An article from the August 7, 2007 USA today tells us that “Young adults aren’t sticking with church.” Now this is probably not news to many of us who have been hanging out in churches. What is very interesting in this article is the research which is cited and the resultant findings.
LifeWay did the survey in April and surveyed 1,023 Protestants ages 18 to 30 in the USA. It is alarming to see that 7 out of 10 of the people in this age range drop out. While this report is American I would suggest that the numbers would not be terribly different if we did the same research on this side of the border. If anything we might find that number to be higher as we do not attend church in Canada as much as our God-fearing American neighbours. This is a big problem for the church and it is magnified when we realize that 34% of those 7 in 10 never return, even after they hit 30. That means that 1 in 4 have leave the church all together – never to return.
Now I have to be blunt and honest here – if you examine for a moment what is happening in most churches across this country I would fin it surprising that it is only one in four that leave the church. Now please do not simply assume that I am cynical. Truthfully, I think people, particularly young people are searching more today than they have. The church is less becoming a place where they are prepared to search. Respondents indicated a lot of reasons for dropping out of the church, all of which in my mind suggest that we have work to do as mainline churches to help stem this trend. If the research, which is said to be accurate within a margin of three percent, is at all correct we ‘church people’ are not always the nicest people. More than half of the drop-outs felt that churches were un-welcoming. Less than half of them saw the church as authentic.
The same report showed that communities with engaging leadership, that were what many now call missional, and where the membership was serious about spiritual development, are not just retianing members but are growing. The authors of the study stated that "Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There’s no life transformation taking place." Ed Stetzer, director of Nashville-based LifeWay Research stated, “People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world." The church communites that are doing this are indeed growing i membership.
All of this is consistent with the findings of people like Diana Butler-Bass who has researched congregations across America and has found that churches that are actually embracing the message of social justice proclaimed in the Gospels are vital and are growing. Some of you who attend St. Mark’s by-the-Lake will remember an article written by Ms. Butler-Bass that I sent out in our Vestry report at the beginning of 2006 as we began on our Markus Project to examine who we are as a congregation and who we might need to become. Many more like Loren Mead and Peter Steinke and Alice Mann have made similar claims. Where the church is doing the work of transforming lives, there is growth and there is strength. The findings of Mr. Stetzer are a reminder that church needs to be revamped and rethought. Many young people are very honest about the fact that they do not feel absolute about faith and their practice of that uncertain faith is something that is lived out in very diverse ways. Church Leadership has to take seriously the mandate to be the community of God for even those who do not feel confidence in faith. I think that the 18-30 year olds have many of the same doubts and uncertainties about God that the 30+ folks have. So what is the difference?
I believe the difference lies is an absolute honesty and integrity. That is to say some of us who have been around the church forever so it seems will never voice our disillusionment or our doubts. We have been taught to be strong in faith. The other differences lie in the lack of change, especially in the past 50 years. We have not managed to move ahead and to keep the faith while taking the leadings of the Spirit to change and be changed.
I am pleased that we are often experimenting with change at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. It excites me to see transformation in peoples lives when we allow others to be who God created them to be. It is life-giving to watch the community embrace new expressions of Spirit walking and talking in our church community. I pray that we might continue to find new and diverse ways to be present with the creator and make even more room for the diverse community around us to come and be a part of living church!
I am extremely pessimistic about the future of organized religion. I was discussing the future of the church yesterday with my pastor at Knox Presbyterian on our morning walk. We agree that the youth of today are looking for spirituality and are finding it in discussions with each other and in such belief systems as the Muslims. It is interesting that when we were attending St. Mark\’s while Peter Wall was there Carrie and I took a confirmation course together and Peter asked the question why the youth do not attend. Carrie\’s response was that there was nothing for the youth in the church. For oldies like me it is a safe haven of peace and tranquility. Our pastor here is deeply spiritual and creates a worship atmosphere that feeds us spiritually. Additionally, we have a good group of youth and children mainly because of Rev. Jeremy and an excellent Sunday school teacher. We also have a woman\’s and a men\’s bible study that are well attended. Our choir is top notch and each year puts on what is called the Singer Christmas Tree. (It is named after a woman who left money in her will to start it and all the proceeds from the good will offering go to local school music programs.) This is an echumenical choir of fifty to sixty people that put on a four day concert in December. They start practicing the first week of September.
Our church is also the one to which outside groups come for the use of our hall and our kitchen facilities. Through this we do evangelical work by sharing.
It is my belief that unless the church taps into the spirituality of the youth it will not exist in twenty five to thirty years. If it is to exist it needs to reframe its theology and worship. The larger denominations such as the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans also need to be more biblically based in their worship. Two small readings on Sunday are not enough. The sermon must also reflect the bible in showing the faithful how Jesus was a spiritual person who changed the world and how our roots in the Old Testament give meaning to our current context.
