Where are they?

Where are the 18-30 year olds?

We know they’re not attending standard-issue church. And they’re mostly not attending the alternative churches developed to “reach” them. This issue has been analyzed and analyzed some more, by people way smarter than I. That’s not the purpose of this post.

The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 (who are sitting in pews, slick auditoriums, and rented elementary school gyms) to find the 1. He doesn’t chase down that renegade sheep in order to tell him that resistance is futile. The passage in Scripture simply tells us that the Shepherd hunts down the sheep and rejoices when he is united with it.

Perhaps because I have 3 young adult children – or because my little day job is at a place full of young adults – or because I read young adults’ blogs, listen to the music they create, and observe and learn from the way they dress and interact with the older world – – –

– – – I admire them. I admire their passion, their willingness to ask questions, their creativity and facility with technology, their honesty, and their desire for risk and authenticity. I know that a few are starting churches and home fellowships. I know there are others who’ve cast their lot with other alternative types of faith communities (urban monasteries, discipleship schools, service organizations) because they want to DO something, rather than be passive spectators. Most of them are not interested in our slogans, org charts and pre-chewed cud.
There is a generation of sheep wandering. When I pray for them, I hear a soft bleating in my ears.
This morning, Bill and I were chatting with a nice man our age who asked, “If Paul and Peter came back and visited our churches, what would they think? Once they got past the technology, would they be happy with what we’re doing? Singing? Proclaiming? Would they even recognize the message? Why?”
With all my heart, I believe that many of the 18-30 year-old wandering sheep may have wandered because they’re looking for the Shepherd. They’re not finding him where we’ve been telling them we’ve been keeping him.
Agree? Disagree?
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13 thoughts on “M.I.A.”

  1. Michelle,
    I agree – they’re a wandering generation and most churches are not helping to lead them to the Shepherd who will show them the direction home.

    We’re grateful to have the opportunity of working with hundreds of this age group who have come looking for answers and shelter in the midst of the chaos of twenty-first century life.

  2. I ran across this post a few days (weeks?) ago and found it again after I read your post. Thought provoking, although I know nothing about this author or who he represents.

    So often, churches try so darn hard to attempt to seem relevant and hip to the youth, when in reality, the youth see them as a bunch of middle-agers trying to reclaim their youthfulness by trying real hard to be hip and relevant. (We have an 18 & 20 year old and we talk. This is what they tell me.) I sure God doesn’t care if He’s hip and He is relevant because He is. But we often fail to get that across, especially to our kids.

  3. Greg – you’re blessed to a part of a ministry that has been wonderfully counter-cultural for over a generation. How to have a community experience like L’Abri in the car-dependent disconnected suburban church culture, one that would engage young adults’ questions and struggles and use the gifts of the more mature? How can it happen?

    And anonymous – your link to an article describing the bland entertainment of the basic church youth group is sadly accurate. Those youth group kids discover that pizza and embarassing attempts at relevance by leaders won’t fill their empty souls, and drift away in droves as they enter the college/career years. Your kids are more or less in the same age zone as ours – I’d love to hear what they’re telling you they long for in a church.

    Thanks, both of you, for your comments!

  4. Disagree. Because, I believe that the Shepherd keeps us, we don’t keep him. I also believe that there are many reasons of “why” people behave/respond/react that is simply God’s to know, and we don’t need to. Maybe, we need to accept and love the people in our lives without knowing the Whys?. Jesus wants us to love, whether we know all the “whys?” or not. I believe that love is the key to open up the locks in all the questions of “why”. Forgive and love those silly churches, whether “why” is known or not.

  5. Love, absolutely, is the key. And perhaps love is about reliqunishing the natural desire to ask why.

    But maybe asking why is a form of love, too. Challenging the status quo (especially if the status quo isn’t working very well) might be the way we learn to love.

  6. This is “Anonymous #1” replying.
    What do my kids say they want in church? Meat. They want Bible study that goes beyond the “let’s have fun” mentality, that says something besides “the world is evil and you better hunker down with your church friends and avoid non-Christians as best you can, because they are all out to get you”; they want to KNOW Jesus, not just know about Him. They want to see adults who believe a faith community to be something beyond a place to feel good about yourself, to feed your ego and self-esteem, something beyond Jesus morphed into Dr. Phil. They want reassurance that God is relevent because He is God, not because He makes your life great, or fun, or cool, or successful.
    How is that accomplished? That’s the tough part, I know. The devil truly is in the details.

  7. Hey Anon #1 – Your kids are hungry. A lot of the kids I know are hungry, too. Offering them spiritual food they actually have to chew and digest is a part of the deal. The other part of the deal is your question: “How is that accomplished?” A lot of leaders resort to tricks and gimmicks with the best of intentions – to lead youth to a place where meat is served. But they all see right through the ruse.

    Anonymous #1 = what do your kids say? What is holding them to a life of faith?

    This is the question I am asking more and more of the young adults I know who are pressing forward in their walk with the Lord.

  8. Michelle,
    I believe it can happen, but no doubt it will be hard and sometimes frustrating.

    There would need to be a constellation of factors taking place and I’ll just mention two. Starting to make connections (both ideas and people) is essential in a culture of fragmentation. Being intentional about community and offering shelter are also steps in the right direction.

  9. I believe challenging the status quo may become detrimental to spiritual health when it becomes status quo to challenge. The danger is in bitterness desguised as church analysis. Grace, submission to authority and humble service in a church sometimes requires putting aside our own analysis. Try the experience of moving from analysis to active love, aka humble service. Move from the postition of Analyzer to servant. There are plenty of healthy churches to do this in, if we choose to do so.

  10. I found your post and I’m in this age group. churches need to stop trying so hard to be relevant and “seeker friendly.” those things aren’t bad, but they seem to get so caught up in that they lose the realness and love of God. why would i want to go somewhere that is so focused on reaching “people like me.” i want to go somewhere where God is real and evident in the lives of the people there. i want passion and desire and realness. don’t be intimidated by the 18-30 year old’s and act like they need a special program, love them.

  11. Thank you, younger anonymous! That is what I was trying to say and, in a very succinct manner, what my children have been saying. Be real and leave the marketing to Macy’s.

  12. Great discussion, y’all.

    To anonymous with the wise caution about allowing bitterness to masquerade as analysis – thank you. Good, true reminder.

    To “young anonymous” and “parent anonymous” – I’m glad you both stopped by. What you expressed is what so many want – the real.

  13. the real…and less complaining. as i read through other posts i feel like “here we go again…more complaining about stuff, and no doing.” what about people just worshipping God where you are and doing your best with what he has given you? there is no perfect church. there are no perfect people. worship God where ever you are. love people where they are at. pray for them. lead by example.

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