A Call from the CRC’s Young Adults

The carpet of the old church floor dug into my knees. I knelt before the congregation, humbled, as the same body of believers who witnessed my baptism and vowed to love and pray for me received me as a full member. I offered my life back to Christ, within the context of the Christian Reformed Church. That was five years ago.

After leaving my quaint hometown of New Holland, South Dakota, I realized for the first time that church, and my personal faith, was now my responsibility. Transitioning to college, I was eager to share my gifts by becoming involved in another Christian Reformed congregation. The CRC had baptized me, trained me in GEMS (girls’ club), Sunday school, and catechism, and recognized me as a member, and I was eager to see what was next.

Within the first few weeks I began to feel a disconnect between the promises I had made in my home church and my new life. There were no more catechism classes to attend or a version of GEMS for college-age women. The worship bulletins of the churches I visited listed children’s ministries and youth group events, then jumped straight to marriage seminars. My peers and I seemed overlooked and forgotten.

The church has not often used or encouraged our gifts during the time of our lives when we are the most passionate, energetic, and available.

Will you make room for us at the table?

Since finding a church did not happen as naturally as I had hoped, I began exploring congregations from different denominations, including Evangelical Free and Reformed Church in America, even nondenominational (and, I regret to admit, I was often a member of the “Bedside Baptists”). 

I was curious whether this disconnect came from me and my unwillingness to commit, or whether the CRC was struggling to connect with my generation. Nearly ready to give up finding my place in the church, I saw a note on Facebook about a CRC initiative to gather some Gen-Y-ers (18- to 30-year-olds) together to discuss this very matter, in search of a solution. Ecstatic to discover others who felt they, too, had fallen into the gap between catechism and marriage, I agreed to join in.

Last August more than 30 young adults (Generation Ys, Millenials—call us what you want) from all over North America met in Grand Rapids, Mich., to discuss why we felt our generation was being overlooked, forgotten, and disconnected from the denomination.

Ideas buzzed around the room as young leaders committed to doing all we can to bring our generation back into the denomination whose doctrine we believe in, back to a worldwide congregation of believers we want to support and need support from, and ultimately back to a central place of belief and understanding we desperately cling to.

The following paragraphs summarize our discussion. We pray and hope this will be the start of a dialogue that will fuse all the CRC churches together as one committed and whole body of Christ.

What We Love About the CRC

We began our conversation by asking What do we love about the CRC? What is it doing right to enfold multiple generations?

We appreciate the denomination’s steadfastness; we cling to its strong and unwavering doctrine. We are an indecisive generation, so it’s essential to have a rock-solid foundation that we can lean on and that we trust will never waver on the “big stuff” in life.

We do not find ourselves discouraged in church because the PowerPoints are not colorful enough or because the drums (if any) are not loud enough; nor do we have a burning wish to throw out the gray Psalter Hymnal.

Our concerns and desires have more to do with deeper relationships, passionate commitment, and convicting biblical messages.

The CRC is doing many things right, and even though we might not show it, we are extremely grateful for all that our church has invested in us. Last year young adults were given the ability to speak to the church on a denominational level through a youth advisory panel at synod, the CRC’s annual leadership meeting. That has been an amazing step in the right direction, but we would also like to be involved with leadership in our local congregations.

Such involvement requires that we hear and understand each other—bringing generations together.

Many of us are in transitional phases of life, and because of this we are looking for a church family. We desire church to be more than a place we visit on Sunday. We urgently seek a home in which we’re needed, a family who gives us responsibilities and holds us accountable to them.

Becoming a church member is a big commitment; it should be followed up with continued training, education, and decision-making roles.

What We Need from the CRC

Our generation embraces intense creativity and has different passions and ideas for worship. We desire to be one body—to learn, grow, and worship together—but at times we’re unsure how we can contribute to that. Sometimes we’re afraid of rejection or being misunderstood, but we’d love to begin respectful dialogues with all age groups on how we can approach new gifts and ideas in considerate, active ways.

