Okay. I’m about to show my age again….I remember when I was a child, how the women
wore white gloves and hats to church. And on Easter, oh my! All the children got brand new clothes, even down to our socks. We wore our Easter bonnets proudly.
You remember the song “The Easter Parade?” It really was like that.
Church was different in my parent’s time. Now that I’m a grandparent, I know that the church I became comfortable in, with lots of gospel music and social activities, seems old to many of the Millennials and the Gen X’s.
One constant about Church is that it changes, which, I believe, reflects God’s movement through human generations. These changes happen usually with a lot of kicking and screaming, especially over the music, but churches will change. Each generation has it’s own way of reflecting belief and faith in God.
Many of you know that more Americans claim to be unchurched now than at any time in our history, and this is especially true of the 20-30 year age range. From a 2010 study done by the Pew Foundation: “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated [with a faith tradition] than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle (20% in the late 1990s) and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults (13% in the late 1970s).”
But that does not mean that they do not have some expectation of what it means to be Christian. Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, identifies some of the new ways these younger generations are reflecting faith: “…the new faithful began to meet among themselves and hold worship services among and with those of like spirit. The house church movement began and then quietly boomed, as did such outre things as pub theology and bowling alley masses. In time, of course, some of these gatherings would grow into nondenominational churches. …. Other gatherings of emergents have no site at all and roam from public park to football stadium to Seventh-day Adventist churches to high school gyms, as the case may be in any given week. Some others, from time to time, fall heir, for a song, to old and abandoned church buildings which they occupy but feel only slight need to ‘fix up’ in the traditional sense. All, however, share one shining characteristic: they are incarnational. Not only is Jesus of Nazareth incarnate God, but Christian worship must be incarnate as well. It must involve the body in all its senses and take place among people, all of whom are embraced equally and as children of God.”
This new Emergent Church is, according to Dr. Tickle, the next great movement in the church, equal to The Great Reformation (when the Protestant church broke from the Catholic Church) and the Great Schism (when the Eastern Orthodox Church broke from the Roman Catholic Church). The thing about these great changes is that they do not destroy the previous form of faith, but they do create a vibrant and new way of living out faith.
What does this new way of living out faith look like? According to Wikipedia: “Members of the [Emergence] movement often place a high value on good works or social activism, including missional living … [S]ome in the emerging church believe it is necessary to deconstruct modern Christian dogma. One way this happens is by engaging in dialogue, rather than proclaiming a predigested message, believing that this leads people to Jesus through the Holy Spirit on their own terms. Many in the movement embrace the missiology that drives the movement in an effort to be like Christ and make disciples by being a good example. The emerging church movement contains a great diversity in beliefs and practices, although some have adopted a preoccupation with sacred rituals, good works, and political and social activism.”
I had the privilege of meeting with a few folks last week to talk about some ways the young generation of African Americans are drawn to faith. Two young ministers gave us these insights about this generation: They do not want to be judged, but accepted and challenged. They want to feel comfortable, to be able to come as they are (certainly not having to dress up to show up). They prefer the services to be less regimented, more casual, with opportunities to engage in dialogue. They may be biblically illiterate, but are inclined to be involved in helping the poor and addressing social issues. Use of social media would be important to reach out to them.
The thing for me is that I like what they like–except the biblically illiterate part. So I guess I’m not that old after all! I have great faith in the movement from regimented and dogmatic religion to being involved in discussion and service for Christ. I do believe this generation is leading all of us in a good direction.
They are our children, let’s help them lead the way.