Monday, May 6, 2013

Nomads

A few months back, I had the opportunity to go to a free conference in Arlington, You Lost Me Live offered by David Kinnaman and the Barna Group, an introduction to their new book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church ... And Rethinking Faith.  It was a fairly compelling day, but I put the book on the shelf until recently.  This book contains a ton of data on what's being referred to as the "dropout problem".  Where the book UnChristian focused on young adults that have never been a part of the Christian Church, You Lost Me focuses on young adults that are drifting away - in droves.

The research specifically looks at young adults from 18 to 29 years-old and seeks to discern where they are on their faith journey today.  It's a period of life that's long been attached to wandering ... There's a lot of life change in our 20s ... College, moving out, starting a career, marriage, kids ... It's an overwhelming period of life.  If there's a time when people are more likely to wander from the church, it's here.  And it's common - has been for decades.  For the longest time the churches stance on 20-something ministry was "They'll come back when they get married and have kids."  Ever hear that one before?  Problem is, young adults do still begin an epic period of wandering after high school - they're just not wandering back to the church as much as they used to.

I've been working my way through this book for a couple of weeks now ... It's a metric-ton of data.  One of the things Kinnaman does for us is break down the dropouts into three (biblicaly oriented) categories: nomads, prodigals, and exiles.

The 'nomad' moniker resonated with my own college years, a pivotal time in my own faith journey.  From page 63, here's how Kinnaman describes 'nomads':

"...the first, and most common, category of dropout - the spiritual nomad, the wanderer.  For these young adults, faith is nomadic, seasonal, or may appear to be an optional or peripheral part of life.  At some point during their teen or young adult years, nomads disengage from attending church or significantly distance themselves form the Christian community ... Most, however do not discard it entirely."

In high school, I was highly involved in my church youth group and the church in general.  I was there all day on Sunday - Sunday school, corporate worship, youth bell choir, youth choir, and youth time, I even sang with the adult choir on occasion.  I did everything.  It was a fantastic program to be a part of.

Then college happened.

I immediately joined a church in my college town, and joined the choir at the church the second week of school.  It was a strong church with even a small college class.  My choir director at college was very active in the faith family and he strongly encouraged me and others in the choir to be active at the church, and that was awesome.

But then life happened.  Ever see a schedule for a music major in college?  There's a lot of extra stuff that no one gets credit for.  So the drifting started, almost immediately.

I had to work to pay the bills.  Sometimes on Sunday mornings.  The drifting continues.

I dated the choir director's daughter.  We broke up - super tough times.  The wandering gets easier.

I turned 21.  Partying, drinking.  Normal college hijinks.  What time was church again?

I'm being honest here.  Honesty is still the best policy, right?

I didn't attend a worship service in my college town with any regularity for nearly three years in college.  I was a spiritual nomad - I still considered myself a Christian, but church wasn't high on the list of priorities.  But, I did have a anchor to my faith through my own period of wandering - my home church.  When I came home, I couldn't have been more welcome.  People there built relationships with me that are still standing.  And through that whole period of wandering I felt a call to ministry that people in my home church affirmed.

It also helped that it was the church that my parents still went to, but like many young adults, the opinion of my parents on my faith journey wasn't the biggest of factors - sorry, Mom and Dad!

My college years typify what the 'nomad' has often looked like in the young adult faith journey - except now the wandering doesn't lead back to the church nearly as often.  A lot of people in the more 'mature' generations want to know what the magic bullet solution is to the dropout problem.  I haven't gotten to the solution parts of You Lost Me, yet.  But I will tell you what brought me home - relationships.  People invested in me.  People checked on me (and still do).  The church is relationships - not committees, or boards, or preachers, or websites.  And now my wife, my son, my friends, my family keep me in closer relationship to God now than I ever could be on my own.

It's all about relationships - people investing in other people.

So, if you're part of a church struggling to 'attract' young families, ask yourself, "What are we actually doing to build real relationships with young people?"  That's where to start.