Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where are the "kids" in church?

A. Hanson, Paris. 
There has been an article floating around cyberspace today called, "Grow up, Grownups!" that looks at why young adults do not feel welcome in the church.  The article related the author's experience of hearing a speaker present at a conference and then having an audience member say that while "young adults" (18-29) are legally adults, they do not act like adults.  The author points out that this is an extremely problematic attitude in the church.

The author argues that we treat young adults like children and adolescents in the church, and I could not agree more. The church appears to argue on one hand that there are not enough young adults in church and that the key to saving our declining denominations is to get more of these people into congregations. But on the other hand, we are treating young adults like children and so we ask, where are the "kids" in church?

The "kids" have gone elsewhere because they do not feel valued as members of our congregations. We reinforce this attitude every time that we schedule church leadership meetings during working hours.  We reinforce this attitude when we live in the past "glory days" instead of looking into the future with joy and expectation.  We reinforce this attitude when we attempt to force young adults into existing structures of leadership and governance in our congregations. We reinforce this attitude when we lament the death of what has been instead of trusting in the resurrection of that which is to come.  We reinforce this when we "let" young adults teach sunday school and lead youth group, but not serve on our finance or stewardship committees.

Young adults are labeled as immature because they are delaying marriage and children and becoming rooted in communities, and yet instead of asking why this occurs (the answer is profound economic insecurity), young adults are labeled as hedonistic and individualistic, and thus do not belong in our congregations.  Young adults are not rushing the doors of our congregations because we have not made them places of welcome. Churches have made young adults into a commodity, rather than seeing them as valued and beloved members of the body of Christ.

There are much bigger questions and issues at work in this discussion, but how about we start with treating young adults like the valuable people that they are?  They are hardworking, contributing members of our society and our congregations.  They are not children.  They are not teenagers.  They are fellow workers in the kingdom of God.

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