Let’s Stop Lying to Young People
The Church for decades, maybe centuries, has been caught in a terrible lie. For some people it is a lie that has been so engrained as truth, they believe it as such. This particular lie is one that when confronted or analyzed, many church goers would vehemently deny. So what is this lie? Answer- Children and young people matter to the church.
I know that is a stout claim but is one that is not without merit. For too long the church has been a place where those in charge or those who assumed the power set the rules, set the order of worship and set the way that a particular congregation is supposed to serve and worship God. Often this is done by people who have been in the church for sometime (generally all or most of their life) and they feel the need to continue on this tradition that they are used to.
Sadly in many congregations around the country the number of young adults and teenagers attending church services are dropping rapidly. Sure you can blame parents or video games or being over extended with extracurricular activities, but that is a cop-out. The real answer which may be hard to hear for some is that the church is unwelcoming to them.
If a child was raised in the church they know the stories of Jesus; they know how he touched people’s lives and how Christ came to show the love of God in the world. They were taught at a young age that God had gifted them with special abilities and talents and passions to be used for the work of the Kingdom. And as children grow into teenagers, teenagers into young adults, the reality becomes more evident. To be a participating member of most congregations, you have to be at least 45 years old, have been a member most of your life and you have “waited your turn.” This is the perception of the church-people ‘punching’ their ticket and waiting until they have ‘paid their dues’ to be a full participating, active member of the church.
Young people are not leaving the church because they have objections with the teachings of Christ, rather they are leaving because they have no place in the church. Sure churches do a great job with their nursery program, Worship and Wonder program and even youth and college programs, but after that the church has not done too well. The church has bought into the lie that the late Whitney Houston promoted, that the “children are our future.” This, my friends, is a bold face lie.
Children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, young adults are not the future of the church, they are the “right now.”
This segment of the population needs to know that their ideas, theologies, concerns, worship styles and missional thoughts are valid. Too often churches try to squeeze all of this into one Sunday generally known as “Youth Sunday.” On this particular Sunday the youth are able to read scripture, sing praise songs and even preach. After that one particular Sunday service it is back to the same routine. Some churches have a “children’s moment” but even then that has turned into a Sunday morning version of ‘Kid’s Say The Darnest Things’ or a well intentioned person is trying to cram too much theology in a simple metaphor.
In some congregations the children are separated from the rest of the congregation to have their own service of worship. Many children enjoy and learn from this experience but once you hit age of 10 or so, it’s in the sanctuary with your parents.
There is a huge disconnect.
Matthew 19:14 reads, “Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children. ” (Common English Bible)
For the church to be relevant in society it must meet the needs of those around them. Churches are losing the young adult population as well as the Baby Boomers, why? They are tired of waiting to make an impact on the church and the world today. But for this to happen, people in power and church structures are going to have to change. It will take time and effort and faith; for the church’s sake I hope we are able to answer that call.
Let’s stop telling the lie.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves as Associate Minister at First Christian Church (DOC) in Orange. Rev. Dolive can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at evandolive.com.