One of the first things to pop up in my social media this year was the video that Harry Styles released on January 1st for his song “Treat People With Kindness.” If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Lots of people were reposting it, and saying things like, “This is just the perfect way to start 2021—with kindness.” I think that the world is actually full of kind, thoughtful, loving people.
Many of you might see the fact that many of these same people don’t go to church as a problem. I hear a lot of people complaining, and wondering (often at church meetings), “What can we do to get the young people back?” I have to tell you that I am finding that an increasingly tedious question.
Those of us with young families know all too well that our lives are hectic. What many people are craving is not the commitment of the institutional church as somewhere to spend Sunday mornings, but they do want an encounter with the divine. People are finding that in all kinds of different ways. Institutional Christianity is on the decline, but the message of the Gospel is just as powerful today as it was 50 or 100 years ago. Sometimes those on the outside, not bogged down with the Church, see that more clearly than we do.
We look at the institution that we have inherited—not the Gospel, and not the worship of God (which is beautiful), but the way that we run a parish—and how we want to cling to what’s familiar and safe. What’s more, too often church membership today is layered with feelings of guilt that those of us who are left, both the clergy and the laity, are somehow having the church “go down on our watch.” Feeling this guilt isn’t helping anyone. Besides, who would want to join up with a group of sad, guilt-ridden, frightened people?
Our buildings are too plentiful. One congregation having a huge building to themselves, sitting empty for much of the week, is kind of criminal. The constant fundraising to allow for it is even crazier, and a waste of our resources.
Our clergy are over worked and underpaid, and they have completely unreasonable expectations put on their shoulders; the same can be said for all our church staff, from musicians to office administrators. The mental strain of this is becoming acutely obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s been there for years and years.
As I see it, the ship is not going down—it’s just changing course. We need to let the ship change course, and let God be the guide. Lots of people out there who are full of kindness, love, and generosity do believe in some kind of higher being. Even if they don’t, working with them might give us fresh insight. Finding a way to work with them, without compromising our own beliefs, is the key. That can be through working together on a community outreach project; it can be through sharing beautiful sacred music, which is appreciated by many outside of the church. The “young people” aren’t missing—they’re the ones who are writing songs about kindness. We should listen.