1685 Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, NY Oldest surviving church in New York
In my ministry, I get around to a lot of churches. Young, old, big, small. conservative and liberal.
One of the things I like to do when I am visiting is to try and see the church through the eyes of a visitor.
Often the first point of contact is the coffee/snack area.
A few years back, one of my friends invited me to preach at his church in Oregon. As we were talking, I noticed that there were two coffee areas that seemed to self segregate between the older and the younger folks.
Naturally I asked him why. He explained to me that the younger folks did not like the coffee from the Folger’s Generation. They had grown up drinking Starbuck’s style coffee and had come to expect it when coffee was served. It did not have to come from a famous coffee place like Stumptown Roasters, but it could not be coffee purchased in a can. This effectively ruled out Maxwell House, Yuban, Folger’s, and of course, the current rage for this crowd, the Costco brand, Kirkland.
I listened as he told me how difficult it was to get board approval to serve what, for people of his generation, was good quality coffee. He was told in so many words that if Folger’s was good enough for the older generation, it should be good enough for the younger folks.
Are we really saying that what was good enough for me should be good enough for my kids? Are we really trying to say that since I had to deal with something lousy, or difficult, you should too?
Sadly, in many churches today, the answer, in practice, is a resounding yes, and young people have heard it loud and clear.
Quality coffee? Too expensive. Quality worship? Very worldly. Drums? Too loud. Good lighting and safe cribs in the nursery? My kids never got hurt there. Lack of diversity? Get over it, God sees no color.
See how it goes?
Every response has some roots in the truth. But every response also says to the next generation, or potential visitors, that they need to adapt to us.
I meet young adults all the time who are trying to live their lives for Jesus and yet have given up on the church. Why? Because they believe the church has given up on them.
They are refusing to be part of churches that seem to celebrate a brand of stoicism that tells them to endure and get over it. It doesn’t take many times of hearing that you are just hyper sensitive, or will get over it, to get over it permanently, and walk out the proverbial back door.
Will changing any of those things will necessarily grow a church? Probably not. However, I do think that changing them would remove some impediments to people staying connected in our churches, especially those younger unchurched people we all claim to want to see in our churches.
For years we have heard that the two most dangerous things to hear in a church are “We’ve always done it this way” and “We’ve never done it that way.” I’d like to add another... “If it was good enough for me and my family, it should be good enough for you!”
Can you hear the pride in that statement? It is almost as if someone who hasn’t endured as much as you have in your walk, or in the church, needs to just be quiet and deal with it.
News flash folks, we left the age of the Puritans and the Stoics generations ago!
People won’t just deal with it. When they hear and experience an attitude that effectively says their concerns, likes, and interests are not valid, they just leave.
Now I know that young people and visitors can be unbelievably prideful. But I expect it from people who have not been on the road to maturity in Christ for very long. I don’t expect to see it from the supposed spiritually mature who are often in positions of influence in many of our churches, are supposed to be growing in their faith, and should be encouraging young people and new believers.
Until we can get past this pride of stoicism that essentially says “I survived, you will too!” our churches will struggle to attract, and keep the very young people and potential new believers we claim to seek.
The church, her members, and leaders must adopt an attitude that says we are committed to doing whatever it takes to reach and connect another generation to Jesus. Until we do so, we will never stem the decline in church attendance and participation we are seeing in many churches today.
It is time for some new thinking, new attitudes, and a radical outpouring of love and acceptance to those who are not, and may never be, like us.
Can the church do it?
You tell me...