Where Have All of the Young People Gone?
Our church denomination (United Methodist) is struggling with an ongoing concern. Young people aren’t joining our church family in the numbers that they used to some years ago. And when Generation X and Y do join a church they often want to set up a separate worship service from the one the older folks attend. There are fewer young people answering the call to become pastors and church leaders today than in previous generations. This seems to be a trend as our denomination isn’t alone with this problem. We’re worried and casting about for answers! Where have all the young people gone? How can we bring them back?
When I was young the whole church worshipped together. As a young adult I gained so much spiritually from the mentoring and teaching that I received from the older Christians in my church. And I believe that when we were young we were a blessing to the older Christians too. The body of Christ is made up of all ages and we do need each other. Today we often have whole congregations made up of mostly just young people. And of course that leaves groups of only older folk worshiping together too. I personally believe that this gap may harm us all. We’re all missing out!
Our church newspaper has published articles from young people explaining why they have quit going to church. One youth wrote that she loved God just not the church and she didn’t want to be confined by walls. Another wrote that many of the churches were political institutions and preached their political views as if they were the Christian way. He was turned off as he believed that Christ taught us to live communal lives. Another youth was afraid of all of the scare tactics and judgments he had observed in the political churches he had attended. He insisted that how a person lives is more important than what they believe. (Can’t we have both?)
Some of the younger church leaders insist that the church they are envisioning should be changing to meet the needs of our postmodern world. They believe that a church that would attract the youth would 1) identify with the life of Christ, 2)transform the secular realm, 3) live communal lives, 4) welcome the stranger, 5) serve with generosity, 6) participate as producers, 7) create as created beings, 8) lead as a body, and 9) take part in spiritual activities. These all sound like very good goals for the body of Christ. We older Christians can take part in these aims while we encourage the younger generations not to forget to hold fast to Christ as Lord and Savior and to the tenants of our Faith.
Perhaps the youth have good reasons to be afraid of the faith we older Christians project today! I believe that we need to have right beliefs (the truth of Christ) and right living (loving and serving) both. It isn’t one or the other. All too often our correct words have led to horrible wrong practicing of the faith. Our hate and anger have not represented our loving Lord. An up-tight critical church isn’t a witness for Christ or an encouragement to the next generation to come to church.
Christ’s call to discipleship is still the same to this generation as it has been to all the generations in the past. It really can’t be improved on. The ultimate authority must lie with Christ who is God incarnate. We dare not water-down or add to the Truth, A vague theism will not do. Entertainment isn’t the answer! The younger generations will be attracted to Christ’s Church if they can see our love and generosity while we are holding up Jesus as Lord and Savior. They will know we are Christians by our love. Let’s be sure our Christian witness is a loving witness. If we can clean up our act maybe we won’t still be asking, “Where are all of the young people?”