The Episcopal Cafe linked to this article two days ago with the following headline”Where have all the Young People Gone?”
The article itself is fine. The headline is troubling.
It’s a popular question to ask, nowadays, by very well-meaning people, who have very well-founded concerns that the current incarnation of the church lacks a certain diversity of ages. This is true. The current incarnation is a bit lopsided when it comes to life-experience. The average Episcopalian is somewhere around the age of 58. Everyone, by now, has seen the statistics about our drop in membership, and the rise in spirituality over religious affiliation. So the idea that ‘kids these days’ are, statistically speaking, more likely to be drinking coffee than acolyting, on Sunday morning is not far-fetched.
But saying, “Where have all the Young People Gone?” does not help the situation.
Because that questions assumes that All Young People Have, in fact, Gone.
Not just most Young People, but ALL the Young People. ALL OF THEM. EVERYWHERE.
WE HAVE LOST ALL THE YOUNG PEOPLE!!
Like socks in the dryer, or some vast conspiracy of youth to abandon the Fair Church Episcopal.
This is, I realize, a hyperbolic assumption, but it’s also damaging. Because, as a certified Young Person, how can I begin to speak to my beloved Church about the ways in which we can make the church more welcoming to my fellow Young People, if it seems to have trouble recognizing that I’m still here? Or that my perspective might be important on this issue?
Dear Church, there are a few Young People here, you know. We attend your services, we sit in the back, occasionally in the front if we’re bold. Sometimes, we sit there quietly, and give up after a few Sundays, and sometimes, we get feisty and get ourselves elected to positions of leadership. Sometimes, we even get ourselves ordained.
So, look. This is a conversation we desperately need to have, because this is an issue that is real. But the only way this will work out is if we have it with each other, not around each other. You’re concerned about the young people? Talk to the Actual Young People. Ask us what we need. Ask us what would help make the church more welcoming.
This is a trick we’ve all had to learn time and again, each time we wanted to open the doors a little wider, learn how to be a little more welcoming. How do we talk to someone, and not just about them-as-a-population? We’re going to have to learn that trick again.
So, please. Ask us about being young people in this church. We will tell you. Then we can work on it together.
Because God’s Kingdom has no dryer socks.
Based on my own experience trying out new churches as a *gasp* young person (which I somehow still qualify as), it is nice when churches treat me as a new human being and welcome and converse with me and get to know me. It is terrifying and off-putting when they immediately go ‘OMG! New person! Young!’ and treat me as a category rather than an individual – this makes people both over-eager and less likely to actually be welcoming ME.
I feel like this is in-line with your point.
Thank you, Megan. I appreciate this reminder. Also want to let you know how much I enjoyed meeting you in person!
I have to admit that I don’t go the adult forum (what we call adult Sunday school) because there isn’t anybody near my age there. And in the church world, I consider people near my age if they’re under fifty.
What would get more young people to church? Ways to be involved with social aspects of the church that aren’t during the workweek or for families with children. Seeing the announcements have various notices about Young Families, the bridge group that meets Tuesday afternoons, the Bible Study that meets Thursday mornings, etc, does not give the impression that young people are valued or wanted as members unless they have children.
I hope you leave a comment at ECafe. It’s important that those of you “young people” (sigh, it wasn’t so long ago that I was considered one of the ‘youngbloods’) begin to make some noise. Make more noise. Don’t take any crap from the Institutional Church which won’t change unless it absolutely, positively has to.
People are starting to notice that you’re not in church in significant numbers. Use that to your advantage. Talk about “the future of the church” and how it’s in danger. I know. You are the “present” of the church but scaring institutional people a little isn’t always such a bad thing. Guilt, applied sparingly, can also be effective with the institution. Use it, and don’t waste a microsecond feeling guilty about using guilt.
The thing about dryer socks is that, for some reason, usually only one goes missing. I have a small bag of mismatched socks that sits in my laundry room. I just know that, one day, I’ll find the match. Sometimes, I do. It’s my little bag of hope.
Time for all the mismatched socks to unite! I’m praying for you.
Sometimes they are even heard! They have ideas on what they need in church…do we generally listen to them..or let them have what they ask for? Church is so full of “older members” who DO feel “we always did it that way”…. and it is hard for change to happen that might make church a deeper and more spiritual experience to open the heart and mind of younger people.