Why Does the Church Struggle With Millennials? Young Adult Moravians Respond

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RESPONSES FROM YOUNG ADULT MORAVIANS |

We recently asked young adult Moravians to respond to this article by Sam Eaton. In the piece, Sam lays out the reasons why more than half of Millennials have dropped out of church. We also asked young adults to share with us their perception of church in general.

The New York Times defines Millennials as being between 20 and 35 years old, or born between 1980 and 1995, give or take a couple years. Below are six responses from Moravian Millennials and their thoughts on the church’s struggle to attract young people.

Young people


1

Many bloggers and church thinkers have written articles on why we Millennials aren’t attending church. I won’t presume to be any wiser than them, and my perspective is admittedly that of a Millennial who does attend church. However, I do know what draws me to the churches I’ve attended. Rather than a rock band and a coffee bar, the two biggest things that attracted me to my church homes have been community and challenging theology.

My wife and I attend churches whose members greet us with a warm, welcoming reception. Instead of us shuffling into an empty pew unchecked, our church homes had members who introduced themselves and invited us to sit beside them during the service (differing themselves from the common “my pew” phenomenon that often exists). Other church members not only excitedly welcomed us, but invited us to stay for fellowship after the service and introduced us among the congregation.

Radical, challenging theology is the other draw. Never have I felt more filled with faith than after a sermon that made me question myself. While there is certainly need for sermons that affirm our core beliefs and tenets, there’s no reason those same sermons can’t relate those to how we can be more radically Christ-like. While I’m hesitant to speak for all Millennials, I will venture to say that many of us quickly lose interest in sermons on safe topics. A pastor who lovingly challenges me to be more charitable, forgiving, and selfless will win my attendance quicker than anything else. Love me. Challenge and teach me to live love. That is what I desire in a church.

-Kyle Todd, member of Bethania Movarian Church, currently attending United Methodist Church Anacortes, Anacortes, WA

 


2

As a Millennial and self-professed Christian, I feel like I’m often tasked with answering for the sins of Christianity, both historical and ongoing. I think my generation struggles with reconciling actions and proclamations of people associated with the church with our values. I would really appreciate candor from the church regarding these discrepancies and guidance on how to actively address these differences while upholding truth and peace.

On another note, a part of the article that really resonated with me was the section on cliquey-ness and the call to “stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected.” I’ve seen church communities fall short on this a lot, and I have failed on this front as well, but an atmosphere of authentic (not transparently forced) inclusion and acceptance (a.k.a. love) would be transformative in a way that appeals to Millennials, in my opinion.

-Alex Ford, (long-distance) member of Kernersville Moravian Church, Mokpo, South Korea

 

Young people


3

Valid points in the article, and I have seen many similar articles lately. I have been sad to see examples where we, as a community of faith, have drawn in, rather than reached out, when we have faced declining attendance and giving. Shouldn’t that provide for the great moments of faith we celebrate from our history? The moments where God calls us to go beyond our own ability to trust something larger may be in the works? Surely we can live like the community we read about in Acts 2-4, and that we hear about from the days of Zinzendorf.

Finally, the article ends with a section titled, “The Truth is, Church, it’s Your Move.” Here is where I disagree. As an older Millennial, but still in the club, I think now is the time for our move-ment. If we feel the lack of resources is driving a sense of deep seated fear drawing the church inward, then isn’t it up to us to take the action (“be the change you want to see in the world”) we are desperately waiting to see? If we want to be seen and heard, and valued, then we need to be willing to jump into the fray with words and actions that add value, and not just critiques to the system.

In many congregations, a group of 20 young adults could join, participate, and collectively wield a loud voice to help shape the growth and ministry of that community.

Yes, the things on the list are concerns to be faced… but the church needs us to be a part of the solution, and not just point out the problem.

