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Category Archives: Hope

Why We’re Leaving; Why PopUp Church Is A Step In The Right Direction

Why We’re Leaving; Why PopUp Church Is A Step In The Right Direction

This theme of why young people are leaving the church is picking up steam all over, and instead of recapping them, i’m going to link to a few recent articles. two are from Christian Piatt, a writer and DOC pastor that I’ve been getting to know. He started with a “7 Reasons Young People Quit Church” for the Sojourners blog, and followed up today with “4 more BIG reasons” on his own blog, hosted at Patheos.com. I appreciate Christian’s insight, especially as it’s grounded not only in his personal faith story, but is also rooted in his experience as a minister in a local church, alongside his wife Amy.

One particularly striking experience he recounted has to do with the disconnect with churches after high school. He says, “When I went to college, I was contacted by fraternities, campus activity groups and credit card companies, but not one church.” He goes on to recount the myriad needs he had and would have appreciated being addressed by churches, but found none of them. Whether one heads to college (a shrinking percentage in these economic times), enters the workforce or a combination, our program-centric models are not doing anything substantial to help bridge this time in life. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.

Side note: The Piatts have recently been called from their current home in Durango, CO to First Christian Church (DOC) in Portland, OR, where they will start June 1st. Amy will be the senior pastor and Christian will serve in a part time role. Portland is getting a boatload of wisdom, talent and passion.

I'm Ben Boruff. Alienate me!

The other article is an editorial from the United Methodist church website, as a young adult there, Ben Boruff, explains just how the church can keep youth away. It’s a nice piece of passion, insight, satire and to-the-point challenge. His assertion is that churches know how to engage young people, but his conclusion reads, “it took quite some time for my naïve mind to find the only logical conclusion. These churchgoers did not want young people in their churches.”  Ben then goes on to outline his own list of ways that churches can continue to alienate and be made irrelevant to young adults. The substance of this satire, though, is all about substance. It’s not about programs, flashiness or hipsterism – it’s about connection, challenge, meaning and community.

I’m thankful to hear voices like these in our work to challenge and inspire us to dig deeper and be intentional about how we approach our lives of faith and community.

On the, “this is a FANTASTIC idea” side of things, I want to point out something I discovered in December, which is good, because it started with an Advent program. It’s as growing experiment by our Episcopal family in Portland, OR, and is called Pop-Up Church. It was semi-inspired by the growing trend of food trucks and portable culinary experiences. Simply put, one congregation worked with a number of others in the Portland area and created 30-minute advent devotional services that were rooted in the liturgy of the church. No technology, no bells and whistles, just ancient spiritual devotional practices, followed by an open invitation to discuss afterward at a nearby pub.

My understanding is that the experiment took hold, and has continued into the new year. A couple of the things that I love about this are:

1) The service is low/no tech. It provides a quiet space to get away from the busy-ness of life and technology.

2) The means of invitation are primarily online. They use Facebook, Twitter and a simple website to convey information about how to find a meaningful experience.

3) It has a social / process component built in to not only address the experience, but allow for community to build.

4) It allows congregations throughout the diocese to host something for a different audience with minimal planning or anxiety.

This last part is of particular interest, because the bar for “success” is set pretty low. There’s no massive period of each church planning, programming and worrying about what happens if 10 people show up to a 600 seat sanctuary. It was designed to work for whoever was there, and by using the existing liturgy, the content of the service was taken care of. It took a motivated core team to come up with the idea and invite other churches to participate. But they got to experiment and play with the idea, and it took hold. What a great way for these church buildings to be used and made known to different communities in their midst.

PopUp Church is an example of low risk / high creativity innovation. It lets people experiment in fun ways, blending tradition and new technology, community and invitation in a cultural vocabulary that connects. What’s more, they don’t intend it to replace a church or even build itself into an institution. When it no longer meets peoples’ needs, it will stop. If it continues to meet needs, it continues. Either way, the folks at All Saints Episcopal are trying things that express their values in new and different ways, and that’s an exciting development.

Later this week: The Centro Romero Sex Trafficking Conference  is coming in late April. PLEASE consider attending this. There is partial scholarship money available and we need to have younger voices advocating for those victimized by the sex trade.

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Why Young People Are Leaving The Church; Why We Should Be A Home

Why Young People Are Leaving The Church; Why We Should Be A Home

It seems that nearly every week there is hand-wringing over the state of mainline Christian denominations and the decline in attendance, membership and giving. It provokes a crisis of confidence in many of our leaders, both pastoral and lay. And while there are myriad reasons that have to do with a shift in culture (job-related location change is more prevalent, youth ministry programs have done a poor job of connecting people to the broader church

A recent research study by the Barna Group caught my eye. It’s called, Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church. Two things in particular struck me about the report:

1) The leading reasons were about intrinsic values rather than external circumstance. In other words, the values that were or weren’t reflected by churches had more influence than whether someone had to relocate for a job or school.

2) The values that seemed lacking in young Christians’ experiences in church are those that I think the UCC is uniquely positioned to champion.

The six reasons are here in bold, with comments and quotes included:

1) Churches seem overprotective. In the Barna research, teens and young adults expressed, “the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience).” Sound like the UCC to you? Me neither. In fact, the UCC has been clear about placing value on exploring, examining and engaging with diverse points of view and being a place that openly pursues understanding.

2) Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. This had much to do with peoples’ experience with church. “One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).” This is a tough one, as every single congregation is different in this regard. Our forms of worship, music, service, spiritual practice and pursuit vary by community. But the value of creating deep, meaningful spiritual experiences is embedded in the UCC, and we would be wise to explore new forms that are at least guided by our young adults.

3) Churches come a cross as antagonistic to science. No need to worry about this in the UCC. In fact, the denomination has a wonderful post to affirm that, “we extend our unequivocal welcome to persons who devote their lives to scientific inquiry,” and there is a great statement on faith and science and the belief that they are not mutually exclusive.

4) Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental. The research showed that, “teen and twentysometing Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality.” The UCC (and UU) have made great strides in producing the Our Whole Lives curriculum that is a holistic, comprehensive and affirming view of sexuality that respects the complexity of the subject in an authentic way.

5) They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity. Three out of ten young Christians (29%) said “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and an identical proportion felt they are “forced to choose between my faith and my friends.” One-fifth of young adults with a Christian background said “church is like a country club, only for insiders” (22%).” The first two statistics here address theological exclusivity, and in that regard the UCC again gives hope in our commitment to ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and understanding. In fact, Claremont Theological Seminary is pioneering a new model of an interfaith seminary, where multiple faiths study alongside one another. The last statistic is a challenge to any established congregation that can grow insular in nature over time. No one is immune to it, but hopefully our values of openness, diversity and community can help to combat any temptations to stay inwardly-focused rather than outwardly directed.

6) The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. “Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%).” This reason for departure is a near polar opposite of the values that we at UCCLM have espoused. We value diversity in thought and welcome the questions and doubts as a vital part of our own spiritual journeys. The complementary value of listening goes hand in hand, as our congregations must become adept at actively listening to the questions, doubts, desires and passions of those in our communities.

The majority of this is good news for us! We are a denomination whose espoused values are in almost direct opposition to the things that seem to drive young adults away from participation in churches. What this means is that we have tremendous opportunity to welcome people into our community – people who may not realize that there are church communities that express values that positively address their questions, struggles and desire to belong. But we need to be seen, heard and available in order to do this. In some ways the UCC is one of the best-kept secrets in American Christianity. But to change the tide we need that to stop. It would be my hope that we be among the worst-kept secrets in our communities. We have a great opportunity to extend our extravagant welcome in a pro-active way to share with people what a community like ours can offer.