The future of faith among youth – read: Millennials – and those who minister to them is a popular discussion. You’ve encountered it before, of course, especially in church publications, framed by sobering statistics about declining numbers of churchgoing youth, and often positioned around two questions: What’s happening? How can we entice/bribe/win/encourage them back?
CC columnists were encouraged to weigh in, so this is my take on the future of faith. I’d frame my list of suggestions with two overarching suggestions: First, drop the generational labels; we’re all made of the same stuff. Second, reduce the focus on the health of our churches and governing bodies; what we build will inevitably fall.
As such, this list is not for Millennials, Gen-X/Y/Z/Wii’ers, Boomers, Teens, Tweens, Plurals, iGens, or any of our unhelpful, reductive labels. It’s for you and me.
10. Theology is just a word
Stripped away of all the human trappings we’ve layered on, the core of our faith is devastatingly simple. Theology, catechisms, confessions, canons and creeds are defensive measures assembled by flawed saints to explain belief systems but also to justify division and conflict. The core is love. You can’t weaponize love.
9. They’re probably not wrong
Every criticism of Christianity has an ounce of truth to it. There is no point in being defensive about the oppressive and flawed efforts we’ve made thus far, and admitting those mistakes is not a position of weakness. We turn the other cheek, again and again and again.
8. Trying to “save” The Church
The Church is a human construct and therefore subject to failure. The body of believers envisioned in scripture looks nothing like the denominational behemoths we’ve built, and the perfect strength of Christ’s calling and mission can never be broken by the crumbling of our poorly-built structures.
7. When it’s time to redefine church
When a body begins to give structure and tradition more than just passing acknowledgment, pushing them towards salvific importance, it’s time to leave it behind. Communities do not need to experience schisms to pursue this goal, either: breaking up with an institution is not the same as breaking up with Christ.
6. We take ourselves too seriously
Our faith might be simple, but the flawed efforts we’ve made to bring it forward are often ridiculously complex and comedic. Yet our passion and earnestness for what we believe can prevent us from laughing along with those to whom we’re to bring the good news, and at ourselves. If we can’t laugh at how bumbling we are as we try to make sense of what’s beyond our capacity to understand, what’s left?
5. Seek, meet, hear and serve together
Christ’s church is about people coming together and finding ways to stay together. Too often, our emphasis is on being correct, following liturgy or tradition, or watching each other at the expense of not seeing our neighbours.
4. Meaningful community involvement
A church where the members don’t serve the community is a self-serving and therefore empty vessel. And I mean the whole community, not just a small number of disadvantaged people to whom we minister piecemeal. How many people in our immediate vicinity know they should be able to come to us for anything, at any time?
3. Question everything. . . but be open to hearing the answers
I have a pastor friend who has centred his ministry on questioning everything and being rebellious in Christ’s name. I admire this a lot, and often when I read his words am convicted that Christ has indeed established the model of a true rebel. The trick, though, is not to let the questions function as the only knowledge – if we ask to have the cup lifted from us, we have to accept it when the answer is no, too.
2. When we lean on faith, not religion
Faith and salvation are divine, gracious gifts. Religion is the human attempt to give it structure. We shouldn’t reach out to bring more bodies into churches, but bring the good news to help others seek salvation, regardless of whether we see them in the pews the following Sunday. And to remind ourselves, too, that salvation begins with faith, not liturgy, songs, or sermons.
1. Pray. Serve. Repeat.
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