I had a long, boring conversation with one of our denominational mucky-mucks this week about our impending doom. He feels that I am unreasonably optimistic about the state of the church. (Obviously he hasn’t read everything I have written…) Two points in particular motivated his getting in touch with me: one, that I think all the doom-and-gloom obsessing is bad for us and really not warranted, and two, that I think the attempt to get young people to join the church is misguided. My response to him is consistent with what I say here: I think there is more to be gained on what we have and who we are than to dwell on what we lack and who we aren’t. Getting new people makes no sense when we don’t know what to do with the people we already have. And in my understanding of the mission, making disciples for the transformation of the world trumps making members of the UMC for the survival of the institution. However, my solution is a both/and rather than an either/or. I truly and honestly believe that if we do a better job creating authentic Christian community that is equipping people to live as the body of Christ to serve and heal the broken world, we will attract many new participants, a large number of them young. It has been depressing the number of emails I received about my blog, Time Warped, from older, entrenched UMs horrified by the idea that young adults would actually be given power. My ideas that young people need to be give responsibility, authority, autonomy, and encouragement were labeled variously as “naïve,” “ignorant,” “stupid,” “idealistic,” “deadly,” “short-sighted,” “foolish,” and “b***s***.” To the best of my knowledge, none of these opinions came from anyone under 50 — which may illustrate the problem better than anything I could say.
However, I want to share a ray of hope. This weekend at Chula Vista resort in the Wisconsin Dells 1,000 teenagers and young adults are gathered for Senior High Convo 2009. The energy, the spirit, and the faith of these young people is breathtaking. These are kids seeking a relationship with God and they haven’t given up on the church (yet). There is hope here, and joy. There is a sense of God’s goodness and life’s meaning here. This is church. It isn’t measured in numbers or attendance or membership. It’s measured in desire — desire to come together to worship God, to learn the faith, to be energized and encouraged, and to be sent into the world and home with a renewed commitment to follow Jesus. The disciples of the church of Jesus Christ are being formed right here, right now. What a glorious opportunity. What a witness. This is where we need to focus our attention — on those who are seeking and striving, those who are open and inquiring. Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on how to cement the bonds and relationships with the young people we have rather than figuring out how to get them back ten years from now?
Yes, there is a huge mission field “out there,” but there is a pretty big one “in here” as well. It is my hope, prayer, and dream that we will work doubly hard with the children, youth, and young adults we have to help them fall in love with God and Christ, that they might be lifelong members of the body of Christ — and through their own faith, they might reach others who have yet to hear God’s great news. The church we have is spectacular — every bit as good as the church we keep wishing we could have.