even in the midst of the commotion of this day, and though or in spite of the numerous activities offered by the Church, I pray that you found a cup of coffee, a comfortable chair, and a soul or two to worship alongside you today.  I pray that you were able to laugh, to cry, to listen, and to be listened to.  I pray that I showed you love and properly acknowledged your presence here.   

Perhaps you come here searching for Good News.  Perhaps this has been a week of less-than-good news and you need more than anything to hear a word of hope and of promise. I hope that the words that were shared in the hallways, around the coffee pots, in the classrooms, and in worship were good words. I hope that you were able to hear a message of love from not just the scriptures and the sermon, but from the eyes, lips, and hearts from all in this place.  I pray that you found yourself encouraged, strengthened, and enlivened by your time here.  I pray that you, even for a moment, had your sense of hope restored.  

No matter what led you to this place, and no matter if I will see you again next Sunday, please know that I am grateful and humbled to have the chance to share in a time of worship with you.  Please know that I saw you here and that I thanked God that we had this time together.  While I long to see you again, please know that no matter where life takes you that you will forever have a partner on the journey.  

In Love,

Your Minister

A New Set of Eyes: Discovering God’s Vision

by Billy Doidge Kilgore

A few years ago, I interviewed with a search committee for an associate pastor position. As I was answering their questions, a well dressed and refined elderly woman asked me a sharp, direct question. "What do you have to offer this church?" Feeling caught off guard, I scrambled to think of something to say. After hesitation on my part, she said, "I bet you could offer us a new set of eyes." Around the table I heard snickers, because some thought she was making a joke about the graying of the congregation.

To the contrary, she was making a serious observation. She went on, "As a young adult, I bet you could help us to see our ministry from a new perspective. If you are given the opportunity to be our associate pastor, I hope you will use your unique experiences in life to help us better understand how to minister to the world around us." Sensing her wisdom and authority, I nodded my head and agreed. Her words still stick with me today, as I think about what it means to be the Church. God's people are at their best when they are eager to see the world through the eyes of others. Jesus spent a great deal of his time inviting those who gathered around him to see the world through the eyes of others, especially the poor, downtrodden and marginalized. Our faith grows and deepens as we step into the shoes of those who are different from us.

Do you think it would make a difference if your congregation made the effort to see the world through many different eyes? I am not asking you to look at the stereotypes that our culture often uses to describe groups of people, but to make an effort to stand in the shoes of individuals who are often complex and multifaceted. Ask yourself what life is like for a young adult, a gay or lesbian person, an unemployed person, a homebound person, a person outside the Church, or a person of another ethnicity. I am willing to bet that if a congregation empathizes with those who are different than their average member, it would reshape their ministries for the better. 

A large part of our struggle as mainline Protestant congregations is our unwillingness to see the world through the eyes of others. Recently, I met with a group of faithful church people who happened to be significantly older than me. As a young adult in the Church, I have grown accustomed to my interests and concerns being underrepresented in church meetings. After I finished introducing myself to the group, a middle-aged person said to me in a dismissive tone, "How old are you? You don't look old enough to be a pastor." This individual's tone suggested that not only did I not have the experience to be part of the group, but I did not have anything of value to offer. As I tried to remain calm, I thought to myself, "Yes, you're right. The last thing the Church needs is the voice of a young adult at the table. It is doing such a wonderful job of attracting people my age on its own!"

I wonder if this condescending remark could have been avoided if this person had dared to see the Church through the eyes of a young adult. This individual's limited perspective is part of a larger mindset that is driving young adults away from our congregations. The reality is that young adults have much to offer. In case you are wondering what a young adult sees when they look at your church, let me offer you some perspective. Often, we see churches that are either trying too hard to attract younger generations by turning the church into entertainment centers with large screens, high-energy bands and perfectly constructed stages, or congregations that are not trying at all and seem content to pretend we are still living in 1955. As a young adult, I don't want to participate in either one of these congregations. Instead, I am seeking a congregation that is willing to engage the 21st century, foster deep relationships, minister beyond its four walls, and dare to share God's love with everybody.

I believe that if the Church wants to thrive in the 21st century, especially amongst Generation X and Millennials, it must boldly look through the eyes of others. It is in the intersection between those currently in the pews, and the needs, interests and dreams of those outside the church walls that we will encounter the living God and discover the future vision many of our congregations desperately need. Then, the Church will have no other choice but to let this holy energy spill over our walls and into the world.

Billy Doidge Kilgore is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and affiliated with the United Church of Christ through an ordained partnership. Billy blogs at ourdeepestselves.com.