Conventional isn't the same as Necessary.

I was wandering through a bunch of blogs by fellow 'Piskies this afternoon, and I read something that I've heard in a thousand different ways, maybe literally hundreds of times.

Someone was discussing their path to ordained ministry, and refered to their "obligatory young adult lapsed phase." Now, there are so many under-40 RevGals that I shouldn't need to point out that lacking a loving community of faith in your 20s and 30s isn't even close to obligatory.

Here's my concern: more often than not when we say that young adults "just don't come" to be part of faith communities, we're saying it doesn't matter. We're saying that's just the way it is, and it's fine. We're saying they don't need us, and we don't need them. (Have I mentioned that I think discussions with a clear "them" and "us" are usually headed into dangerous territory?) When I started attending my first parish out of college, I was told that I had no peers because no one comes to church until they have children. And the people who said it were very comfortable with that answer.

Young adults, like everyone else, have spiritual needs. Young adults, like everyone else, need loving support. Young adults, like everyone else, have times of wisdom and of foolishness that we can all grow through. And individuals of all ages have a vast spectrum of gifts to share.

Admittedly, I can't speak for all young adults. I can speak for myself, though.
As a young adult I:
  • can probably be a pain in the rear sometimes (like now?).
  • may have ideas that conflict with some traditions of the church.
  • may feel intimidated about speaking up.
  • am trying to juggle the beginnings of career/family/relationships.
  • am sometimes overwhelmed by the long-term affects the decisions I make now may have.
  • want to better understand how to know Jesus , instead of just knowing about Jesus.

All of those things can have a place in a healthy church.

An awful lot of our parents felt disillusioned by their own religious upbringing, so I don't think it's fair to assume that we will be in church after we have kids. Many of us don't have a faith tradition to return to. I was extremely fortunate, in that I had several loving faith communities growing up, but I'm not convinced that's the norm. I recognize that my peers need (and often want!) a relationship with God, and a place to explore their spirituality, but don't have places where they feel safe to learn and grow.

So many of us mainline denominations are terrified of anything approaching "evangelism"-- myself included. I have awful images of judgement where there should be love, of dogma where there could be encouragement and imagination. But I don't think we can assume that people will just happen to wander in the doors of our churches in droves (though praise God if that's the case!), and I don't think we can afford to dismiss millions of people because that age bracket just doesn't come.


  1. Amen, amen, AMEN!

    I would venture to say that most people have a period of time in their lives when the conventional church stuff is not as central to their spiritual growth.

    For me, that happened between 13 and 15. It certainly happens a lot in college and young adulthood -- but it's not limited to that time, and not all young adults depart the church.

    I don't think those of us in the church can take it for granted that 'they'll come back when they have kids' and basically write people off. (That's insane, honestly -- not good for either the church or the 'written off')

    There are a couple things that I think are key:
    (1) Do a really good job of equipping your children and teens with spiritual resources for their future.
    (2) Don't forget your young people when they go to college, move away for new jobs, etc. Stay in touch, start a e-list for bible study, facebook them, make a blog. Shepherd these young adults until they find new communities of faith. Be available as a pastor who they know and trust during times of flux.
    (3) Be aware of (and take into account) the lives and concerns of young adults when thinking about worship, ministry, formation, mission, etc.
    (4) If your congregation/parish doesn't have enough volume for a young adult group, think about ways to collaborate with other congregations. Maybe your church and a nearby synagogue could team up for a forum on interfaith dating. Maybe nearby congregations of your denomination could combine for fellowship & formation events monthly. Think creatively!

    Jesus didn't say, hang out in your lovely (falling apart) building and wait for people to show up so that you can put them on a committee and collect their money now that they have a job and kids and look like respectable adults.

  2. Hubbie and I had a big discussion about this just last week. Too often we as the church say that we want new people, young people in our churches. What we really want is young people who happen to like worship for the 40's, decore from the 50's, to hang with people in their 70's with incomes in the 80's or 90's. It's crazy! Our church is threatend by anyone new because with every new person the balance of power shifts and that is scary. So we'd rather sit around and complain about what we don't have than honestly seek God's direction as to who we should be seeking. As far as people randomly comeing through our doors, it's actually happening in our church, the problem is getting them to come BACK through them the next week.

  3. Anonymous4:52 PM

    I would just like to say that at my church there are many young, non-married members. THere are also many married w/ no kids members. I think that part of your experience has to do with the part of the country you reside in...imho.
    ~A blog wanderer

  4. Can I just preach this on Sunday?

  5. I like your last one, about knowing Jesus instead of knowing about Jesus...

  6. Fascinating. Especially as I just moments ago referred to my lapsed phase in a post on the RG book discussion.

    I wish I hadn't done it. But ... I did.

  7. Great post and comments on a topic I think about frequently.


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins