Young people and technology are redefining church and how we belong.
<%image(20051230-youngpeople.jpg|184|260|youth)%> First of all the New York Times reports that young people attend multiple churches based on what they feel each has to offer.
“In a survey of 13- to 17-year-olds conducted from 2002 through 2003, the National Study of Youth and Religion found that 16 percent of respondents participated in more than one religious congregation. Four percent attend youth groups outside their congregations.”
They are not interested in being limited to one church’s programs. In some respects this seems to be a very positive trend. Teens recognize that they need guidance and a relevant message and they are not afraid to go beyond traditional boundary lines to acheive that end. The article reports:
“We see it all the time, everywhere,” said Jose Zayas, director of teenage evangelism for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. “They gravitate to where they feel a connection. They’re more pragmatic than their parents’ generation. They look at what works for them. I think it’s healthy.”
Yet there are some really disturbing parts of the article. First all, I know that the anti-consumeristic blood hounds are waiting to pounce. Yes, this may very well be a case of teens looking out for their needs and gobbling up whatever they can lay their greedy paws on. This may be the case. But we all consume. It’s a necessity. I wonder if they give back in addition to consuming. Giving back keeps consumers from being chubs.
Actually, what disturbs me the most about this article are some of the quotes from the teens themselves. And the quotes reveal some of the incomplete doctrine they are being taught. The pastors and teachers who shovel this stuff to them should know better. They should also read Tony Jone’s excellent article on youth ministy in the book Stories of Emergence about being a pastor and not a promoter.
What caught my eye the most was one a teen’s comment,
“That was just the biggest thing for me: that you don’t have to be perfect, that God loves you not for what you do and for this body that we have only for a short time, but for your heart and soul and who you are inside,” Emily said of what she had heard.
That sounds sort of OK. Yes, we do not have to be perfect. But does this concept need a bit more fleshing out? We do not have to be perfect, but God also makes us perfect. Some guy named John mentioned that we can be sure we know Christ because we do not sin, but walk in the light. Her follow up comment reveals a gap in her understanding.
“Every time I went to church,” she continued, “I felt God loved me, that I don’t have to worry about sin because he forgives me. So I looked forward to going back. I don’t really understand all of it. But I have the passion to learn more.”
The phrase, “I don’t have to worry about sin,” really caught my attention. In one sense we don’t have to worry about our past sins, they are forgiven. But if we keep sinning, then we darn well better start worrying about sin.
Nevertheless, even if the teaching is not quite on target, I think the trend of young people taking greater responsibility for their spiritual growth is a good thing. My only hope is that in attending numerous large group gatherings they will not just hang on the fringes. Of course you can be on the fringe of one group just as well as two or three.
My second story is about the effectiveness of podcasts in drawing people into church.
Ipod news reports:
“Online sermons from the Bridge Chapel Christian church in Liverpool have led to a surge in worshippers attending in person, according to a report from the Daily Post.”
The young seem to be catching on to this in particular, “The sermons are playing a huge role in attracting people of all ages, especially youngsters who are searching for their spirituality,” Evans said. “People talk about church numbers falling, but those who are making efforts to connect with people through things like podcasting are experiencing rapid growth.”
I think this is an interesting trend that we should not read as a new hook to get people into church. Instead it’s another way of belonging to a community. People hear the podcast, feel connected, and are motivated to be a part of the larger group.
It’s a matter of direction for me. Are we always trying to set traps that will draw people in? Or are we moving outwards beyond our traditional boundaries to create more connection points? Can people be in a different place and still belong? I certainly hope so.
I hope that podcasts will be one of many new ways for people to belong. The more we reach out to people, the better for the Gospel.