I have been pondering the recent Pew Study and the multitude of responses to the statistics that indicate a decline in church affiliation. In reading the numerous interpretations of the report and how the church has it right or wrong and what needs to be done to remedy the decline I have come to a conclusion, at least at this point in my pondering, that the interpreters fix, so to speak, is directly related to his or her theological perspective.
There are those who say the reason persons, especially millennials, are declining in religious affiliation is that we have watered down the gospel, the faith, and they have become disillusioned with our lack of backbone. There are those who say the church is too rigid, close minded, and exclusive and they are tired of our judgmental attitudes and hypocrisy. There is not enough liturgy, too much liturgy, not enough study and small groups, too much study and small groups. We are too inwardly focused and not focused enough on outreach and making this world a better place in which to live.
As I consider all the interpretations that are being put forth I have to say, they are all true and they are all false. The problem in part, at least in my humble opinion, is the idea that there is a singular fix for a problem that may or may not be a problem at all. When I say maybe not a problem at all, I am thinking of a particular story in regards to our Christian faith in that death need not be the end. That and there seems to be an assumption that all millennials are looking for the same thing, so if we can just figure out that one thing all will be well.
Millennials are no different than the rest of us in terms of individuality, we are all different. The fact that liturgy, sacrament, and traditional worship may speak to some millennials, does not mean it is going to speak to all of them and the converse is true as well. If we as a church, culture, and society have a problem it isn’t because we are doing it wrong, perhaps it is the fact that we have a really bad habit of assigning a whole group of people the same ideologies, thoughts, beliefs, wants, and needs rather than engaging our communities to discover the diverse range of thought and belief and then trying to meet folks where they are rather than offering them a fix they do not need or want.
Perhaps in light of this new pew report the task, ministry, and outreach of the church is to keep on keepin’ on, to use an old cliche. To do what we do best and improve upon those best practices and ministries. To talk with our members, our neighborhoods, our communities, to engage our local culture where it is and simply embrace and love them where they are.
I can only speak for myself, but I know I am as guilty as anyone else at trying the newest fad in worship, church leadership, outreach, and communication in order to somehow offer what those young people in our community might want and need so that they may want to be a part of our community of faith. Perhaps, if I learn anything from the Pew Report and my own pondering it is this; quit trying so hard to figure it out, to fix it, to offer the newest thing to attract new young people to the church and simply embrace them where they are, for who they are, and love them and trust they are much more in tune with what they are looking for than I am. Perhaps, that is enough.
Peace and Light for Our Journey,