-Justin Rabbach, Ebenezer Moravian Church, Waukesha, WI

 


4

The author’s number one reason as to why Millennials are not attending church speaks the loudest; no one is listening to Millennials. Most Millennials are adults (18+) now and they are tired of still being treated as if they were still kids. The church must be willing to implement new ideas from newer generations.

-Anonymous

 


5

I think I agree with most of what is said in the article.

My thoughts are that many perceive churches to lack authenticity, whether that is true or not. The idea of “practice what you preach” is disconnected as churches seem to only look inward with their programs and beliefs. Personally, I hate being lumped into these age group classifications. Sure, they exist and are a way to analyze data but generalizing that data is not healthy sometimes.

Finally, I like Justin Rabbach’s group, Moravian Church Without Walls. Constraining the church to four walls, a steeple, and worship on Sunday morning, is where you miss this large demographic. There are other ways to worship and serve our Lord. Think outside of the paradigm and maybe this “missing” demographic will reemerge; maybe not in the pews, but in other ways.

-Anonymous

 


Church Pews

6

I nodded my head in agreement so many times that I had a crick in my neck by the end of this article. I grew up in the church, my husband grew up in the church, but neither of us has been a regular church member for over a decade. Why? My excuse was always that life got in the way: college, moving away from home, jobs that required work on the weekends. But now we’re in our early 30s, we’re settled in a town we love, we bought a house, we’re off on Sundays, and we both admit that we feel like something’s missing and that something might just be a church family. Yet every time we get a “Welcome to the neighborhood!  Come visit our church!” postcard in the mail I find myself tossing the card in the trash. I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is–what’s really keeping us from finding a church home now?

I felt like every point made in this piece was spot on, but what resonated with me most were reasons 2, 3, and 5 (which I think are all connected). My last memories of church were the painful realization that, for many in my church family, the mission statements, the church politics, the cliquey-ness were more important than helping the people in this world who need it most. As I get older, religion has become more and more about showing kindness to strangers, giving to the poor, and reflecting Christ’s love through actions in my day-to-day life–the values I learned in Sunday school as a kid, but didn’t see the church practice once I got older.

I don’t need a church family to live out those values, and I’m not confident that I could find a church home committed to practicing what they preach. But, it would be so nice to find a place that did, and a place for my future children to learn those same Sunday school lessons that helped shape me into the person I am today.

-Anonymous (forever-a-Moravian-at-heart)

 


Questions? Comments? Contact the BCM at BCM@MCSP.org

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How Will You Let Jesus’ Light Shine?

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BY DOUG RIGHTS |

On Thursday evening, December 31, 2015 at the Youth New Year’s Eve Party in the Fellowship Hall at Fairview Moravian Church, I spread out Moravian Star points and markers on a table that included a sign that said, “On one of the star points share how will you let Jesus’ light shine in 2016 in you, your youth group, and/or your church?” At the party many of the youth and adults who attended wrote on the points. As the new year began, the points were put together and this Moravian Star has hung in my office throughout the year.

Moravian star image

In January I took the star to our Regional Youth Conference Retreat at Laurel Ridge, and many of the youth wrote their thoughts on the points. In February the star traveled to Florida for the Florida District Youth Retreat, and more was written on the star. Later in the year some of our area youth leaders wrote on it when we had a Youth Leaders Get Together. This fall I took the star to our Fall Celebration at Advent Moravian, and more thoughts were added. Here are what some had to say:

  • “I hope God will help us be bold in faith.”
  • “To help me get through my tough times.”
  • “I want to see all the youth on fire for our God.”
  • “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control.”
  • “I want our youth to shine by reaching out and meeting more people.”
  • “To provide a sense of direction in my life and show me where I should be going.”
  • “That our church loves God! We want Him to help us become the beacon of our community.”

Moravian star image

As this star has been in my office throughout 2015 (except for the times it went to the above mentioned events), it has been a constant reminder of all the wonderful youth and adults we have in our province and the many ways they want the light of Jesus to shine in their lives and in their churches. It is my hope and prayer that not only those who wrote on this star’s points, but that all of us, will let Jesus’ light shine in our lives and that we will see the great difference it makes when we do!

