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Reaching out to young adults collaboratively

Reaching out to young adults collaboratively

A news story highlights an aspect of evangelism we often forget and that is that evangelism is more than just selling your denomination.

The news story comes from Charlotte, NC, where 20 churches have banded together to form Charlotte ONE, an ecumenical ministry aimed at twenty to thirty year olds.

Young people were streaming into a beautifully adorned United Methodist Church, and by the time the lights dimmed for the Christian rock band Gungor (and their opening act, The Brilliance), the capacity crowd numbered more than 600. The audience was not, by and large, made up of members of United Methodist.

Rather, the mostly single professionals and students were brought here by Charlotte ONE, a collaboration of 40 or so area churches trying to reach this demographic. Such regular and extensive cooperation of mainline and evangelical Protestant churches from every major denomination is not a typical feature of American religious life. They are more likely to be competing for each other’s members. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Many of the more than 700 churches in this area (and all over the country, for that matter) have tried to run so-called young-adult ministries—but with little success. James Michael Smith, a co-founder of Charlotte ONE, tells me that a common problem is the return on investment: “Young adults are the least reliable, the most mobile and they don’t give financially either.” In order even to get them in the door, he adds, churches have to offer “the wow factor.”

But the wow factor—expensive bands, charismatic preachers, elaborate social events—doesn’t come cheap. What’s more, many religious leaders worry that offering that kind of experience only encourages young people to think about “the attractional church,” the kind of place you go for entertainment but not for any long-term commitment.

The organizers say they are happy to see the free market at work in other arenas, but they worry that “shopping for God,” as one book title recently had it, is not an appropriate way to view faith.

Unfortunately, no Episcopalians are listed as “partner churches”, but one of our Cafe editors, Nick Knisely, reports that Trinity Cathedral is apart of a similar project in Phoenix, so we figure that “participation” does not equal “partnership” for the purposes of getting your churches name listed.


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I’m all for ecumenism, especially to reach out and make sure that we are spreading the Gospel. However, at what point do we also do our own ministry? We have historic and very real differences with our other brothers and sisters. I lead in both episcopal and ecumenical campus ministries, and they each have their benefits, but I notice a couple important differences:

– as a gay college student, I am not always welcome with certain Christians, and that is incredibly hard for someone discerning the call to the priesthood. How do I do ecumenism honestly with those who seek to deny my rights and my identities?

– Sometimes ecumenism is superficial and ignores very real theological differences, like our views on the eucharist.

– Views on the bible, we don’t all read it the same. We have different theological takes, some of which are contradictory.

How do we reconcile these differences? Which ones do we compromise on? Who do we ignore in the process?

-Gregory Stark

Laurel Cornell

Whoops — I forgot one category: the buskers and street performers. Can we bring our continuo organ and perform some stentorian music? (Not a keyboard, please: that’s too fundamentalist Christian!)

Laurel Cornell

It’s Saturday morning and I just got back from the Farmers’ Market. There are lots of hipsters there — with their tattoos and lip rings and baby carriages — especially after 10am. Should we be there as well? And under what category? The vegetables and plants stands? There are lots and lots of cooperative farms around here: groups of people practicing sustainability, as well as the traditional individual farmers. Can we supply a stand with the produce from a garden on our front lawn? How about the food stands — the organic bread and pretzels, the tamales and Italian pastries? Our ministry is all about sharing bread, and we do have a part-time cook. (Remember the delicious Trappist fruitcakes!) The third category is the non-profit groups card tables (though they are less frequented than the other two categories). Handouts? (“How long is a service? And what happens in it? Will I be struck by lightning if I take communion when I’m not baptized?) Yard signs? (Vote Episcopalian! Blue, white and red, for sure — with lots of stars!) The Jehovah’s Witnesses are there — as are the Baha’i. Why not us?

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