Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pizza Funds and Whippersnappers These Days

Pretty regularly (probably once every four or five phone conversations I have with her), my mother will ask me if she can contribute to my congregation's "Pizza Fund," a completely fictitious budget line-item that exists for her as a stand-in for the ministry I have been performing with young adults through my Sunday School class and, most recently, our evening ACTS worship service (first Sunday of every month at 6:00 pm!)

My mom's theory is that if you offer food, young people will come to just about anything.  And speaking as someone who is innately predisposed to consuming vast amounts of free food, I tend to agree, especially since I'm pretty sure food tastes even better when it is free.

But it's also a very simple variable in what has become a complex equation of calculus-esque proportions--how does the church welcome back the young people (Generations X and Y) who have voted with their feet and left the church?

The issue that this question is predicated on is (in my eyes) a lot more simple to answer--why have young people left the church to begin with?  I can say that in my experience, it is because young adults see the church as irrelevant--we either have a rap for being extremely unwelcoming (and yahoos like this guy aren't really helping at the moment), or we have a rap for caring only about propping up the same boring, dreary institution that sings the same boring, dreary hymns on the same boring, dreary pipe organ every single Sunday.

I keep telling people I meet, though, that my congregation does not fall into either camp.  I am constantly amazed and impressed at the dimensions of the hospitality my congregants offer to our visitors, and our worship is becoming more and more dynamic--we almost never sing out of the hymnals anymore (this Sunday will be the first time since Lent that we'll be using a hymnal, as our praise team will be taking a well-deserved holiday weekend off), our praise team itself has been exploring with more folk-oriented arrangements of contemporary music with the addition of a banjo to our regular lineup, and my own preaching takes place not from the pulpit, but in the round, as I walk about with my sermon laid out on my iPad.

Rock and roll with a kick drum and bright lights it ain't, sure.  But that also isn't really us, and truth be told, the stereotype that what young people want is a rock concert of a worship is not completely correct.

I have come to believe that what people my own age are seeking from a church, more than anything else in the world, is a sense of meaning, and this is actually being borne out in our increasing participation other unconventional, but certainly not technology-heavy, worship traditions like the Taize tradition out of continental Europe.

For my part, I spent my four years in college at Lewis & Clark immersed in the Taize tradition through the regular worship services led by Sr. Loretta Schaff, a Franciscan sister who served as one of L&C's chaplains.  Coming to Longview, and at the behest of my congregation, I began work a couple months ago on an unconventional evening service, and I borrowed heavily from the Taize tradition in doing so; I essentially took the contemporary prayer styles I had been exposed to in college and seminary--Taize, Quaker, and emergent--and threw them all into a blender to create a new sort of hybrid worship that also brought in elements of confession, repentance, and forgiveness.  There's no sermon, but there is room for extemporaneous testimony.  There's no Eucharist, but there is a time to gather and take hands together around the Cross.

And when we put it on, for a very small crowd, the first time on Sunday, May 6, I felt what was indeed lacking in other churches I have experienced over the years--I felt the authenticity that comes with the Holy Spirit being present.

It's a pretty powerful thing.

And trust me, it is not as though my generation has turned our backs to it...we just need to know that the church can help us find it once again.

But offering us free pizza sure doesn't hurt, either.

How have you seen--in your church or elsewhere--young people be brought back into the embrace of Jesus Christ?

Yours in Christ,

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