Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a free one-day conference facilitated by the Barna Group, and David Kinnaman, author of unChristian and now You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. It was a day-long conversation that really gets to the heart of where my ministry call is going - how do we reach the un-churched/de-churched millenial generation that I'm a member of?
Honestly, it was a day full of more questions than answers, but that's OK - the conference was indeed free, and I ended up buying the books. The predicament regarding the church and the younger generations isn't new ... But I'm interested in the words and strategies. For all of my real life experience, I've never truly fallen away from the church in my lifetime, so I do feel that God is calling me into difficult waters when it comes to relating to those of my generation who have fallen away from the church, or even those who have never had a real chance to experience what Christ can do for you in your life. Mostly the workshop was about asking questions, and I feel good about that.
There was a point, however, when the conference brought the real in.
A Christ-promoter by the name of Jim Henderson put an ad on Craig's List calling for young adults (19-29) to join him in a chat on religion - why they do or don't go to church and where they stand on various faith issues. Knowing that just offering an invitation wouldn't work, he offered to pay each attendee $50 to come help him with is research.
Two of the young adults who went to that meeting came forward to share their testimonies on why they no longer attend the Christian church. Mr. Henderson led them through their stories with tremendous grace and without judgement.
The first to share, Lauren (24) served as an organist at an African American church until a few months ago. She had faithfully served her church community for several years as their part time accompanist, and for reasons unknown to her she went unpaid for several months. She pursued conversations with her pastor, who avoided her and she continued to work without pay. After several months of frustration and faithful service, she took to a little ranting on Twitter. Her pastor got wind of her behavior, and rather than bring her in and fire her, when the church bus drove by her house to pick her up on Sunday morning she was simply told that she wasn't being picked up that day. Just like that, she was excommunicated.
I didn't even realize that could happen any more. Without a formal word, a creative and faithful (though clearly not without flaw) young adult was excommunicated from the faith community she called home. And why? She embarrassed her pastor. When Mr. Henderson asked her where she stood in her faith at the moment, she said she still considered herself Christian, but she was done with the church for the time being. In her opinion, she was tired of church leaders that were more into their own names than the one name that truly matters. There were many murmurs of dissent with she she shared those remarks. I heard an older gentleman mutter rather loudly, "Well, that's just an opinion!"
It's an opinion that really matters - because it's COMMON.
The second interview was with Abby, a former Christian. She grew up in an extremely conservative household, but twin brother baptist grandfathers, if you can imagine that. She spent some time in the military oversees and had a strong heart for Christ - her intent was even to jump into Military Chaplaincy. But she quickly became disillusioned with a faith that didn't seem active enough and Christians that seemed to only talk a lot of talk. She fell away from the church. She ended up waitressing at a hookah bar of all things, and ended up being ministered to by an Islamic Lebanese family that could see she was searching for something. She ended up turning to Islam - and get this - because of the rigorous requirements on those who join the faith. In this Islamic community it's constant worship, constant prayer, constant charity, constant community, and constant family. She's a history nut with an affinity for languages so she's been able to study the Qu'ran in it's root language and she's been renewed by her faith in Allah.
Now you can sit here and say, "Well, now she's going to hell for joining Islam. Bummer." That's an issue that we don't really have time to explore here ... But what the Christian community needs to accept here is that's our fault in both cases of these brave women. We failed these young adults by not embracing their creativity and desire for a faith in action.
And they're just two examples in a sea of thousands upon thousands of young adults that are on the bubble of leaving the church or have left already.
But, there is hope. In a couple of days I'll share a few of the strategies shared with us to renew our commitment to young adults and young families in the church. But in the meantime, what do you think of the two testimonies shared here? What is your church doing to meet the ever changing needs of the young adults in your midst?