HERE’S HOW IT USED TO BE:
- Kid gets schlepped into church briefly then dismissed for Sunday school or children’s worship.
- A few years later kid/teen attends regular worship and catechism then confession class and makes profession of faith.
- Then young adult heads off for college, takes up a trade, or starts farming. During these transitional years he or she becomes Bedside Baptist, joins the Church of the Inner (Bed) Springs, and sometimes overcomes a twinge of conscience by playing “local church roulette.”
- College grad or newly established tradesperson/farmer gets hitched, maybe starts a family, and, feeling a deeper need, gets reconnected by settling into a church home.
Recent polls by Barna, Bibby, et al warn us that “it ain’t happenin’ anymore, folks!” Parents still schlep their kids to Sunday school and church. Kids still participate. In fact, research reveals that young teens are spiritually more alert and active in experiencing and stretching their faith than at any other time in their lives. And young men and women still head off for college, for career opportunities, or for “the city” and stop being meaningfully connected to any single congregation.
What’s different is that more of these young adults/families aren’t finding their way back into our churches. And that has a compounding effect as young parents no longer introduce junior to church. Junior will experience the church disconnect from the start—before those all-important teenage years.
Denominationally focused surveys confirm that the Christian Reformed Church is not at all immune from this trend.
As we celebrate 150 years of God’s faithfulness to and through the CRC, a great “present” we should give ourselves is to invest some serious effort in finding out what’s going on and how to respond positively to this challenge. Or there won’t be a bicentennial to celebrate.
Healthy congregations have members of all ages. That’s how the faith of our fathers and mothers is best transmitted from generation to generation. And that’s how we learn best from younger folks how to “do church” in fresh ways that attune the gospel to our swiftly changing culture.
I have no answers to this. But I’ll bet we need to address this issue before Junior leaves home and experiences a decade of ecclesiastical hibernation and equivocation.
I doubt the Reformed counterpart we’ve evolved to the Amish tradition of rumspringa (“running around”) is serving us well. It’s not good at all to expect our young people to stray from the faith. Increasingly we’re setting expectations for them that are way too low. Maybe we need to learn from the Mormons and enable our young adults to devote a year or two to mission work. Maybe we should develop a post-profession-of-faith discipleship process.
If you have insight that will help our congregations keep their young members and families, please write us. We’d welcome an informed discussion of this in The Banner.
I can’t think of a better anniversary present for the CRC than a new, up-and-coming generation that’s eager to follow Jesus and that lives out the reality that true discipleship is never a solitary enterprise: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).