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Monday, January 2, 2012

Some thoughts on getting (young) people into church

"In the Acts of the Apostles the disciples were bowled over by Jesus, and a lot of extraordinary things happened as a consequence. Yet the dim-witted (or mendacious) among us trawl those same accounts for techniques, asking what programs might foster more conversions, more missionary energy, more Church growth. But, by so doing, they miss the nub of it - which is faith, hope and love.
... I firmly believe that this is a moment for theological and spiritual imagination, for penitence and faith, and for simple, unadulterated joy in God and the gospel. If we have these, which means that we have a lively relationship with the God of Jesus Christ who gathers and illumines us by the Spirit of God, then we have everything we need. The rest will come."

Revd Dr Scott Cowdell in his book 'God's Next Big Thing: Discovering the Future Church', John Garratt Publishing, Mulgrave, 2004. pp. 2-3

This quote nicely expresses why, as a young person (I'm 24), I often get frustrated with church people telling me that if they just had more modern music (more guitars, switching from hymn books to Hillsong or ditching the oldies' favourite traditional hymns), or a bigger youth focused ministry (by which they mean a really enthusiastic youth leader and a bunch of activities) then their church wouldn't be dying and they would get more young people in. They tried all that with their "seeker friendly services" in the US and other places. To me they are missing the point. Young people aren't stupid. Yes, it's nice to have a present wrapped in fancy paper (things like nice modern music), but if what is inside isn't a very nice present then who cares how it is wrapped? Young people are still people. What we really want is a loving community to be a part of, and one that feels like it is going somewhere. That's one of the big advantages of social and environmental justice work in churches. If your church is dedicated to doing something valuable and contextual in your community then it gives young people something worth being involved in. What we don't want (or at least not for long), is to just show up, sing some songs and listen to someone prattle then go home. We want the preaching to be meaningful, and the songs and service to be linked to additional worship of God in our lives and in practical service, and we want the sense of community. We want to feel embraced and important. Yet there is a big caveat here. Don't make us important just because we are young. Get to know us and care about us for who we are. There is nothing that turns me off more than walking into a church and having people crowd around excitedly just because I'm young and then five minutes later start asking me if I'll lead a youth group or something (believe me, it happens). I want to be involved, but I'd like the chance to volunteer thanks. 

So if you want your church to get more people (including the young), don't look at how your service is presented (or not more than to ask if it is so out of date or unorganised it might be scaring people off), do the hard work of looking at your community and seeing if they are loving, caring people who live out their faith and commitment to Jesus every day, who aren't judgmental or hypocritical and who work together as your church community to do something truly worthwhile. Like Scott says, it's about Faith, Hope and Love. And if you have all that the rest will come. 

I probably don't speak for all young people, but that's the way I see it. 

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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+