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Want more young people in church? Give ‘em Jesus

Sunday morning. I hold a tiny cup of watery coffee in my less-than-dainty hands. A few properly dressed matriarchs and patriarchs of the church I’m visiting stare at me kindly, chatting absently about the weather, inquiring about my drive that morning, commenting on how they liked my sermon. They stare at me, the token “young person” — or what passes for one in most of the United Church of Christ churches I’ve spent the last five years visiting — and begin complaining, bemoaning really, the fact that there aren’t any young people in the church. I trace with my eyes the pale teal line painted neatly around the lip of my now half-empty coffee cup as I listen to their consternation and grief. The church they know appears to be on life support and they neither want to pull the plug nor send the patient in for one more surgery.

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Vadim Petrakov/Shutterstock.com

It’s hard to tell these sweet old men and women who love the church of the 1950s that in order to survive they need less like chaplains and more like midwives. They need to let the old church be reborn into something they won’t recognize. These new emerging spiritual communities are messy, chaotic and welcomes those on the margins. Their church won’t be the same. And, they know it.

In his blog on Sojourners magazine online, Brandon Robertson writes “To the Dying Church From a Millennial”:

“My generation, the millennials, are also not walking away from their faith in Jesus, but are walking away from the modernized, politicized, sterilized, Europeanized version of Christian faith. Organic, grassroots communities of faith are forming all across our nation without buildings, without marketing, without ordained clergy, without 501(c)(3) exemptions, and without the privilege that most institutionalized churches have enjoyed for so many decades.”

What old-time church folks are grieving, he argues, is not Christianity, it’s Christendom — the powerful Anglo church that colonized whole nations and socially compelled everyone in the U.S. to attend church whether they liked it or not. Even though most of the lovely old people with whom I spend coffee hour wouldn’t do this, this power (and the subsequent loss of it) breeds the likes of Sarah Palin who has the audacity to show up at a National Rifle Association meeting and blasphemously declare that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” The (loss of) this power spurs the kind of disruptive protest that interrupts a Hindu chaplain from praying an interfaith prayer to open the U.S. Senate.

When you see such extreme examples of fear and hate from Christians, its easy to see why Millennials would walk away. “But, that’s not us!” the folks at coffee hour would probably exclaim. That may be true, but neither are Millennials attracted to the bland, sterile Jesus that’s often reduced to properly-placed doilies, white painted walls and immaculately kept kitchens used only to feed the people who dress up for church on Sunday morning.

Young people may not want the church as we’ve known it for the past several decades, but they do want Jesus. They do want the radical message of Christ that calls us into love of neighbor and enemy alike. They do want a faith that calls us to advocate for the voiceless. They do want to transform the world by first transforming themselves. The do want to live in authentic community free from politicized fights about minutia. They do want to know and give the kind of loved Jesus showed when he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and Samaritans.

Thank God. They just might be the resurrection the church needs.

Some other interesting takes related to church rebirth:

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