Lightbulbs

As we come to our Christmas Lovefeast and Candle Services later this month, many of us will sing the traditional “Morning Star.” It is my prayer as we finish out 2016 and soon begin 2017, that the wonderful words of this hymn will be evident in our lives and in our province . . . “Jesus mine, in me shine!”


If you have questions or need additional information, email (drightsATmcsp.org) or call the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries at (336) 722-8126.

The Rev. Doug Rights is the Director of Youth, College, and Young Adult Ministries at the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Here he is with his new grandson, Nolan Key (photo by Kathy Rights.) 

doug

Building Relationships with Young Adults

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BY DOUG RIGHTS |

The Young Adult Working Group, one of the working groups of our Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM), is discussing plans to offer an open forum on young adult ministry in our churches. The group plans to offer this open forum sometime early next year. In preparation for this provincial event, the Young Adult Working Group had a trial run at the November Moravian Ministry Association meeting in which around thirty people attended.

Young Adult Open Forum

Brother Zach Dease, pastor at Macedonia Moravian and member of the Young Adult Working Group, guided us through this event which included videos and discussion questions. The first video was called “We Are the Millennials: a Letter to Baby Boomers” which shared several reasons why millennials (young adults) are not active in church. Other videos included some of our local Moravian young adults and a former Moravian young adult who shared their feelings and experiences of being a young adult in the Moravian Church. These videos showed a variety of perspectives from young adults who are active in their churches to one would rather be out doing ministry than sitting in a church to one who feels the Moravian Church does not meet her needs and has found them met elsewhere. There was some good discussion following the videos.

This open forum also included questions for discussion from which many at the forum shared their responses. The questions were:

  1. How would you feel if you were a young adult Moravian today?
  2. How should we be supporting our young adult Moravians in our churches? What is your church doing now? Where do you need help?
  3. On a scale of 1-10 (1 lowest, 10 highest), how would you rate the performance of the Moravian Church in serving young adults, and why do you pick that number?
  4. If the church seems to be struggling to support millennials now, what can we do to serve the children, the next generation, and ensure that they do not find themselves in this same situation?

Sister Victoria Lasley, a candidate for Moravian ministry and student at Wake Forest Divinity School and member of the Young Adult Working Group, shared some of the responses from the questions. Due to time restraints we were not able to discuss the responses, but the working group will use this information for its future event.

Young Adult Open Forum

Those who attended this open forum also received a recent survey in which around twenty Moravian young adults in our area responded to questions about the involvement or lack of involvement of young adults in the church. Many of the survey responses tied in with the information from the videos and discussion. The survey also included some practical things churches can do for young adults which include:

  • Know who your young adults are and contact them.
  • Have services and programs that are relevant and meaningful..
  • Have someone whose ministry is to keep up with the church’s young adults.
  • Have leaders who are sensitive to the needs of young adults and do your best to relate with them.
  • Be willing to be flexible and open to new ideas.
  • Don’t be afraid to deal with tough questions.
  • Have a church where young adults want to invite their friends.

Soon the Young Adult Working Group will announce the time and place for its open forum. We hope many who are concerned about our ministry to our young adults will be there. Our group’s prayer is that looking at the issues and at what we can do will help make a difference as we minister to the young adults in our churches.

Young Adult Working Group:

Laura Bennett-Overcash (Friedberg), Zach Dease (Macedonia), Victoria Lasley (Bethania), Reed Lawson (Bethania), Amy Linville (Rural Hall), Sabrina Maksi (Christ), Randall May (Rural Hall), Doug Rights (Board of Cooperative Ministries)


If you have questions or need additional information, email (drightsATmcsp.org) or call the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries at (336) 722-8126.

The Rev. Doug Rights is the Director of Youth, College, and Young Adult Ministries at the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Here he is with his lovely wife, Kathy. 

Doug with wife Kathy