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What Young People want in church

What Young People want in church

YES, YES, YES

“So here are some of my thoughts about this.  Please chime in as you feel so moved.

1. Young people want innovative things in church. 
Now, this is going to seem to stand in direct opposition to what I said above, but bear with me.  Far too often faith communities latch onto the word “innovative” and think it means media in worship services, contemporary bands, and so on and so forth.  This is wrong.  This was maybe innovative 20-30 years ago.  Maybe not even then.  When I say innovative, I mean different from ordinary life.  I have a smart phone and a laptop that are with me constantly.  I am constantly connected and surrounded by a multimedia, multi-sensory experience.  In the church that I attend, I want something different.  We actually want to be fully present and have an experience of the divine.  We are not looking for entertainment.  Which leads me to my next point…

2. Young people want church to be part of the world
Congregations have gotten into a nasty habit of trying to appeal to young people, or furthermore any new people, by trying to make their churches as much like the “outside world” as possible.  This rests on at least two problematic assumptions.  First, that the church is separate from the world and, second, that we want to be isolated from it.  This is not true.  Just because your congregation has a coffee cart in the narthex, doesn’t make me think you are cool and certainty doesn’t make me want to come attend worship.  We want churches that are in touch with their neighborhoods and our country and our world.  This is not limited to once-yearly Habitat for Humanity builds or mission trips (that is another post entirely) to Mexico once every couple years or collecting food for the food pantry.  No, young people want their congregations to share life with their communities.  The good, the bad, and the ugly, which leads to…

3. Young people want church to be a place where they can be real
Coming of age as a young adult right now is a lonely and terrifying proposition.  We are disproportionately unemployed.  We are the first generation who are “worse off” than our parents.  We are drowning in debt.  We are putting off getting married and having children and owning homes.  We will likely never realize the American dream as it has been known in the past.  We are being bombarded with demands to “hold it together” and maintain a certain image because networking is important and we “never know what contact will help us get a job”.  There are very few places where we can be truly who we are.  Where we can share our pain and disappointments and joys and fears. Church can be that place.  But most of all, we want to be heard in all of who we are, which brings me to…

4. Young people are tired of having assumptions made about them
“Young people” are often seen as a commodity.  And furthermore, seen as THE commodity that will save the church.  A church is seen as thriving if it has young adults and we sometimes feel only like numbers and a bullet point in the strategic plan.  We are talked about and around and all sorts of people have ideas about what we want and what we need, most of which is wrong.  There is a pretty easy way forward.  People could ASK us what is important to us, which leads to…


5. Young people want to feel valued in the church

We want to have opportunities to serve and learn in faith communities.  But it is not as simple as keeping the existing structure of volunteer positions and leadership structure and plugging in young adults.  How about getting to know us and identifying and nurturing our gifts?  This is an entirely opposite approach than currently exists and it is scary.  If you want us to lead, you might have to step out of the way to make room for us. Which leads me to…

6. Young people aren’t interested in maintaining the status quo in church
The Derek Penwell article, What if the kids don’t want our church?, has been floating around for awhile  and I have even written about it on this blog before.  This is painful but I am just going to say it, we don’t really want your church.  This is not a value judgment.  It just is.  The Baby Boomer generation is perhaps the first in American history that has had such a wide swath of products and experiences targeted especially towards them.  They received this well.  And this huge and gifted generation has assumed that everyone else wants the same thing that they do.  We do not.  We want the same opportunities that you all have received to re-imagine and re-shape what church can be.  Which opens the discussion of…


7. Young people value authenticity
Authenticity gets thrown around as a marketing tool, particularly in churches.  Young adults have a finely tuned ability to smell inauthenticity and nothing is more pathetic than a carefully crafted facade of being “authentic.”  We want congregations to recognize their own gifts and identity and live into that. Not every congregation can stand for everything and not every congregation is going to be able to be a place where young adults find a church home.  But that is okay, because we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to do what she will and form and reform our congregations and our leaders which leads me to my final points…

8. We are open to where the Spirit is leading us and we want our churches to recognize that
Those of us who are a part of faith communities are incredibly faithful.  Our religious practices look different.  We want to discuss theology in bars with our friends.  We want to experience worship, not just attend it.  We want to sing hymns loudly and badly in pubs with our congregations.  When we start becoming engaged in congregations, it might look different than our parents and grandparents, but it is no less valid.  

9. Those of us who sense a call to serve want to be raised up as clergy in the church
We are young.  We are faithful.  We are LGBTQ.  We have tattoos.  We sometimes swear.  We have made mistakes.  We will continue to do so.  We are no different from you, yet we are so different from you. We need to be mentored by you, but we also need for you to allow us to fly and to be moved by the Holy Spirit.  

10. We want to hear when we need to step back and let a new generation lead
We won’t be young forever.  Even though we are often the youngest in congregations, we will continue to age.  And if our church communities are doing what they hope we will, we won’t be the youngest.  And we need to learn when to get out of the way for something new to happen as well.  At that point, we will need you to help us know how to gracefully step aside.  “

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About katyandtheword

Pastor Katy has enjoyed ministry at New Covenant for 6 years, where the church has solidified its community focus. Prior to that she studied both Theology and Christian Formation at Princeton Theological Seminary. She also served as an Assistant Chaplain at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and as the Christian Educational Coordinator at Bethany Presbyterian at Bloomfield, NJ. She enjoys working within and connecting to the community, is known to laugh a lot during service, and tells as many stories as possible. Pastor Katy loves reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, theater, arts and crafts, music, playing with children and sunshine, and continues to try to be as (w)holistically Christian as possible. "Publisher after publisher turned down A Wrinkle in Time," L'Engle wrote, "because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was too difficult for children, and was it a children's or an adult's book, anyhow?" The next year it won the prestigious John Newbery Medal. Tolkien states in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings that he disliked allegories and that the story was not one.[66] Instead he preferred what he termed "applicability", the freedom of the reader to interpret the work in the light of his or her own life and times. "Hallows, not Horcruxes" Harry Potter

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