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On being relevant to the young

On being relevant to the young

There are good reasons, culturally, why church does not work for many people, especially many young people. By and large church is a place where human beings come to interact together in person and inter-generationally, discuss an ancient text, and participate in a bunch of archaic rituals. In short, it is a counter-cultural situation in the extreme. A very common response to the counter-cultural character of church is to try to make the church “relevant,” which is often a synonym for non-counter-cultural, hip, trendy, and full of Power Point.

A few words on relevancy: making your church hip and trendy (coffee bar; free wireless; pastor with tattoos and ripped jeans) will probably draw in the young people. If your only goal is getting young people in your door, these things will work. Free alcohol will work even better (I guess you could advertise the Eucharist that way…). I don’t have a problem with coffee, wireless, tattoos or ripped jeans or thimble-size-sips of alcohol. It’s just that, what do these things have to do with being relevant?

That’s Tamie Harkins in her blog post Making the Church More Accessible to Folks Under 35.

She lists six “finding ways” like,

2. Some Sunday, in place of the sermon, have everyone get in pairs in which the age differential must be at least 30 years. Have the pair ask each other these questions: What brings you joy? What is really hard in your life right now? Describe for me what an ordinary day is like for you. What is one of your great regrets? What is something you have done that makes you really proud of yourself? The idea here is for people of different ages to begin to know each other.

Are you up for it?


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Kate Beck

As an Episcopalian who is under 35, I am always interested in the ideas people have about engaging the younger generation and drawing them into the church. I thought that these suggestions were not very practical. For example, suggestion 2 seems to create a forced conversation for both parties. The proposed questions are really quite personal in nature. This is no way to foster authentic intergenerational dialogue. I also don’t think that this getting to know you exercise should replace the sermon and interrupt the liturgy. I would think that some members of my church might become more resistant to “change” if they felt like these activities were disrupting their worship experience. While I think that it is important to try to attract young people to church, I don’t think that people of any age are going to find this intense approach very appealing.

Katie Beck


One person’s “gimmicky bull” is likely another’s effective evangelism.

Clint Davis

A couple of things. People identify religiously mostly because they identify culturally with a community. If that increasingly tired mix of frosty, old-school WASP culture and 70-80’s identity-based “liberalism” is what your parish still feels like, then maybe you need a makeover. Are identity theologies still being discussed A) in a business casual atmosphere, or B) essentially out of the back of a Subaru? Then start over. Try again. Next. Redo. Reset. This has actually very little to do with worship style, though this can affect the way the liturgy unfolds, or more accurately, is interrupted by attempts to be cute, fun, relevant or superficially inclusive.

All the above is said somewhat tongue in cheek. Or is it? Episcopalians must must must must believe this: our ancient traditions have POWER. Yes, I said it, POWER. This power is no less than power over sin and death. Yes, I mean that, I’m not kidding. The love of Christ that conquers all things is transmitted by the sights, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes of the ancient liturgy, and by the Christian and the Christian community bringing this love-power into every encounter in daily life. Placing the supreme value on this is not negotiable, it is the fountain and source of everything, yes EVERYTHING else we do. The power of our witness to inclusion is compromised if it is not rooted in–I’m sorry, Low-Churchers–the deeply Catholic and ancient traditions of our faith. When all else fails, even “Biblical authority”, what remains and is utterly irreplacable is the experience of the Risen Christ in a loving community celebrating the Eucharist.

The problem is, we so easily obscure this fountain and source because of all the other things we think we need to be doing. I do not include in this critique the charitable work that Jesus commanded us to do, though isn’t it interesting that it’s harder to mess up a soup kitchen or food pantry with our pet cultures, hip “theological perspectives” or “worship wars”?


God this post is bogus.

1. The church is ANYTHING but counter-cultural. It IS the institution, especially in the US.

2. What does an intergenerational discussion about our lives have to do with church? Touchy-feely and not about liturgy or Eucharist.

3. C-13, permission to submit additional items? Greg Rickel posted this ( re: YAs and TEC a few days ago.

-Wm. Goforth

Gregory Orloff

Quite frankly, the fact that church is so “countercultural” in its “ancient texts” and “archaic (who says?) rituals” is what makes it attractive to many young people — so long, as Clint noted, it’s done well. That it’s so different than the increasingly homogenized (and thus increasingly dull) pop culture youth get immersed in is a point of attraction. Church is one of the last places we have left in our culture to feel the freedom to sing and think, rather than merely consume and imitate!

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