Beyond that, we need involvement in intergenerational Bible studies and mentoring relationships. We want desperately to be discipled—strengthened, equipped, and empowered—by those who are more spiritually mature than we are and who have traveled the road ahead.

Unfortunately, while the church does a great job caring for families with young children, it has not often used or encouraged young people’s gifts during the time of our lives when we are the most passionate, energetic, and available.

We have hearts that yearn for ministry but sometimes see it in unconventional ways that the church does not understand. We envision ministry as every Christian’s calling, whatever his or her life stage. We want to engage in conversations about this as disciples eager to reach out to a hurting world that needs a Savior, whether overseas or across the street. And we believe doing so will require us all to push beyond what is comfortable and known—for comfortable faith too easily becomes stagnant faith.

My generation calls out to the church, “Will you make room for us at the table?” We need what the church has to offer. We want to serve you and serve with you. We deeply desire to learn from you and want the opportunity to teach you. Will you help us bridge the gap?

Manifesto Excerpt

Our Vision

What would the church look like if all of the problems were resolved?

Intergenerational

Our church should be a place where all generations are valued and respected for what they bring to the family of God’s people. All generations have something unique to offer and yet much to learn. In this life, we never truly arrive at the destination of our faith journey. Our strength as a church consists of our relationships with one another and the strength of our love in action. After all, what would our church be without the praxis and zest of the young, or without the experience and wisdom of the old? We are weak when we divide ourselves, and strong when we experience all of life together.

Intercultural

Our denomination is becoming increasingly diverse.  As this beautiful diversity continues to grow, so must our awareness and appreciation for the differences between our various cultures and heritage.  Likewise, we must discern which parts of our heritage that might stand in the way of the advancement of the kingdom and sacrifice them for the cause of the gospel. Adaptation and accommodation is necessary for all cultures to preserve the unity of the church and the success of its mission.  We must look to heaven and be inspired by the vision of a multi-ethnic congregation of believers, embracing cultural diversity not for its own sake, but because it reflects God’s boundless love for his people.

Excerpted from the “Young Adult Manifesto” for the CRC, p. 12. For the full version, see http://issuu.com/kkruithoff/docs/color_-_young_adults_in_the_church.

For Discussion

  1. Think about a young adult you know (post high school). In a few words, describe that person’s relationship to the Christian Reformed Church.
  2. What do the young people profiled in this article ask of the church? What do they offer the church?
  3. Do you think the CRC is ready to accept their offer and challenge? Why or why not?
  4. How do you see this dialogue taking place in your local church and in the denomination?
  5. What can you do individually to strengthen the faith of the young people you know and to encourage their membership and participation in the church?

About the Author

Chelsey Munneke graduated this spring from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, where she studied public relations and journalism. She is an original member of the young adult initiative of the Leadership Exchange (www.crcna.org/leadership) and currently blogs for Focus on the Family.

See comments (8)

Comments

It is interesting that you say your generation needs "involvement in intergenerational Bible studies and mentoring relationships". I agree. But when we have offered such things and encouraged people your age to participate, very few (if any) do. Instead, I then hear from people your age that they need to get together with people your own age - but, when asked to commit to organizing and leading such gatherings, we still get no takers (if I organize it all, then it's not "people your age" anymore, is it?).

We ask all members from 5th grade on up to look at the ministry here and see where they can serve. We want them on the ministry teams, involved in worship, assisting with programs for younger children or caring for the elderly. Responses from younger, single adults tend to be near zero. We have actively recruited them for service and sought to nominate some for Council. This is resisted, too.

My youngest son, still in high school, has accepted the challenge and has been accepted. For all intents and purposes, he is treated no differntly than one of the 30-year-old married men. The only issues are when he has time and where he has gifts. In fact, he has organized social outings with men that age (took a couple out winter-backpacking over their wives' objections). My older children have stood off more and complained that they feel isolated, to which I can only say, "Duh."

I read your article, and I must confess to a certain frustration at what seems to be very mixed messages from people at your stage in life. I am at a loss as to what more we could do and I can sympathize with those who get tired of trying to guess what is wanted this moment.

