So here’s how the story goes… I got connected to a young man from my hometown through social media. We started talking about life in Portland and somewhat out of the blue he said, “To be truthful I’m not very religious, but maybe I’ll come check your church out sometime.” My gut reaction was, “No! This is a bad idea! If you come, you’ll think the Christian church is dull, old, kinda boring, and maybe even pretentious.” What I actually said was, “You are more than welcome to come visit anytime. And it’s a pretty progressive church. But I’ll be honest- we don’t have a lot to offer young adults…”
The thing is, this interaction has sparked a lot of serious reflection.
Here are 5 thoughts on this experience:
- I have a desire for people to have a positive experience of church. I’ve talked with enough young adults who have had terrible experiences in the church or with church leadership, and I hope to change that. I want the Church of Jesus Christ to be for others what it has been for me: safe, welcoming, grace-filled, loving, challenging, supportive, and comforting.
- A church cannot be everything to everyone. The church I serve is in a suburban area of Portland. We have a number of older adults who have been an important part of the church for a long time. We also have a number of families with children and youth. We are open to trying new things and discerning where and how God is calling us. But we can’t serve every age group and every demographic well; we aren’t that big, and I think it’s important to be honest about who we are. We won’t be a “destination church” for every person.
- Having a young pastor is not enough. People do want to walk into a church and make a connection with someone, and it’s really nice when it’s someone to whom they can relate. I think there is a myth out there that a young pastor will suddenly attract all young adults in the community and draw them into the church. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. I have certainly made friends with a small number of young adults, but I also serve (and happen to really like) our older members as well. Part of my call at this time is to minister to and with the people we have, and on Sunday mornings that means I get to hang out with a lot of people who are almost old enough to be my grandparents.
- We do need to think seriously about the “Nones” (people who claim no religious affiliation). How do we minister to people who have no experience in the church? How do we (as a local church, regional body, and national denomination) take seriously the call to include everyone? How can we effectively minister to “our people,” serve those in our immediate neighborhoods, and create safe and inviting spaces for people “outside” the church??? I have more questions than answers on this one.
- Our church is actually not dull, old, boring, or pretentious. We certainly aren’t perfect. But we are, at the same time, honoring traditions and trying new things. We are serving our community in new ways, reaching out to those who may need food, clothing, shelter, care, comfort, and/or a friend. We experiment with a variety of music. We care about our children and youth. We care about our older members. We care about each other. We pray for one another. We show signs of vibrancy, life, honesty, and humility… and I need to remember that.
I wonder if I should have been delighted over the fact that a young adult who isn’t religious was willing to take a risk and come check out our church. I wonder if I should have kept my mouth shut.
Thankfully, I did take a deep breath and follow my initial comment with, “We do have a new Sunday evening service at 6:08 p.m. There are a few young adults there. And some of us go out for beer afterwards.”
Thanks be to God for being present in all of our moments!