Authentically become what God has called us to be

Of the many things that were found in our church assessment tool survey, one point of congregational interest I’ve chewed on for the last few weeks is the desire to attract younger families.

I find it peculiar because to do so will require not only a significant shift in the ways we do things but a tolerance for failure. Reaching out to Millennials (Those under 30) is tricky business.

The Pew Research Religion for Public Life Project has labeled many in this younger generation as “Nones,” as in “What religious affiliation are you?  ......   None

The project notes their rise in numbers. The PBS program Religion & Ethics News weekly says the following about them:

Two-thirds (68 percent) of those who describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God or a universal spirit. More than half (58 percent) say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, and more than a third (37 percent) describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”

A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older.

The majority of the religiously unaffiliated are Democrats or lean Democratic, and 67 percent of them believe churches and other religious institutions are too involved with politics.

Large majorities of the unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (70 percent) and focus too much on rules (67 percent).

More than three-quarters (77 percent) say religious institutions play an important role in helping the poor and needy and bring people together and strengthen community bonds (78 percent).

While 76 percent of Americans overall believe that churches and other religious institutions protect and strengthen morality, only about half (52 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated agree.

The vast majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans are not actively seeking to find a church or other religious group to join. Of those who describe themselves as “nothing in particular” (as opposed to atheist or agnostic), 88 percent say they are not looking for a religion that is right for them.

As I look at the landscape of reaching a new generation of Christians I’m struck by more questions than I am answers. Here’s what I wonder:

  • We have high satisfaction at St. Clare’s and lower energy. What measure shall we take to increase our energy along with our satisfaction to reach this younger generation?
  • What kind of experiences do we need to have in order to become those kinds of people?
  • What kind of leaders (plural) are needed to provide those kinds of experiences?
  • What kind of pastor (s) is needed to train those kinds of leaders?
  • What kind of experiences does the pastor need to have in order to be that kind of pastor?

Christmas is almost upon us.

I imagine that if Jesus was born today he may very well be a None. While the initial thought causes my heart to skip a beat my hope soars when I think about what Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer had to say about this up and coming generation:

“The emerging culture may identify more with the suffering Jesus than the glorified Jesus—the Jesus who was part of a single parent household, the Jesus who was single long past what was normal, the Jesus who shunned the fast track of building a mega-following for the show lane of investing in a small community of tremendous diversity, a Jesus who had no real place to call home but was always on the move, a Jesus who was accused of choosing the wrong friends and embraced his critics’ charge (“a friend of sinners”) as a badge of distinction, a Jesus who could not get along with the established authorities and hierarchies of his day.” (A Is For Abductive: The Language of The Emerging Church p. 196)

All of this leaves me with a sense of hope. The goal isn’t to have perfect answers or become something we are not. Rather we are called to authentically become what God has called us to be. Wrestling with the questions, seeking Jesus wherever we find him, is half the job.

Yours for the reign of God,

Fr. Ron