A Fix to a Big Problem

I'm in my office this afternoon.  I'm working on finishing up paperwork for Charge Conference, which will be this Sunday morning.  Honestly, I'm fighting a nap and I'm not sure if its the paperwork or the big lunch I had with our senior adults, but I'm sure that I'm in no state to operate heavy machinery.

Taking a break from the filling out of forms, I just read an article from the United Methodist News service about possible restructuring and all sorts of new teams and committees that have been formed for the purpose of turning around some negative trends in the UMC (read it HERE).  First, our declining numbers of members (most west of the Mississippi) and our increasing average age.

The two seem to go hand in hand.  We're not bringing in younger members at the same rate that we're losing older ones.  The Baby Boomer generation is getting older as well, so the average age of people in our country is on the rise.

Age concerns have been a recurring theme at Annual Conferences over the last few years and at General Conference in 2008.  I can understand.  I'm one of less than 20 "young clergy" (under 35) in our Annual Conference that has around 1,000 total clergy.  I think the stat is something in the neighborhood of there is one young clergy person for every 48,000 young adults in the U.S. right now (don't quote me).  That's going to be a very heavy load in the years to come.

While I'm reading all of this, I'm listening to Robbie Seay and other Christian worship artists.  I miss contemporary worship - I mean truly contemporary.  I grew up in traditional worship and I know the hymns, the liturgies, and everything else that comes with.  I have an appreciation for it, but it doesn't feed my soul the way that some of the newer worship songs do.  I want to be able to sing loud and without the trouble of stumbling over thys and thous.  I haven't had the opportunity to worship in a truly contemporary worship setting on a regular basis since I was in college.  The two churches prior to Mt. Bethel had what they called contemporary worship, but it was watered down and still 10 years (or more) behind the times.

I miss it.

Earlier today I had lunch with our senior adults.  People I love dearly - men and women who have fantastic stories to tell and wisdom to share.  I enjoy my time with them.  I did get a chuckle out of the gathering when more than one person talked about how they wished they would see more young people in our church.  They segued from that topic to all of their aches and pains and all sorts of age-related ailments.  (You have to learn to filter a lot of the conversation or you'll hear way too much information sometimes.)

Meanwhile, our Council of Bishops and other various task forces are studying why younger people are choosing other churches, or no church at all.  There's not a Bishop on the Council under 50 and each task force has the requisite, solitary young adult.  Last time I tried to work with a group of older adults on reaching young men and women, the best suggestion they could come up with was to hold a dance at the church with punch and cookies.  No offense, but if I want to know how the church needs to be transformed to reach young adults, I'm probably going to put young adults in charge of the transformation and get out of their way. 

I'm a young adult - at least for another 5 1/2 years.  My friends are young adults.  I hang around young adults (when I'm not eating at a thanksgiving luncheon at the church). 

Do you want your church to grow?  Do you want the average age of your congregation or your denomination to get younger?  Perhaps instead of having another task force take a look at it you should boost your young adults to a level of higher authority (instead of making them earn their stripes first) and get out of their way.  If you want younger families, give people like them the freedom to make changes to worship, to Sunday school or Bible study, to the way their children are ministered to, to the way everything else gets done. 

I'm tired of being acknowledged in meetings and conferences for my age and never getting asked my perspective on such a big issue.  Its not just me, its the majority of young ministers and young laypeople (and there aren't many of us!  Don't worry, God is still the same yesterday, today, and forever - even if you have drums in worship and stop having so many committee meetings.

In the words of a young Will Smith, "Parents just don't understand."