I could easily spend several hours every week “having coffee” with people I know who have stopped going to church services. I like talking to people who are either well on the fringe of church (having moved from the centre) or have left completely. I like talking with these people because I appreciate hearing stories of their experiences and often frustration with church. If I didn’t work for the church I might be one of these people.
Whenever I see a bus telling me it isn’t in service, I think of Sundays and churches and those who aren’t in church services on Sundays, especially those who used to be but aren’t anymore. There’s another way to frame “NOT IN SERVICE” and I’ll end this post with that.
On 27 July I read a blog post on a CNN Religion Blog written by Rachel Held Evans. She talks about the broad age-group that in the USA are called the Millennial Generation, and in other places Generation Y (18-33 year-olds). Other age-groups are Generation X (34-48 year-olds), Baby Boomers (49-67), and the Silent Generation (68-88).
In the USA the Millennial age group are leaving church in their droves, and Rachel explains a bit of her experience with this. I want to quote her here because I really liked a statement she made when referring to church, and the tweaks we might try to attract people to it:
“You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”
We mustn’t get sidetracked here by trying to figure out where Jesus might be if he isn’t in the church. Or should we?
We might also ask the question of these young people:
“What is this Jesus like that you don’t find in the church?”,
because we might think they don’t actually have a good understanding of the actual Jesus that the rest of us seem to have no problem finding on Sunday mornings.
Yesterday I had lunch with a long-time friend who was a mentoring influence to me in my late teens. He’s a theologically trained activist who has spent more than a decade caring and being an advocate for people in a difficult place. We talked about church (because that’s what I always talk about), and he talked about his church frustrations as well as the frustrations one of his teenage children is experiencing with the church. It all came down to authenticity. Or rather, a lack of authenticity within their experience of church communities.
It’s complicated because authenticity is different for different people – there are various expectations of what an authentic church or Christian community would look like or do.
The issue for Rachel’s Millennials has something to do with authenticity, she also comments:
“We [Millennials] want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.”
That might be a good test for our churches if they are not overflowing with 18-33 year-olds: perhaps there is no challenge to engage in holy lives when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
How does your church rate?
Some of the people I catch up with who are “NOT IN SERVICE” any more on Sundays, are “IN SERVICE” in other ways, for example, I know people who actually tithe their income, but rather than giving it to the church, they give it to things they know are making a difference in people’s lives in transformative ways, both social and spiritual.
I don’t think there’s too much to worry about with some of these “NOT IN SERVICE” people, because some of them have lives more engaged with their Christian faith than many regular church attenders appear to have.
The first was referring to people not in church services. The second is to think of it as being about action, or active service, or rather, not in active service: “NOT IN SERVICE”.
I would like to suggest some of the problem Rachel identifies with Millennials leaving churches comes down to their experience of churches that are “NOT IN SERVICE”. For example, do these young people see the rest of the “family” caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers? Or in other words:
“…to preach the Message of good news to the poor, …to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”” (Luke 4.18-19)
Or do they just hear songs and sermons about this stuff?
What are some of your ideas about these two “NOT IN SERVICE” phenomena?
Image: Metro Bus, Christchurch, Mike Crudge.