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Where have all the young people gone?

Where have all the young people gone?

Mark Silk offers some food for thought in his response to the current debate about progressive, liberal, and conservative churches and their decline/growth:

“Mainline Protestants like Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists have stopped working to keep their young people within the fold. Southern Baptists and other large conservative churches have been too doctrinaire. The Catholic abuse scandals, combined with retrenchment from the Vatican II, have alienated a significant number of the faithful. Not belonging, not showing up for worship, is an option that doesn’t attract the neighbors’ opprobrium these days, and many Americans are availing themselves of it.”

Are young people involved in your Episcopal Church? Are you a person under 30 or 20 involved in a church? Why? What keeps you involved? What could the church do better?

Gay Jennings, newly elected President of the House of Deputies has engaged young leaders on Twitter today.

And then of course there are these exchanges:


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John Shirley

Eric, I totally agree with you!!! I was blessed to have clergy that were willing to just hangout and discuss anything and everything, without the heavy hand of an agenda, but, at the same time, bringing our questions, conversations, and life concerns into a Christian sphere, particularly an Episcopal/Anglican response. In hindsight, it was the best form of evangelization and outreach I have ever seen or experienced.

-John Shirley


In my experience, many smaller parishes don’t really know what to do with younger people, unless it’s to put them to work on local service projects, etc. If you’re in a parish like that, I’d encourage you to map out a written plan to welcome young people, even if it’s just coffee or happy hour from time to time.

I also remain concerned — and I know that I have said this previously on e-cafe — is that we may have gone too far in setting boundaries. One of the things I loved about my college years was hanging out with clergy, having coffee, talking about everything from bad music to random sex. Concededly, the conversation often was banal, but at the same time it was both formative and reassuring.

Today, however, both resource constraints and fears about being overly familiar likely would prevent this sort of campus outreach. Yet, in retrospect, this interaction was one of the greatest things the church could do for young people in the area. Let us just hope that in the mad rush that is the day-to-day life of the average parish priest she or he is still able to make time for this sort of unstructured outreach, and to recognize its value.

Eric Bonetti

Charles Everson

I’m 32 and am not in the least interested in “liturgical innovation.” If I wanted that, I would go to some Protestant denomination. I’m Anglican because 1) I believe in the doctrine of apostolic succession; 2) I believe that Jesus Christ is made manifest to us in the 7 sacraments; 3) I believe in the Nicene Creed; 4) I believe in social justice, loving my neighbor as myself, and LGBT rights; 5) I believe that church music should be “other-worldly” and not even remotely the same as what I hear on the radio.

Start messing with gender inclusivity, liturgical music, devaluing baptism by intentionally inviting the non-baptized to the communion rail…start turning me off to church.

Start teaching that God wants us receive his rich and extravagant grace through Jesus Christ (meaning through repentance from sin and humbly receiving the sacraments), that He longs for us to fully devote ourselves in service to the poor and needy, that the Church believes that the fact that my partner is a male is irrelevant…turn me on to church.

Bill Dilworth

“However, if young folks IN GENERAL love traditional music, then why don’t mainline churches IN GENERAL have higher youth membership?”

On the other hand, if young people in general love liturgical innovation and a conscious emphasis on progressive issues, why aren’t the Unitarian Universalists bursting at the seams with 20-something’s?

Weiwen Ng

Folks, my first name is Weiwen. do not address me directly by my last name.

Some commenters responded that they know buildings full of younger folks who love traditional music. Good for them. However, if young folks IN GENERAL love traditional music, then why don’t mainline churches IN GENERAL have higher youth membership?

I take offense at the suggestion that anything innovative in liturgy will fail, therefore let’s stick with what’s worked in the past. The system we sign in to this site on was an innovation that some probably thought was a fad. The Internet we connected to this site on was probably thought of as impractical at some point. Many innovations do fail, but the good ones succeed.

Also, some commenters assumed that liturgical innovation must necessarily displace prior liturgy – that’s not actually true. It’s not a zero sum game. However, the more people refuse to change, the more I am going to act like it’s a zero sum game. Either way, innovative liturgical approaches can coexist with the deep sense of tradition that is inherent in our approach – some readers may not have got this, but I said in my first post that I found much Evangelical music to be too shallow.

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