Rachel S. Gerber is the Mennonite Church USA denominational minister of youth and young adults and editor/creator of The Gathering Place, an interactive website for Anabaptist youth leaders for resourcing, networking and spiritual formation. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband of 16 years and three young boys.
I recently ordered, “Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church” by Rachel Held Evans. According to the back cover, Rachel “ … like millions of her millennial peers, didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals – church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.”
As denominational minister of youth and young adults, a familiar angst I often hear from congregations is a concern with the missing young adult demographic from our churches.
By now, we have all heard about the “nones and dones” millennials (those born after 1985) and the significant rise in those claiming no religious affiliation or those claiming to be spiritual but not religious. There can be many reasons that have led to this perfect storm, but I’ve found George Barna and David Kinnaman co-authors of the book, “Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them” to be incredibly helpful in naming reasons why our young adults are not connecting. However, this blog does not have the scope or breadth to delve deeply into these discussions.
Instead of focusing on the negative and lamenting what seems to be lacking, I’d like to offer another perspective.
If you are feeling the struggle, I invite you to take a deep breath and read the story found in Acts chapter 20, the story of a young adult named Eutychus.
“On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for there is still life within him.” (Acts 20: 7-10, NRSV).
“There is still life within him.”
So our young adults, the millennials, our Eutychuses, have also quite literally fallen out the church window. They are outside the church walls. But there is still life within them. The Spirit is still working.
The Spirit is still there, even if they are not where you are on Sunday morning.
Just because they are not necessarily showing up to our churches does not necessarily mean that they are not engaging spiritual matters. They are finding their community elsewhere. Maybe their act of leaving church is not so much an act of losing faith as it is an act of saving it.
Something about the way we are doing church doesn’t seem to be scratching their itch. Something is not connecting with this generation. What if the structure and look of church is changing? Are we open to adjust our vision? Do we have the courage to dream?
Rather than lose hope, this is an opportune time for our churches to reflect, regroup and re-engage! And maybe even, to bless.
The place to begin is to start by building authentic relationships – to get to know the young adults connected to your community. Uncover and discover what they desire and long for in living out faith.
I knew that I didn’t want to read Evans’ book by myself and invited people to join me. Within an hour, we created a group of five to commit to reading and discussing this book together.
Friends, there is no magic pill. There is no official check-list of what will attract young adults to your congregations. The future of the Church, by the statisticians’ point of view appears grim or so-so at best.
But the future of the Church depends on Christ, not us. Christian formation is not simply for growing churches. It is for growing disciples – growing people into the likeness of Christ.
The shape of the church is changing and young people simply don’t care about sustaining an institution. They want a real community that believes and acts and has a fire in its belly for loving God and the world around them. And to be perfectly honest, this is the type of church that I want to be a part of, that I want to work for and lead in. And I bet you do, too. I am not afraid as we look forward towards the future, for I believe in a God of resurrection. And as we posture ourselves squarely in the arms of this God and seek to be rooted and grounded in love, there is truly nothing to fear.
All is okay. This is not our church. This is God’s church. And God hasn’t failed us yet.
Sunday is coming.