In the June 2011 Banner, Chelsey Munneke summarizes a discussion held by passionate young people, which offers a “diagnosis of the disconnect” young people feel with the Christian Reformed Church (“A Call from the CRC’s Young Adults”). Ms. Munneke pointedly asks for churches to make room for the legitimate gifts young people have to offer. Well said, Chelsey.
When I ask them why they’ve left the CRC, their answers tell of an even bigger disconnect.
However, the sad but true context that Munneke writes from is that there has been a mass exodus of young people out of the denomination for some time. As a 20-something church planter in West Michigan, my vocation regularly leads me into conversations with young people who’ve given up on the CRC. When I ask them why, their answers tell of an even bigger disconnect. Indeed, few young people have left because of doctrinal standards or the gray Psalter Hymnal or a lack of young adult representation in leadership.
The reason that 20-somethings often give me as to why they left? “It just wasn’t for me.”
There’s a lot behind such an answer. Some people report that their home church was for their parents, not them, while many others flatly reply that while growing up they found church boring, unimaginative, or irrelevant.
You may be appalled by such reasoning. Surely those aren’t legitimate reasons for walking out on church? And you’re right, those are terrible reasons for leaving. But that’s also reality.
My observation is that young people who leave the CRC are still likely to join a church, just not a Christian Reformed one. In my area, many choose Ada Bible, Mars Hill, or Resurrection Life. Say what you will about those churches, but they are soaking up all the young adults we drive away.
However, there is hope on the horizon. For a couple generations our denomination emphasized the uniformity of all Christian Reformed congregations. During the time when people appreciated traditional church architecture, liturgy, and music, the CRC blossomed. Today people’s tastes are much more diverse.
Some people go to church intensely curious about what the Bible says about families and other felt needs (Ada Bible), others go to church to learn about social justice (Mars Hill), still others go for concert-quality music (Resurrection Life). Together, the churches I mention garner the largest “market share” of young people in my area. They meet the diverse tastes of the latest generation.
And the hope for the CRC? A new church planting movement is beginning to swell across the United States and Canada. These new church upstarts intentionally reflect the culture in which they are set, yet are counter-cultural enough to speak the gospel into young lives.
We may be a little behind the trends, but by focusing our efforts on starting new churches for new generations, we ensure the succession of our distinctively Reformed denomination through the years.