As of late, young people have been attracting more and more attention from regular church goers. The reason for this is that they are not often seen in church, and this is stressing everyone out. If young people won’t come to church, who will take care of the church when the current (much older) population has passed on? The church has been something so tangled up in both personal and community identity for centuries—something that was thought to be sure to continue to endure into eternity in places where Christianity had been established. But now it seems like it is unappreciated, unimportant—like the church will die imminently. These strange and magical “young people” are the only hope!
We study young people so intensely, trying to figure out how to make church something that will be important enough to them that they will want to save it. What is keeping them away and what will bring them back? Is it our music? Our language? How we dress? Our practices, our beliefs, or a mix of the two?
When a young person walks through the church doors we want to make them feel so welcome—welcome enough that they will never ever want to leave ever, and will immediately fall in love with the place, and the people, and the cause. We are studying them so very intensely thinking that if we could find the unique part of their young essences that makes them different from the generation before them, then we could tweak it gently with a folk mass and a Facebook page, and suddenly make them not only want to come to church, but actually show up with a fire in their eyes, demanding to help fold the altar linens on a Tuesday morning at 10am, when they should be showing up to their full-time jobs.
The reality many are refusing to accept is that life these days is hard. It is busy; it is tiring; it is complex. This economy is garbage. There is so much work to do just to get a young life up and running, and then to continue to get by, that there is just no time to give. Weekdays are for working; weekends are for resting. There are some that already love the church so very much, or indeed they *would* love the church so much that they would willingly sacrifice these free moments for the church—but not for an inauthentic version of said church.
One generalization I will make about young people is that they (we) hate being marketed to. In fact, we hate being marketed to so much that we will literally pay extra for premium versions of subscriptions like YouTube or Spotify just so that we don’t have to look at ads. We cannot be won with marketing. We cannot be won with some contemporary liturgy on a Sunday morning, or with a few guitars. What we need is more time in our lives, more spaces where our whole families and friend circles are welcome to attend with us, so that maintaining a church, a family, and social life can become one small task. Above all, we need a more reasonable pace of life where we can make enough money to survive. The best thing the church can do to make themselves available for young people right now is to hold fast to the traditions for which we have always stood instead changing how we approach the rest of the world.
Lately, a particular group of people have been fighting for a higher minimum wage. If the church wants to save itself with young people, maybe things like this should be our battle cry.