Maybe This Generation Doesn’t Need the Church 

Or maybe it does. There’s seems to be a bit of controversy around this idea.  I read an article last week on why this generation is leaving the church in masses or not even showing up to church. I have a friend, April, that has dedicated her life to helping youth show up in church & stay past high school. There are books written about it, great initiatives and awesome churches out there, yet articles like this are written & might be true. Ironically, I think this generation is more open to God than ever. They aren’t disillusioned & bitter like my good Ol’ Gen X generation was (is). They love being generous. They are tolerant of people and ideas and therefore open to listening & learning. They want justice and people to be seen as valuable. They are the first to defend rights and ideals and the value of a human life. (Seems like those are exactly God’s heart too) Yet those that don’t follow Christ or know God seem to look at Christians and decide this religion of Christianity is not for them. Not all. But most. 

I think it may be less complicated & more simple than we might think. I’m not an expert by any means and I very well could be wrong, but what if it’s not OR but AND? BOTH/AND What if this generation needs churches that create space for people to encounter God AND other ways to encounter God. 

This will most likely take courage and a tiny bit of being silent and listening instead of dogmatically defending our particular church or defending how someone must encounter God. Maybe we say to this generation, “We hear you. We make room for your questions of us and our practices and we listen to your views.” It won’t be easy and it will take self control, but what could happen if we release people to encounter God through other ways than church? What if we champion those that create beauty or organisations to create and organise with excellence? What if we celebrate when someone misses church on Sunday because they were at brunch with friends or at a kids sporting event? What if we maybe ask people to lead or volunteer less at our churches so they have more time with their friends? I know scary right? I led volunteers at an incredible church in LA and have worked or helped in churches since I was 16, so I know the sweating & internal freak out just to hear those words, “tell our volunteers to stop.”  What if we take a deep breath and stop for a moment thinking of all the help we don’t have and the people that won’t serve and maybe just maybe see if there is a different way. If this generation needs BOTH churches AND different ways to meet God maybe there might be a different way for us church leaders. 

What if we help people be excellent at their jobs, celebrate them when they succeed (not make them feel guilty for missing camp or a church leadership meeting), support them when they create new businesses, and even challenge them to create environments of hope and love in their careers and entrepreneurial endeavours? Maybe just maybe this generation might meet God in those places and feel celebrated and known and not feel guilty for not going to a church they don’t relate too. 

This idea is scary, I get that. It puts a lot of the responsibility on us. I know it is way different than bringing a friend to church & the pastor does it. But what if it was us doing things we love? What if our hobbies were the new church? What if our conversations about hope and goodness and Jesus happened naturally while we created something that helps the world? Wow. What if we did things like my friends in Longmont, Colorado? They are about to open up a restaurant (The Roost) with excellent food and a place where artists can display their music and art with a desire to be an atmosphere and place of hope for people.  Wow. Just wow. That could be someone from this generations church. What if? 

Or what about my other friends who run a drive through coffee shop. (Don’t even get me started about how we need those in New Zealand. I can’t even.) They have the chance daily to invest in this generation because their employees are all from this generation. They hold them accountable for being excellent employees and guide them through the inevitable mistakes we make in our 20’s and do life with them cheering them on to become great. They teach their people to make their city better and teach their employees that important causes matter and doing something tangible is not only right but needed to change the world. What if? What if this was some peoples’ church experience and they meet God this way? 

Let me be clear I love church. “There’s nothing like the local church when the local church is working right” said by Bill Hybels, still makes me heart beat faster and I wholeheartedly agree. But what if it looks a little different these days? What if the local church looks more like what my great friend Banning shared in this article last month? What if those of us still doing the church thing do it with grace and create a safe space for those that will go to church? What if we openly challenge people to stay in their careers and champion them in those roles? What would happen if we didn’t have “new believers” classes because it was just part of our relationships and friendships to talk about that stuff. What if? What if at my weekend receptionist job at the hospital that means I miss church on Sunday mornings becomes just another place for me to cheer for people, hurt with people, do my tasks with excellence so doctors and nurses can do their jobs better. What if this was the only “church” my friends saw? Would they want the type of God I represent by my behaviour? 

In my city I go to a church (predominantly full of university students) I love that weekly creates space for people to question God, have encounters with God and on a regular basis people are choosing to give this God a chance that Dani (the pastor) talks about. There’s a new church in my university city that has come because they believe in this generation and they are creating an incredible environment for those thick into university and partying to investigate who God is to them. I couldn’t be more proud of both of these different approaches and the lives they are touching. 

So maybe this generation doesn’t need the church AND it does need the church. It will take a brave face by those of us working for a church. It might cause our defensiveness as church goers or church leaders to be exposed, but that’s okay because this generation (and I would argue most people) want to see the real you. Maybe we dogmatically believe that God is the only answer and church is the only way to God and in the process we accidentally hurt people or pissed them off. Not the good piss off that is talked about in the Bible where God & Jesus offend people. Maybe we accidentally again used those verses or ideas from the Bible to justify our dogmatism but forgot to show that God loves us no matter what. Maybe, just maybe, we forgot that those people we are irritating and offending are so important to the heart of God. It might take us letting out a deep sigh and saying okay let me hear you. Tell me what you think about the church and God. Promising ourselves and those around us that we will listen, we aren’t going to judge or defend but make space for another way. 

I wrote these thoughts down yesterday. I could be absolutely off base and that’s okay, these are just thoughts to ponder. Then this morning I scrolled through Facebook and saw the “dress,” you know the one, the gold and white one or maybe to you the black and blue one. As I scrolled I saw one of my favourites (Glennon at Momastery) posted this about that dress. At first I felt silly and even bugged I didn’t post this yesterday so no one would think I was copying her, then I put on my girl pants and shut the hell up. In that moment, I wondered if God might be saying, see this conversation matters to Me. This is important. Keep talking about this BOTH/AND thing. You all are on to something. So I bravely said yes. Yes I believe this generation doesn’t need the church AND it wildly does need the church.  Maybe for a moment we can stop fighting and competing as churches. Maybe we can stop making people so busy at church they have no margin left. Maybe we can just stop and see if there might be a different way. It’s BOTH/AND guys. Read the article Gleennon at Momastery put up today. Her heart as a peacemaker is straight out of the Bible.  She doesn’t have it all figured out and I sure as heck don’t have it all figured out, but maybe that’s the starting point. Maybe that’s how we start a conversation that doesn’t include shame and guilt but letting people know that God is good and in a good mood. Maybe we listen to our friends tell their stories where it doesn’t seem like God is good and instead of preaching at them or defending God we sit with them and allow God to show up and when He does we shake our heads in wonder at the fact that the God of the universe cares about each single person in and out of the church. That’s the kind of church I want to be apart of whether it’s in a bar or an old fashioned church. Let’s do that. Let’s make that together. It’s possible. Let’s do it together. It might just blow our minds at what will happen if we say BOTH/AND and not either/or. 

*disclaimer: I do not tolerate mean comments about me, any church, any people group or anyone’s idea. If they are negative or mean I will delete them and most likely you. This is a safe place and I will keep it that way. 

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