The following is part five in a series about Engaging Young Adults in Ministry. At the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference, we began a dialogue about the absence of young adults in the church and about how we can re-establish our relationships and ministry with them. This series is an edited transcript of that dialogue. The video of this presentation, and the full transcript, can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2014.
Pastor Mindi Ferguson
serving at First UMC, Huntingdon
On a typical Saturday night, a majority of my friends are not thinking about going to church on Sunday morning. It’s not that they don’t believe in God, or even that they aren’t living out their faith in some way, but it has been their perception that the church has not been a place that has loved, supported, or encouraged them.
Even the friends that I made in youth group are no longer active members of the church. It’s not that their experience was necessarily a bad one, but after they graduated high school it was as if the church as a whole had forgotten them.
As youth, our creativity, excitement, and ideas were valued when planning a youth service; now those ideas are not as easily accepted. What was once a sweet gesture by the youth is now viewed as a young person who just isn’t satisfied with tradition.
There is a greater sense of over-protectiveness of what is acceptable to come into the church from outside than there was before. It’s not really all that surprising that young people are not in our churches.
More specifically, it has been my and my peers’ observation that sometimes the church seems to struggle with change. It seems difficult for the church to consider allowing music, movies, influences, books, and poetry from the secular world to permeate the walls of the church. The issue with that is that young people are not leaving those things behind if, and when, they set foot inside our churches. There is not a fine line for young adults about what should and shouldn’t be acceptable in the church.
This concern and resistance isn’t only directed at young adults. We teach it to our children and our youth. We try to shelter them from all things secular. And while there is a lot of stuff out there in the secular world that we should want to guard our children and our youth from, there’s also a lot to learn from. God is in a lot more than simply the things that we deem “Christian” or “acceptable.”
This secular world we live in might be on to something. It has become a place where people can express who they are and explore who they want to be. And whether it’s from hurt, disapproval, judgment, or rejection, community can be found in places that don’t cause these types of feelings. It has been perceived by young people that the church hasn’t been the place for that, so we’ve gone looking in other places.
I have friends with tattoos and piercings that have been asked to cover up or remove them before entering the church. In churches, I have overheard conversations about young people wasting their money on damaging their bodies. This quick judgment hurts deeply my friends who have used these creative arts as a way to honor those who have passed away or to remember the time that they have served in the military.
For many years now I have been participating in dance in worship. Sometimes, when searching for a song, my dance team has used songs that were not written by specifically Christian artists. In college, my dance team went to a church to worship through dance with them, and there was a lot of resistance to this type of worship. And it wasn’t only because of the song choice, but also because of the dancing. We chose two different types of dance, ballet and modern, and in my mind there was no issue, because this is how I best connect with God. But from the perspective of those watching this was not the kind of thing that happened in church.
It is not out of disrespect that young adults are expressing themselves through things considered to be a part of the secular culture. In many ways these things help young people to discover who they are, and who they were created to be. It helps us to connect to God in a way that things deemed “Christian” and “acceptable” cannot.
Growing up, one of the best things that my church did was to allow a few local bands to play their music in the basement of our building. There were rules. The music wasn’t allowed to include swearing and had to be respectful of the location, but what a crowd that event brought. There were young people of all ages in attendance. One of our youth leaders hung out in the kitchen as this event happened — she was there to make sure everything went OK. But more than that, she showed us that she loved us, and that she supported us. It wasn’t that she loved this particular type of music, but she knew how important it was to those who were there.
Is the solution to the absence of young people in the church allowing any kind of secular music to fill our churches? Probably not. But in inviting this kind of event into their space the church was communicating to the young people that they cared about them and that they mattered. The church was interested in hearing about what was most important to them.
It is not a guarantee that my friends, who were once so involved in the youth group, will return if there is more openness to the secular world that we live in, but I think that being open to the possibility could open some doors. And being open to the possibility that our thoughts and interests and music and poems could be accepted in that space. And maybe its an openness to allow pieces of who we are to enhance our worship together.
Many young people are simply seeking to be in relationship with people they know authentically care about them. And that authenticity starts with a willingness to be in conversation with one another.