Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reaching People Under 30: Part 2

Here it is, the second installment of Reaching People Under 30. Before going any farther into this topic I must remind us there is nothing more important than building solid relationships. This is not only true for people under 30, however if authentic relationships are not part of your ministry practice reaching people under 30 will be nearly impossible. There are some aspects of congregational life that help cultivate and environment for these relationships to flourish, here are a few.

Worship Matters
For many years the thought was if you want to reach the elusive young people all you need is a really good band playing hip new tunes. Many worship services were reworked and designed around a non-traditional style of worship with a concert atmosphere. New songs were played, words were projected and an edginess was welcomed. With the redesign or worship many of the rituals and rites of the past were left aside in the name of being contemporary and modern. In the end worship become more about a production and less about an encounter with the Holy, and there were no more young people in attendance than before.

The reality is connecting with people under 30 is not about style, it is about content and integrity. The content of worship needs to have value beyond "the way we have always done it" to connect with the deeper reason of why we are doing something. This means keeping the creeds of old, only being sure to connect the creed with the relevance to our faith today. Sing the hymns of old, remembering to connect them with an experience of the Holy. This brings me to integrity. The integrity is to who we are called to be as the church. The very purpose of the church is to be the gathered people who journey together experiencing and embodying the Kingdom of God. First and foremost worship is about relationship to God through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. When worship becomes about holding on to style preference over connection with God, our integrity with God is what is at stake. If a church is going to connect with people under 30 the content has to have connection and integrity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mission Matters
The refrain has been uttered by many good church folk over the years, "Young people just are not as committed as we have been." To be fair that may not be the exact quote however it is often the sentiment. The reality, to put it bluntly, is not about commitment, it is about the missional value of the commitment. People under 30, or under 50 for that matter, are not real excited about helping to serve the church dinner to raise money for the budget. Excitement comes when we are engaging in mission that changes the lives of those involved. If there is solid evidence the latest church supper has actually resulted in the growing a disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world getting people involved might become easier.

Like many generations before, people under 30 want to make an impact on the world. The desire is high to know their time and effort has made an actual difference in the lives of the people around them. A key difference is that engagement will not happen out of duty and obligation like previous generations. Duty and obligation do not care enough weight and force to keep engagement high, there must be clear missional reason for engagement. Supporting the structures of the church, which people under 30 are suspect of to begin, will not engender engagement. An invitation to transformation through missional living will make all the difference.

In the next installment two more aspects of reaching people under 30 will be explored. We will look at what it means to move beyond consumerism, and engaging justice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Reaching People Under 30: Not All The Same

Through a non-scientific poll I learned people are interested in hearing more about how to reach people under the age of 30. Writing about this comes with some challenges for me; First, it has been a few years since I have been under 30. Second, there is no "secret" or magical formula. Therefore what follows are the ramblings of someone who has experienced connection with those under 30 in the past.

Not All The Same
The word here is monolithic. A great tendency exists to treat various groups of people as all the same. We live in a world that thrives on labels, conservative, progressive, older, baby boomer, millennial, and so on. While it is helpful for conversation and description, something significant can be missed. As long as there are people involved it is impossible to apply monolithic labels. Our friends at Dictionary.com offer a definition of monolithic as consisting as one piece, solid or unbroken, among the listed definition.

Principle #1 for reaching people under 30 is to remember not all people under 30 are the same. Just as this is true of any label we apply, people under 30 defy monolithic definition. When reaching people under 30 is talked about it is easy to get a mental picture of the person attempting to be reached. Our challenge is the image created has elements that are accurate while also being incomplete at the same time.

So how do we navigate this? Investing in relationships is the primary path. However, the relationship cannot be only a learning expedition. Utilitarian relationships are always found out, and cause greater distance and hurt. There must be a willingness to build relationships for the sake of relationship and the learning is a byproduct of a healthy relationship.

The reality is a majority of the effort in reaching people under the age of 30 is the same as reaching any person, relationship building. Having stated that, there are some understandings of being the church that will help create an environment to build healthy relationships. Over the next couple of entries additional principles will be explored with the understanding that treating people under 30 as all the same will not result in healthy relationships or congregations.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Returning to Our First Love

I am not sure if it is because the calendar shows it is Holy Week, or if God is once again stirring me to write my thoughts but for the first time in almost a year here I sit typing. As I write my heart and mind are filled with gratitude for almost five years in the ministry role of coming alongside congregations and leaders across New York and other places. I pray God and the Bishop allow me to share in this role for years to come.

During the time in this ministry I have had opportunity to visit hundreds of congregations and visit with thousands of leaders. It has been a joy to hear the stories of the congregations along with the stories of the leaders. I have felt the hurt and pain as both struggle to make their way in the current landscape of culture to be vital and growing. As you might guess some similar stories and concerns have emerged. The reality I find is deeply connected with the Scriptures, and not a portion that is often at the forefront of increasing the vitality of congregations.

The Book of Revelation is filled with all kinds of images and messages I do not fully understand. There are however a few items that seem very clear to me. The words of Jesus given to John from chapter two seem relevant,
"These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:1-5 NIV)"
It feels too simplistic to be a real solution. After all we are highly educated through schools and life, we should be able to figure this all out. There has to be more to increasing the vitality of the church than returning to Jesus. There are certain systems and practices needed, however there is nothing more important to the future of the church than to return to our first love. I fear that we have forsaken Jesus!

Some will begin the debate at this point about what that means. Debate will rage about who Jesus is and was. Others will argue over what it means to turn to Jesus, or what version of Jesus are we talking about. The fact that we would rather debate than repent reveals the challenge Jesus is offering the church in Ephesus and to us today. All too often I want to sanitize Jesus so that he will fit into my paradigm or life. Great effort is given on my part to define and shape Jesus into an artifact of faith that affirms my beliefs and desires. Repentance has me give up pursuing Jesus created in my image and begin the work of conforming my life to the life Jesus is calling me toward. A return to simply following after Jesus instead of complicating the journey with all my thinking and rationalizing.

Whether terms like conservative, progressive, centrist, or any other problematic label are applied, churches that are centered on the person of Jesus Christ and invite others to join them in the journey of being centered in Jesus, vitality shows up. Theological ideology has replaced and relentless pursuit of Jesus, we have forsaken our first love.

As I urge the cursor across the screen with letters we are on the edge of the single most important remembrance of the Christian church. Today we remember when Jesus gathered for the meal we now celebrate as Holy Communion. Tomorrow we remember Jesus giving his life on the cross so that we could experience forgiveness of sin and have a full relationship with God. Sunday morning we celebrate the crowing moment as the tomb could not hold Jesus, Resurrection. May this resurrection be more than a calendar celebration. May this resurrection be a repentance moving us to return to our first love.