Reaching Out To Young Adults Will Screw Up Your Church, wrote Adam Copeland recently. He's gotten a lot of great conversation going about what's wrong with the church these days, what young people bring, what it means to belong before you believe, and the danger and necessity of change.
Still, when I read his post, I wanted to share some stories:
Last fall I met a couple of older women at a Writing Conference held at a progressive church. We had a great conversation over lunch. I did confess, at one point, that I was a pastor. One of the women told me that though she was very active in social ministries, she no longer attended a church, and sort of felt an aversion to it. She had grown up Pentecostal and felt that she had enough church then for the entire rest of her life.
I used to visit a retired pastor and his wife every month, to bring them communion. She was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's disease; he visited her faithfully every day. He was a pretty conservative, confessional Lutheran, but always with a commitment to social justice. One day we broached the subject of the ELCA's position on ordaining gays and lesbians in committed relationships. (This was before the 2009 vote.) After beating around the bush for a little while, I came out and asked him, "What do you think we should do?" He answered, "I think we should ordain them!"
One of our part-time receptionists is an 85 year old woman who comes in to help with bookkeeping and building management. She loves all kinds of Bible study, including the rigorous historical critical study that our senior pastor used to give. She is very open to change in our congregation, and once mused to me that the fear of change of some of the other older members of our congregation is not so much a function of their age, but of the length of their tenure in the congregation.
On the other hand, a young woman I'm friends with said to me that she was looking for a church with traditional worsihp, but a progressive sermon.
I suppose that my points are that: 1) it's true, reaching out to young adults will screw up your church, but that perhaps reaching out to anyone new who is at all different than you will screw up your church. Immigrants. Poor people. People who are not native to Your Particular Denomination or your Political Orientation. But, it's possible that this will be the Holy Spirit at work.
2) It is true that often-times churches are not open to the ideas, doubts and questions that younger adults bring. It is also true that churches are not always open to the ideas, doubts and questions that new-comers bring, whatever their age. I actually think that this is an a more accurate (and sadder) statement.
3) It is true that not all young people like contemporary worship, or traditional worship, or ask the same questions or have the same ideas. It is also true that not all old people like the same things either. God hates stereotypes, and will blow them apart, and perhaps screw up your church.
4) It is true that the general culture outside the church values youth and de-values age. In our earnest and well-meaning attempts to screw up the church by reaching out to young people, I hope we do not de-value the very real gifts that older adults bring.