Here’s what not to do in response to this information:
- Run out and hire the first pastor we can find with a tattoo.
- Install screens in the sanctuary.
- Replace the organist with a drummer and a couple guitar players.
- Become Buddhist (because their average member is twenty years younger than “ours.”)
It doesn’t matter that all the kids love Hamilton (and the real Alexander Hamilton was educated by a Presbyterian on St. Croix and influenced by Presbyterians in NY.)
It doesn’t matter that hundreds of youth and young adults will be converging on Purdue University this week for the Presbyterian Youth Triennium and it will change their lives.
What does matter:
- We say that “we want kids” and “we want young adults” but sometimes we don’t act like it.
- We want “young families” for the wrong reasons. Please re-read this post.
- We are addicted to a certain way of being the church that is less about the gospel and more about our own comfort levels.
What also matters is that my (old) denomination offers the kind of spiritual community – in terms of The Big Picture – that would be appealing to people in younger demographics if we could live out these principles in real life:
- The majority of millennials support marriage equality in the United States. (Note: The PCUSA is one of a handful of denominations that support same sex unions and ordains LGBTQ clergy.)
- The majority of young adults support Black Lives Matter. The births of multiracial children is increasing in the United States. In 2015, there were more 24 year olds than any other age group, but for white Americans, the average age was 55. In other words, it’s time for faith communities to address the realities of racial/ethnic shifts in this country and – for the love of God – the realities of systemic racism. (Note: The PCUSA not only just added a creed to our Book of Confessions that declares it is a sin to separate people based on race and color. But it’s also true that the four leading officers of our denomination include a Latino man, an African American man, an African American woman, and me.)
- Young adults want to make a difference in their communities. According to this Pew study, the majority of Millennials and Gen Xers volunteered in the past twelve months in greater percentages than Boomers or members of the Silent generation. While slacktivism is popular (e.g. buying TOMS shoes, signing internet petitions) there are many young adults more interested – and aware of the need – to make more impactful contributions. (Note: PCUSA World Mission is known for sticking around after the sexiness of doing good wears off in many troubled corners of the world. For example, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance stuck around to help Katrina victims after most agencies left and, subsequently, we are the only group of our kind recognized in the Katrina museum in New Orleans.)
I believe that diverse and theologically progressive congregations have much to offer people – of every age – seeking a spiritual community that wants to change the world for good in the name of Jesus. And yet our churches doing amazing things could do a better job translating who we are and what we are about.
Perhaps we – in every church – could stop repelling people with our in-house squabbles. Perhaps we who have remained in traditional congregations could get out more and notice more clearly the needs of our communities – rather than perpetuating pet projects that offer little impact.
I can almost hear you saying, “Jan’s been a General Assembly co-moderator for less than a month and she’s already drinking the Kool-Aid.” But the truth is that there are many congregations faithfully doing what matters to younger generations whether the younger generations are present to notice or not. How can we connect with people of all ages in ways that make sense for a the future Church?
Image from the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon.