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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.

Thank you Rachel Held Evans

Thank you Rachel Held Evans

This past Saturday we hosted a time with award-winning author, speaker and blogger Rachel Held Evans. Rachel shared with us some of her insights on the evolving faith of young adults, and we had a spirited conversation about opportunities (both missed and embraced), challenges of ministry in the UCC (and DOC for our partners in ministry from that denomination), and where each of us fit into the landscape.

Rachel referenced the Barna research that I’ve posted about, and we discussed not only how the UCC embraces many of the values that many young adults find missing in their church experiences, but also how we may have gotten lazy and passive in our expression of those values. An example: one of the frustrations that drives young people away from the church is a sense of anti-intellectualism or anti-science in their churches.

Now, the UCC is anything but, and has a long history of embracing the roles of science and faith, and seeing their complementary roles. But where we may well be missing out is assuming that because we’re “not like that”, that young people may be able to identify and recognize our beliefs and feel welcome and at home. How are we actually engaging those who have been captured by the beauty, the depth and the wonder of science? Instead of issuing statements of support for our friends in the scientific community, why aren’t we opening up our sanctuaries and meeting spaces to host public forums on the roles of faith & science? And we don’t need to do it all ourselves – we can use the infrastructure of our buildings and facilities open to groups so that we are known as hubs of activity in our communities.

And lest I seem to be placing myself too high on a non-existent pedestal, this idea struck me as I realized that a woman in my own congregation is part of a San Diego area science competition for youth, and one of the finalists is a young person in my Sunday School class.

The crux of this is that often we don’t take the time to realize just how few people realize about all that our congregations are doing. We remain “best-kept secrets” when we should strive to be the worst-kept secrets in our communities. I hope that in my role with the conference, we can play some part in widening the awareness of and invitation to the vital ministries that so many of our congregations enact. Rachel also shared with us dozens of responses to her blog asking why young adults had left or had considered leaving the church, and among those were: – I want  a safe place to ask hard questions – I don’t feel welcome in church as the true person that I am – I can’t be myself in church – I don’t feel I can contribute the gifts that I have, only the gifts that people in my church seem to want – Challenge me! I want depth in preaching and worship and study. Take me deeper – Music: whether it’s modern, traditional or ancient, please let it be good! – My church doesn’t help me make any connection between my faith and my life – I want to hear about the faith journeys of other people in my church. I want to know their stories, so perhaps I can learn from other peoples’ experiences – Unwelcoming to LGBT people – I want to be engaged, not tolerated – Just because I’m search that doesn’t mean I’m walking away – I want my faith to connect to social justice, and know why it’s important to my faith; otherwise I can join a service club somewhere else – Where is the place for art and creativity in church? – Repressive / disingenuous views about sexuality – It’s too focused on us vs. them (and this includes liberals as well as conservatives) – Church is not a safe place for me to evolve.

It’s quite a list, and one that could be discussed for years, except that we don’t have the luxury of that time. I’ll spend a little more time with some of these in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if anyone has other thoughts, ideas, comments or editorials on any of these, please comment or send me an email. I think that much of what we experienced with Rachel Held Evans was a catharsis, and an opportunity to express ourselves in a safe place, and look for ideas and opportunities to serve one another. More on that ahead. Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, and to the 15 folks who sat around the table with her and were part of a great Saturday afternoon.