“How to Welcome Young People to the Mainline Church”

Rachel Held Evans (above) was just 37 years old when she died unexpectedly in 2019 of brain swelling. She was one of those contemporary “movers & shakers” in the arena of dragging Christianity in America into the 21st century. Rachel was an Episcopalian, although she soon tired of the culture wars that the church seemed to be continuously fomenting, so she stepped out on her own and discovered her path with Jesus … her calling in this church renewal movement that we are all a part of. 

Rachel was a writer and speaker with an important voice for the church. Rather than focus on judging others who are not like us and figuring out how best to exclude them, she instead took the Jesus approach. It still sounds crazy, but Rachel wanted the church to love everyone just as Jesus loved the church. So, she would say, her ministry was trying to figure out how to reach out to all the outcasts and unwanted based on the current Christian church approach, and make all of those left behind the focal point of the church’s love. 

I think we all know where she got that idea. It’s just that we’re not used to someone standing up for Jesus like that, and scolding the church for what it had become. Bottom-line: in many cases, in a variety of ways, that church today in America does not look like the Body of Christ in the world. Rather, the church often looks more like the Pharisees of the 1st century, instead of the Jesus followers of the 21st century. 

Rachel Held Evans was a hero to many, and she shined lights on the dark corners of the modern-day church that exposed it for what it was … a human led organization that claims Jesus as Lord, but really uses self-made beliefs and truths about Jesus as the principles they live by. And, unlike Jesus, that ends up leaving many of God’s precious children outside the walls of the church. If today’s church could only build bridges to all of the left-out populations they’ve created, we would be doing Jesus a great service to begin building back His church. 

Today, let’s start with one of those left out groups: How to welcome young people to the mainline Christian church today. In May 2015, Rachel wrote an essay for her blog that offers 7 ways to attract and keep young adults and parents of young children. Here are her 7 suggestions for us. Let’s consider how these ideas could impact our plans at Vine Street Christian Church as we prepare to move beyond the COVID-19 era and into our new future together.

  • Update Your Website: Young folks tend to start their search for anything by using the web. We have been blessed with some internet angels at our church who have brought us into the modern technological era, but we are still at minimum impact. We should continue to enhance and upgrade our website and Facebook page so that it is inviting and attractive to this critical group of folks. 
  • Take Risks on Unconventional Church Plants: Sometimes the goal of a church should not be to attract more people to their one way and time of doing worship, but rather create a way and time to meet young people and parents where they are in their daily life. (Sunday morning at 10am is not always conducive to the millennium lifestyle.) What about a mini-church for small groups that is convenient and relevant to them? What about a dinner church? What about a front porch church? What about a silent meditative church that only listens for God? 
  • Infuse the Traditional Liturgy and Sacraments with Creativity: Research shows us that many young people appreciate the traditions and rituals of the church, but would prefer that they be enhanced creatively in a way that makes them meaningful to everyone, and not just the senior members of the congregation who have been sitting through the same routines for ages. Let’s bring these parts of the service to life and to relevance through the eyes of the young. 
  • Relax a Little: We are blessed at Vine Street these days with a diverse group of participants from different walks of life and with different views on the issues of the day. And that’s how it should be! But, to keep that great spirit alive, the service should be devoid of an atmosphere of stuffiness and stiffness. Saying, “but we’ve always done it this way,” is the same as telling a child, “you can look, but please don’t break anything.” And we all know how fun it never was to hear those words! Let’s be relaxed, have good fellowship, be ourselves, and lighten up. 
  • Don’t Assume We Know Why You Believe What You Believe, or Why You Do What You Do: Even though many of us have more experience with church, many more do not. When they enter our church, it should not feel like a test they need to figure out on their own. It should be instead, a comfortable and calming experience that allows each person to know and understand what we’re doing and why. It’s always a good idea to include “Church 101” elements in each service, so that everyone is on the same page; no secrets. 
  • Challenge Us: Offering “Church 101” elements in the service does not mean dumbing down the faith and trying to make the most important lessons we can learn in life into a pre-scripted made-to-order self-help manual with only the things you must believe in to be just like us. The church should not, and cannot, be afraid of pushing and challenging young adults in their walk with Jesus. After all, just ask the 12 disciples if Jesus was challenging or not! 
  • Help Us Build Lasting Relationships: A real “church” based on the teachings of Jesus must have methods and practices to bring together small groups of people so that they can experience what the Holy Spirit is like when believers gather together to share openly and honestly, and to learn about Jesus as well. In many ways, that is the definition of church – the Body of Christ in the world today. The worship service alone cannot fulfill that need. True and lasting Christian friends are formed in places where our faith, doubts, questions, ideas, struggles and joys, can all be shared, knowing that the Spirit of Jesus will be the only basis for discussing them. 

We are now entering the next phase in our growth as a church. The circumstances in the world this past year have created a great opportunity for us to make leaps and bounds in becoming who Jesus is calling us to be. That opportunity does not come along very often in a lifetime. I say, let’s grab this opportunity we have and embrace it together, whole-heartedly. 

Let’s do now, what in the future, the participants of Vine Street Christian Church will say was the turning point in the history of our church. 

Loaves & Fishes, Pastor Bob <><

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