Not too long ago (but pre-baby), my husband and I enjoyed the pleasure of a late Christmas party with a group of Christian friends. Over the course of the evening, we got to talking with a woman active in youth ministry at her church. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but at some point in the conversation she asked something like, “So, how do we attract young people – you know, people your age that aren’t in high school but don’t really fit in with the adults – to the Church?”
The interesting thing is, this wasn’t the first or even the second time we’ve been asked this. My husband and I joke that we’re serving as ambassadors for the 20-something population in Christian circles, because in a variety of places, there aren’t that many of us in church on Sunday morning. As a result of the recurring question, we’ve thought a bit on the topic and came up one primary reason that the Church will never reach Young People.
The Church cannot reach Young People.
The Church was never meant to cater to a specific demographic. Christ didn’t become a Baby Boomer, hippy, goth, “crunchy” parent, or millennial so that He could save any of those respective “tribes.” He “…[the Word] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, emphasis mine) That’s the gospel message, which is “the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16) and that is the only way to meaningfully reach people.
We can only hope to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:24) by living out the gospel, preaching the gospel from Scriptures (Romans 10:17), and as Epaphras, by laboring in prayer (Colossians 4:12). Changing your worship style or hosting a “college and career” group does not ultimately get people through the doors or keep them there. God calls individuals to Himself, so the only way to get more people (young or otherwise) in your church is to get more God in your church. To center the happenings in the congregation around any particular group is foolhardy, because the Church is meant to be Christ-centered. Anything less is just that – horribly, insufficiently less.
Having said all of that, I’d also like to underscore the fact that millennials are not a special interest group and shouldn’t be treated as such. Heck, you might even consider that we’re adults and ought to be pulling our weight in the church and otherwise. (I say this tongue-in-cheek, speaking as much to my generation as to those outside of it.) I wince when I see articles written by millennials for millennials, complaining about the state of the Church. Ladies and gentlemen, you are the Church as much as any other set of believers. If there’s fault to be found, you’re part of it; if there’s a solution to be had, you’re part of that, too.
And I’d also like to briefly put forth a couple of generational-gap-bridging thoughts, because the fact that we’ve got so much discussion on the topic says to me that there is some kind of a problem…
The Church cannot reach Young People (see above). However, Bill – a personable 60-something, married for many years with kids and his own business, but willing to invest in others in spite of his busy life – can reach out to Matt, a married 20-something new father that has visited church a few times. And as a couple with a little bit of purposefulness, Bill and his wife can form a friendship with Matt and his wife that results in godly influence and fellowship on a personal level. Bill doesn’t try to create false intimacy in a truncated timeframe (subject for another post). He doesn’t try to mentor (or worse, parent) this couple that he’s just met. He and his wife allow a friendship to form naturally, and make themselves available to do life together as fellow-adults who have been where we are. And this relationship goes both ways – both generations have to work at it.
Also, the Church cannot reach Young People (see further above). But those in leadership can view “young people” (starting in high school, really, depending on the high schooler and the responsibility) as just as much of a resource to be drawn on as other groups. They are a resource for deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, chair-stackers, and floor sweepers in so much as they fit the Biblical criteria for these types of service (1 Timothy 3). I’d like to stress that throwing immature Christians into ministry is a recipe for disaster, but being mature in the faith doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your age, as per 1 Timothy 4:12. Each member of the church ought to be working along side another, building each other up in the faith. (Jude 1:20)
I recently rediscovered this quote, which I love…
But you will never help young people if you do not love them. I do so long that God’s people will be more human, have more heart—cleansed heart, with Christ in it—you can do anything with people you love and who love you. This is not natural love, because it loves the ugly and the unpleasant. It is the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts” that is needed. We are too occupied with our own spiritual growth and progress. Oh God, let us die to ourselves! Lord, come thou and live in us, so that thy life can flow out to others through us! ~ Jessie Penn-Lewis
Let more of Him and less of ourselves be our prayer.