Published: April 2007
I'm a twenty-something year old, otherwise known one of the 'young people' we hear so much about these days, so let me tell you about some of the people I know, some of my friends.
I have a friend who tells me that she enjoys her church because the music is upbeat and because the congregation is young and lively. I have a friend who has attended a traditional mainline church all of her life and wishes that her church could liven things up a bit. I have a friend who feels frustrated by the church's failure to 'get it' on issues like the marriage of homosexuals.
But I also have a friend who chose her church for the traditional music, for the formality of the structure and ritual. I have a friend who gladly attends the church she's attended with her family all her life and enjoys it primarily for the sense of community. I have a friend who believes very strongly that the marriage of homosexuals is contrary to the will of God.
The reason I'm writing about my friends is that we all, myself at times included, have a tendency to somehow equate 'evangelism' with 'getting the young people into church.' With a little reflection, we all know this equation doesn't add up. We know it as soon as we stop to think about it. But it's tempting to connect the two anyway, because when you take a look around a struggling church, the most apparent element missing in the room is young people. Because of all the people that are hard to get into church, young people are the hardest of all. Because it is easy to jump to the conclusion that unless our church is populated with the emerging generations, there will be no church as those generations emerge.
From time to time, therefore, we all need a reminder: 'Evangelism' does not equal 'Getting the young people.'
Why is this an important reminder? Well, to begin with, as my friends so nicely illustrate, young people are not a homogeneous group. We are, as surprising as it seems to be to some, as diverse as any other demographic slice. Young people come from different backgrounds. We have different tastes, different preferences, different hopes and different needs. We each have blind spots, areas in which we need to learn and grow, ideas that need challenging. And like most other people in the world, we feel cheated when we are judged by an external quality like skin colour, language, sexual preference, or age, and lumped into a category where the rest of the world can safely and happily assume they have figured us out.
In fact, in attempting to make our worship 'young people friendly' as a way of doing evangelism, we can actually be doing the exact opposite of proclaiming our good news. Something at the core of our good news is about how we are called to be persons, persons unique, varied, creative, diverse and interconnected, persons who have the amazing privilege of deepening into who we truly are in and through our relationships with others. We do not become persons by placing other persons into manageable categories. However, we might have a better chance of becoming persons through the hard work of listening, through the hard work of actually getting to know one another.
The problems don't stop there. Evangelism has never been about matching God's truth to human preference. It has never been about making ourselves popular with the greatest number of people possible, or with the most desirable people possible. Again, this is something we all know. Thankfully meeting people's preferences is not the good news we have to proclaim, because as my friends also illustrate, there is no such thing as a church that will be universally attractive to young people....
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