Why is the Christian Reformed Church losing young adults? People have debated this question in living rooms and council rooms across the country and written about it throughout the denomination. Suggestions for dealing with this issue often revolve around changes to the church: innovative worship styles, perhaps, or compelling young adult groups. Those ideas are good—the CRC should make efforts to engage young people.
But as a young adult, I want to look at the other side of the coin. I want to encourage my generation to shoulder some of the responsibility for this exodus. It is no use complaining that you don’t feel engaged by your church if you’re not an active member. To find your place in the church, you’ve got to get involved.
Involvement in church life, especially for young people, begins by leaving the world’s consumer attitude at the door. Too many complaints about the CRC begin with “I don’t like . . .” or “I didn’t get anything out of . . .” In contrast, the apostle Paul writes, “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). The church is a gathering of sinful individuals learning to live as a loving, Christ-centered community. We must learn to put our neighbors and their good ahead of our own interests. Church is not a club where you “get.” Church is a family where you give, and in giving you receive.
In fact, I suspect one of God’s purposes in creating the church was to bring self-centered sinners like me uncomfortably close to people we might not like but are commanded to love. Perhaps it is only in this context that we can begin to live out the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Young people, myself included, are especially prone to forming cliques with people who are a lot like us—the ones with whom we are comfortable.
But church is the one place we absolutely cannot settle for comfort. Real, intergenerational dialogue within the church will be uncomfortable for everyone. The alternative is to condemn the denomination and ourselves to spiritual stagnation. If we leave when the dialogue gets difficult, we miss not only the opportunity to forge a better church, but also the opportunity to be forged into better Christians.
When young adults walk away from the CRC, they also miss out on a rich heritage. Our denomination has a strong intellectual background stretching from John Calvin to Alvin Plantinga; a rich theology that is being adopted by churches worldwide; a global presence in the mission field; and a beloved statement of faith, the Heidelberg Catechism. No matter where you’re from or what your story is, God has placed you within this tradition for a reason. I invite you to claim it as your own and to work with everyone else in the denomination to build God’s kingdom.
Step up and get involved in your local church. God’s kingdom starts there, and without you it is incomplete. Don’t wait for a call from synod or your local council. Take the first step yourself. Join a Bible study. Ask an older Christian to mentor you. Start a young adults group. Find a way to dialogue officially and respectfully about where you want to see the denomination change. The CRC has shortcomings, but it also has incredible strengths and a commitment to Christ Jesus.
Ultimately, the future of the denomination rests firmly in the hands of young adults. Our hands. So I’m staying. Are you?
About the Author
Tom Kok is a freelance designer in ocean engineering and is a member of Third Christian Reformed Church in Lynden, Wash.