When the conversation turns to “the decline of the church,” especially among young adults, we tend to focus on program, technique and demography. But we seldom talk about the need for, and the difficulty of, church being a place of authentic relationship in community. While we tinker, we do not face the truth that many people–not just young adults– are just “one Sunday brunch away from never returning.”
Alaina Kleinbeck, writing in Call and Response blog, shares why she is on the thin edge of never going back to church.
I love the people in my church. They are dear friends who are changing their community, themselves and me, but I’m not much into “church” as it happens on a Sunday morning. It’s too loud, too long, too stimulating, too much. Opportunity abounds for someone to unknowingly use an expression that reminds me of harmful words spoken by spiritual leaders in my past. I’m exhausted over finding a place to sit that doesn’t make me look like a lonely loser, but won’t also require me to small talk with a near-stranger.
There are significant cultural reasons why my peers and friends are disenfranchised from their church, but the isolation and exhaustion is felt on the personal level. Unless our concern for the future of the church takes a personal turn towards the real experience of people in our pews, there’s little hope for change.
If the goal is to prompt young adults to return to the traditional church, I worry the effort is futile.
Sure, some young people haven’t left and won’t. Some may return in response to crisis, and others at the birth of their children. But many will continue to stay away or will leave again, protecting their child or themselves from the negative experiences of mean Sunday School teachers, side-eye stares in the sanctuary for vague indiscretions, or being shamed from the pulpit week after week for being fallible and finite or for a mere difference of opinion.
For many of my peers, it’s easier stay off the grid away from the brutal expectations of the traditional church. For many, this is not being “spiritual but not religious” nor is it an avoidance of discipleship. In my observation, it is more about building a life of sustainable faith that is not dependent upon the institutions that seem so prone to inflicting harm.
The most sustainable faith community I’ve belonged to is a group of women committed to gathering once a week and be real over food and drink. Sometimes, the Spirit shows up in prayer and comforting the hurt. Sometimes, the body of Christ feeds hungry bodies and spirits. Sometimes, we ask hard questions and push for deeper understanding of God, others and ourselves. Sometimes, the reign of God is made known through conversations and participating in local social action.