Young adults and church: I have had this conversation with way to many people way to many times. Everyone wants to know why the young adult (18-?) population is so small in churches, and everyone seems to have a different opinion about this, especially young adults. As much as I don’t want to start up the cyclical, never-ending and frustrating discussion, it has been on my mind a lot lately so I am going to spill my guts onto your computer screen. Enjoy.
To start off with, lets oversimplify things. Do you consider yourself to be a Christian, follower of Christ, Mennonite, or whatever label you are comfortable with that fits you within Christ’s Kingdom. If you answered yes, then you need church. Alright, now I am speaking to all of you that answered yes (sorry for being inclusive, if you want to included you are more than welcome…just like church right?) We have established that there is a need for church in the lives of believers, so all believers, young adults or old adults should be plugged into a church body. Yet for some reason this does not seem to be happening.
In my many conversations I have heard this idea that, “young adults want authenticity.” Something real etc., but it seems to me it is the reality of church that seems to be the biggest problem. What is authentic, what is real? The church is broken, that is what makes it real. The church is not, and should not be a place of perfect Christians, always happy and lubby-dubby. I would guess that most young adults would agree and say, “that’s not authentic.” In my opinion, brokenness is authenticity. When a body of believers struggle over issues such as women in ministry, homosexuality, peace and nonviolence, social justice, evangelism, church politics and the list could go on and on, that is a church being authentic. That is real people dealing with real issues (authenticity), but somehow, when these issues are dealt with people turn up their noses, or shudder and say, “I can’t stand church politics.” Maybe its because of fear of the outcome, maybe you disagree with what it is decided, maybe it’s a fear of conflict, maybe you don’t really want authenticity.
I ran across this poem the other day by Carlo Carretto:
How baffling you are, O church,
and yet how I love you!
How you have made me suffer,
and yet how much I owe you!
I should like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.
You have given me so much scandal–
yet you have made me understand sanctity.
I have seen nothing in the world more
devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false,
and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.
How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face
and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.
No, I cannot free myself from you,
because I am you, although not completely.
And where should I go?
It seems that the way I have heard many young adults describe the church is like the beginning part of Carretto’s stanzas. Where are the latter sentiments that Carretto expressed? Authenticity encompasses both sides of the coin, so if you want authenticity, join a church and be a part of the “joyful agony” that it is.
Very good. Much of what you say here resonates with my own experience and thought. I believe we need church as much as our Christian mothers and fathers have for generations…. If we give up on church now, faith, spirituality and community will begin to drain out of our lives and our descendants will not receive many of the good gifts we were privileged to receive (especially if we come from strongly Christian backgrounds). I think it is largely through our parents’ commitment to churchgoing and the practice of Christian religion that many blessings and understandings of life and truth have come down to us. I cannot forget that, and I am thankful for the church, warts and all.
One note on the authenticity reasoning: Some churches are altogether too authentic and revel in it. My little church is the missional/emergent dream team except for this one nagging problem: Too Calvinistic when approaching brokeness, meaning, “We’re broken and there isn’t much to do about it.” Its like they’re scared of being made whole because that means you’d have to go share it with other broken people, which gets messy.
I appreciate you spilling your guts and have a couple of questions. I am not sure that a label is a reason for needing church. Why do I need church if I consider myself and Anabaptist Mennonite Christian? I wonder if the issue of church being meaningful or authentic has to do with not just an acceptence of brokeness but a connection with what is meaningful and authentic in my life. I noticed that issues of power within the church were only brought up in passing. I wonder how many young adults would feel a stronger connection to the church if their was a say in defining what church is to be? It seems in this day and age that young adults have many choices when it comes to “church” experiences, communities that provide both the support and the challenge to live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Do young adults need church? Why? It is clear that the church needs them but till the church acknowledges some of this other and is willing to release some power will the church be truly shaped by the young adults it so desperately seeks?