It’s a sad reality that millennials (those born between 1985 and 2000) are leaving the church in record numbers. (See my comments here.) But recent discussion centers around the fact that Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are also turning from faith traditions. Last week, I read with interest the Her.meneutics column in Christianity Today by Michelle Van Loon (also shared this week in her blog at Patheos.com.) She’s calling the exodus of church-goers over 50 “The Midlife Church Crisis”.
I’ve been thinking a lot about her lament that church doesn’t have much to offer us “empty-nesters”. Van Loon bases her assessment on her own lack of opportunity to become involved in a new church setting that obviously caters to young families, and on an informal survey she conducted on her blog among people she says are in their “second adulthood”. I don’t doubt that most churches focus on young families, and I believe her survey results which indicate “nearly half …. told me they had downshifted their involvement in their local church.”
But why leave now? Surely bulletins full of announcements for VBS, youth mission trips and parenting groups aren’t enough to cause us to turn from the faith traditions we’ve held — many of us for all our adult lives? I realize the issue is way more complicated than just feeling left out of church activities. For some, it is a crisis of faith. What I fear is that people of my generation are using the “there’s nothing for me here” argument as an excuse for their own boredom and lack of initiative.
Yes, it is challenging to worship alongside young Christians who are embracing “the doctrine of tolerance”. But in the next breath, they’re begging for someone to lead them deeper into scripture. It is a shame that the very people who could prime the pump for meaningful dialogue are bored or disillusioned or tired and are walking away. I’m blessed to worship with followers of Christ who believe that, though we are currently without a full-time pastor — or maybe because of it — the time is ripe for a fresh examination of the truths that define our faith and a stronger commitment to live out the original call to be in community.
Christian fellowship and worship are the foundation of “church”. The church experience is fashioned by the people who gather for those purposes. Is it really up to a leadership group to decide what the church will do for whom and when?
Last Sunday my husband and I attended a “hipster” church in Nashville, TN, with our 27-year-old son. The small congregation was made up mostly of people his age, with a smattering of folks in their “second adulthood”. There were the usual offerings for teen fellowship and family-oriented small groups. But we later found out there’s an effort to cross generations in those small groups and that there are opportunities for those teens to serve the church community.
Back at my home church, I joined a small gathering to discuss a plan to match teens with adult “accountability mentors” for the purpose of creating unity in the church and fostering spiritual growth on both ends of the spectrum.
My point is this: Church will be what we make it. The basics are still there. God is still the Creator, Jesus is our Savior and we are sinners in a fallen world. We come together to worship, to help one another up when we fall and to celebrate the victories. Whether we get everything we want from church or not is pretty much up to us. If something is lacking — such as an in-depth book study or a service project that appeals to mature believers — then it’s up to us to bring it.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work “Life Together”, defines “church” with these straight-forward statements:
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
I’m sharing these reflections today for Thought-Provoking Thursday at Lyli Dunbar’s excellent blog, 3dLessons4Life. Please hop over there to read more thought-provoking essays by clicking on the red chair.