Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Young people in the church

I've been thumbing thru a report by a church agency analysing why droves of young people seem to be leaving this denomination. Some of their results are bleeding obvious... but worth saying anyway. And there's some good bits of wisdom in this report. Also, gotta give 'em credit for bravely facing up to the problem, instead of burying their head in the sand.
The top two reasons young people left this particular denomination were:
1. Young people didn't feel accepted, trusted and valued, but ignored and patronised instead. "Old people [have] lost faith in the young people to carry on into the future... [there is a] lack of encouragement to the younger generation, who are often seen "kids" even though they are over 18, because they have grown up in the church".
2. The way this denomination "did church" - their form of public worship - was irrelevant, alienating, and embarrassing. "Church is a foreign world... [it's] not inviting... [it] doesn't relate to [the] community generally and youth in particular".
Interestingly, "visionary leadership" and "relevant teaching" came down the list. They were there, but only ranked 6 and 7. I dunno what to make of that - what do you guys think...?
Here's a couple of good quotes:
"Any church, or movement of churches, will only survive (or expand) in proportion to its ability to produce successive generations of effective leaders. The quantity and quality of those leaders is generally proportional to the size of the pool from which they are drawn. Therefore, each individual loss from a generation, while seemingly insignificant at the time, is profound in terms of its cumulative impact."
"Working on relationships [with the youth] will buy time and create space to work on other issues. Failure will also create space; but it will be an ominous space. It will be a space characterized by the absence of young voices that once clamoured for life-giving change, relevancy and opportunity. It will be a quiet and comfortable space, but so too is a tomb".


Paul said...

The report seems naive and misguided to me. It is too clinical. I don't think it fully comprehends where young people are coming from. It unfairly and harshly blames older people. I don't attend a Presy church, but I can't imagine the differences between my church and it being that great. I think the analysis should focus more on the social and emotional aspects of youth attending church. You have to make young people feel comfortable and relaxed (after being welcomed) before they can ever be excited and willing to serve and lead others.

My perspective:
- 25 years old
- didn't grow up in a church, fairly recent convert
- member of a local Uniting Church, which has a more traditional, family-oriented morning service, and a more 'modern', youth-oriented evening service.

There has been concern about a lack of communion between the groups attending the two services, and with young people in particular. My minister has noted that it was the deliberate design of the congregation to have these separate services, so perhaps the problem is one of our own making.

The youth service has not been on since a week before Christmas 2007 (starts again late January), however I have seen very few younger members of the evening service attend the morning service. My speculation as to why:
- young people feel insecure and uncomfortable talking to and relating with older folk; they don't know what to say, what topics to talk about; the generation gap has not been bridged
- they are intimidated, to varying degrees, by fear of perceived judgement over trivial matters (their dress, body language, general mannerisms) by other people (not just older people). I know older members generally don't care about such trivial matters, but this perception hasn't been countered through communication and communion. Young people are accepted, trusted and encouraged. They are far from being ignored and patronised. Older people are not the problem, a lack of communication is.
- they prefer the more social aspects of church and congregate into small groups like at high school. Many of the youth are unknown to one another. Church is too much like high school, with aspects of cliquishness, alienation and much nervousness and social anxiety
- although the Eucharist is celebrated at the evening service, we don't 'pass the peace'. A sense of commonality, friendship, brotherhood/sisterhood that transcends shallow, culturally-engrained differences is not being inculcated
- youth at the evening service feel insecure about volunteering to lead even small parts of service. Recently, the young congregation was asked for a volunteer to read a passage of scripture. There was a nervous silence for about 7 seconds before an older member volunteered. Young people at are far too afraid of judgement by others.

I hope my analysis of experiences with youth at church will offer some insight to assist others in tackling youth attrition.

Kamal Weerakoon said...

Just to let you all know, the report was titled "Conversations with the Future". It was from the "Strength in Unity" conference from the Christian Brethren in NSW.