Dear Anonymous for now,
As a young adult who read this article and felt like I couldn't have described my any situation better perhaps I can explain things and offer some suggestions.

In the past year I have moved 3 times and started a new job. I am stressed out and still learning what it means to be an adult and figuring out how to live on my own. (Taxes? Rental agreements? Utility Bills? Cooking? Budgeting?) This is the first time school hasn't scheduled my life or controlled who I interact with on a daily basis. Although I have more free time than I realize I also don't plan very far in advance because my life is chaotic.

You expressed frustration with low participation in scheduled events. However a once-a-week Bible study is likely too hard to commit to when by tomorrow I may have heard about that job I applied for and will be making plans to move across the country.

Some suggestions:
1. Get to know me again, I was away at university for several years, I have changed ALOT.
2. Get to know me as an individual- NOT as one of the _(fill in last name)__ kids
3. Look for new young adults who may just be moving into the area starting a new job, invite them over, give them a place to stay if they need it, get to know them, introduce them to people their age
I have moved lots recently and have been blessed by churches that have welcomed me and introduced me to friends without them I would have been really lonely.
4. Invite me over for coffee, lunch, dinner (if I turn you down be persistent and keep trying!)
5. Accept my invitation if I invite you over
6. Call me, e-mail me, or best yet Write me letters or send me cookies.
7. Be creative about including me in serving the church there are many ways to serve including:
- special music during offering
- designing bulletin covers or displays
- maintenance around the church
- helping with book-keeping
- cooking food for shut-ins or sick
- invite me to share my experiences at university or college with the congregation so they can hear about my past year(s)
8. Remember I am an adult and can take adult responsibilities I just haven't figured that out yet don't expect me to volunteer for these tasks I may need someone in the congregation to seek me out and recognize these gifts. (like the elders laying their hands on Timothy 1Tim 4:14)

Overall what is required is honest, open, loving relationships. There is no curriculum or program needed, we have the knowledge we just need to figure out how to LIVE IT and are looking for some role models. So be the people you want us to become.

ShariAnn -
I hear what you're saying.

What I'm saying is, it goes both ways.

When I was younger, we criticized the folks who stood around in their cliques eyeing the newcomer AND the newcomer who stood off by himself giving every indication that the absolute last thing he wanted was to be accosted by an eager stranger.

The Church, as Church - institution and organization - can offer opportunities (and can do better at this), but those opportunities must also be seized (and young adults can do better at this).

Part of the experience of the late teens and early twenties and we all go through it. We who are older sympathize with the problem and could tell you our stories if you would like to hear them. I see 2 main issues. 1- The desire of most of us regardless of age is to be ministered to in church not to find a place of ministry to work in. Basically we want a Christian bowling league of similar people to ourselves. 2- Late teens early twenties is still a very selfish time in our lives. Everyone has catered to us even college profs. and we still think that is normal. Get fired from a job or two get dumped by a friend or maybe divorced and you find out life isn't all about self it's about others and what we can give to them. The problem of scarcity of resources applies as well. Most churches are tapped out and programs cost money. Why spend on the most transient? My advice? Remember JFK "ask not",fully commit to a church give yourself to existing ministry surrender all that you are and have to God and let yourself be used where possible. Friends are for support,strength and encouragement the older we get not for hanging out with.

Chelsey's article focuses on young adults, but her concluding paragraph articulates the yearnings of any group in church that feels as if they have been left out due to age, disability, ethnicity, or another reason. I hope and pray that churches, classes, synod, and denominational ministries grapple with Chelsey's questions vigorously: "Will you make room for us at the table? . . . Will you help us bridge the gap?"

There is room at the table. Will you come and take a seat?

So right you are, and one of the ways the CRC is exploring this is by having an emphasis on developing campus ministries closely tied to the church, and thus putting resources and energies into making the church's mission to young adults more realistic, more practical.

This is an excellent article. I am really excited about the potential Chelsey shows the Church of the CRCNA. I have already referred this article to people in our own congregation as we are just now beginning to invest some serious resources into our Senior Teens and Young Adults.

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