I hope you and the members of St. Mark\’s are doing well and if I ever get down to your neck of the woods Kevin we perhaps can get that long put off golf game in.
It seems to me that Christianity, as taught in the whole of the Christian scriptures, ought to be a way of life that encompasses all actions in social, political, family and economic realms, and for that matter any other realms of human activity – not simply as a “religion” in the Western sense of that word. Christians ought to view all areas of human activity as opportunities to both worship and serve God.
When Christianity’s status as a total way of life, and not merely as a set of formalized religious rituals, dogmas, doctrines, “basics” or “essentials” is practised, then (for me at least) the following becomes the only expectation,
“The Lord your God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Deut.6:5). This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal.5:14).
On these two commandments, nothing else, hang all the law and the prophets.
When Church played a bigger role in people\’s lives, it was because it wasn\’t just about faith and religion. It was the social centre of communities and, for young people, the best place to find a date! I don\’t propose a Church of Facebook, rather, recommend developing better ideas about what Church is and can be in 2007. There is certainly room to be more, but there are limits. Those limits should be understood so that people do not become pessimistic when being realistic.
My Feedback on Your Feedback
Interesting reflections here. Thanks for all the feedback – finally some response!
1. The Church needs to be a transforming force.
2. That can be done with good contextual Biblical teaching and teaching the revelations of God found in other places – such as in the writings of visionaries like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hans Kung, Marcus Borg, Henri Nouwen, Julian of Norwich, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, and Madeline L\’Engle and on and on. These conversations must be very open ended and non-threatening – Churches are not well known for allowing people to feel that it is OK not to know about "faith issues."
3. I agree there are limits – but believe me. Mainline church has not come anywhere close to those limits. Most congregations in North America are stuck in park and have not driven near the city limits!
4. I think that the bulk of the Sunday liturgy at the moment is Biblical. Each week there are in fact 4 scriptural reading. One from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), One from The Psalms, One from the Epistles or Paul\’s Letters and One Gospel reading. This of course is not to mention the scriptural references found in the Eucharistic Prayer weekly and references found in all the prayers over the gifts, collects etc. I think the problem with the "larger" denominations is not a lack of Sunday morning Bible-Based Worship. It is a lack of effort to use those readings to their best potential and stretch them to the deepest meanings. In many congregations we continue to spoon feed people the Bible -with Sunday school level at best.
5. I agree with the Digital Genie that as church stretches to find room for the emerging generations I believe that an excellent guide to teach (also Bible Based from the Hebrew Scriptures) is the Shema followed by the great commandment. This is by the way the earliest creedal statement in the church.
6. There is a lot of work to be done but really the church has to be more than a social club, it has to offer something more than just a meeting place – I read on the Digital Genie’s Blog that “In order for someone to grow up, things have to be changing otherwise someone would be 12 years old forever. So impermanence [change] is the basic condition of life. Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” Ergo, we must as a church prepare to be a participant in this vicissitude. We should attempt, at least, to be a place which fosters change, encourages change, and embraces change – NOT just in the institution but in the members of it!
We continue to dialogue and learn – thanks for dialoguing here!
Well, then. Certainly an interesting discussion. Fantastic to see that people actually notice this sort of thing and are moved to comment. Where will the church be in twenty years? I don\’t think twenty years is a very long time to project forward. I see that young people are indeed moving away from the church. A hopeful sign is, that among those I talk to, young people are beginning to seek and question again. I also think that young adults are much more suspicious of the established culture (church, politics, literature). They tend to have a skeptic\’s eye view.
Does the church need to change in dramatic ways in order to bring people closer? I am always suspicious of that myself, I wouldn\’t blame young people for looking on as the church bent over backward….."What\’s up with these folks," they might say. Or, "What does the church want from me that it would go to such lengths….how much will this cost me?" While you need to grow and change just as any language does, you need to keep a certain centre. (sort of like a gyroscope on a wire, eh?)
Maybe the church would do well just to re-brand itself with it\’s central themes. (There are ten I can think of) It might be best to carefully adapt to the broader popular culture in order to speak clearly. (Yo!…This is God, dude!) Ours is a world that holds a mirror to itself and tends to pigeon hole the things it thinks it knows. We compare our true belief in and knowledge of Science to the mystical and find the mystical lacking. We don\’t consider even the mystery that fact reveals (the universe is inside what, exactly?). There must be a reason, an action, a result. We are surrounded by such things and expect such things. Maybe church needs to educate to it\’s central themes and not be dogmatic about theory and The Story. In another way, I am wondering which is more important? Walking on water or doing unto others as to yourself?