It seems like everywhere I’ve been in recent weeks, the question of why young people aren’t joining the church, comes up in conversation. A clergy colleague’s son asks her, “Why should I join an institution that practices intolerance?” One friend, who does some volunteer work with college students says, “Young people think the church has corrupted the faith.” Pew Research, out with their latest study on religious trends, interviewed 35,000 people. They found that younger people, of all Christian backgrounds, are leaving the church and no longer claiming Christian as a part of who they are. Increasingly Millennials give themselves the title of “none” when asked their religious background.
Much of the media has not been helpful in sharing the positive in Christian faith and life. I bounce between frustration that the media doesn’t pick up on the good those faith communities are doing, and being painfully aware of the dysfunction which too often exists in churches. As faith communities we have a lot to answer for. But, I think the problem is deeper than that. Our world has so many more choices than when I was a young parent. Social media has redefined how we relate to one another. Skeptics have a larger forum. Fewer of the older generation have known how to pass on an authentic faith to their children. We put our priorities on other aspects of our children’s well being instead of growing their faith. The church and the older generation has made a mess, a very big mess of communicating the love of God to a new generation.
Yet there are other times when the church is alive and well. Increasing numbers of churches sends mission teams out to pick up after a tornado or when a hurricane strikes an area. We make health kits, send school supplies to third world nations, and build health clinics. Homeless people are fed and housed in churches, while advocating for resources to get people off of the streets. Church people staff local food banks and give generously of their resources to human need.
Still, I worry about the younger generation’s alienation from the church. I fear for their lostness and lack of trust in the God who loves them unconditionally. I fear for children who grow up without a knowledge of God. What no survey or poll can account for though, is the tug of God in a person’s heart. God has a way of finding lost children and calling us to God’s self. What is of God, will endure. The form and shape of Christianity may change in the years ahead, but nothing will hold back God’s truth. Seventy years of communist rule in the Soviet Union didn’t quench the yearning to know God. That same seed, planted in the human spirit, will exist till the end of time. Every now and then God reminds me that if God can get through my stubborn heart and mind, God can certainly get through to those I love and care about. I find reassurance in the words of the Psalmist.
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me.”