I just finished reading a book written by Dan Kimball. Kimball is a leader in the emerging church movement, and has written extensively about the millennial generation and their relationship (or lack thereof) with the church. The book in question is titled, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. Essentially the book is based on what can best be described as anecdotal research. Kimball interviewed (rather extensively) a number of millennials who are not churchgoers.
I read the book, in part, because I like and trust the parishioner who gave it to me--and value her opinion. She thought it was a worthwhile read. And it was. And though one cannot say conclusively that Kimball has figured out what's going on in terms of the lack of twenty-somethings in our pews, I think he has put his finger on a number of issues.
Basically, it boils down to this. While some of his interviewees had some experience with churches, most of that proved to be negative. Others were speaking strictly as outsiders, with opinions of the church largely shaped by the media and the Internet.
So what were their complaints, their issues, their concerns? Well, here's the list as summarized by Kimball: the church is . . . an organized religion with a political agenda; judgmental and negative; dominated by males and oppressive of females; homophobic; arrogantly claiming all other religions are wrong, and full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.
Obviously, his subjects haven't been involved with my congregation. While I think there are reasons
why younger people aren't filling our pews, few if any of the concerns articulated by Kimball are true of this particular faith community. But that doesn't mean we aren't tarred by the same brush. And if the truth be told, we know it. I suspect some of my parishioners hesitate to identify themselves as Christians, or as active churchgoers, precisely because they don't want to be mistaken for misogynistic fundamentalists who hate gay people. Even more may say something like, "I go to church, but it is not one of those fundamentalist churches, you know?"
I guess, in the end, those of us who are a part of progressive, mainline congregations and denominations need to do a better job of getting out our story. People need to know there are alternatives to what they may see portrayed on television or online.
Here's part of the message we print on the cover of our bulletin every week: "If you are looking for a friendly church . . . where you will be loved and accepted regardless of age, class, race, ethnicity or orientation . . . where you will be challenged to reflect on your beliefs, acknowledge your doubts, ask your questions and grow in your faith . . . where God's desire for compassion, healing, reconciliation, justice and joy is preached . . .where you are given the opportunity to put your faith into action through effective outreach ministries . . . then we hope to get to know you as a new friend."
There's just one problem, of course, people have to come through the doors to get a bulletin to see the message. Ultimately, though we do post such messages on Facebook, on our website, and through this blog, ultimately, it falls to each of us here on Sanibel, and wherever progressive Christians are found, to have the courage to share that message.
There's an old-fashioned word for it. One we progressives tend to shy away from. It's evangelism--which after all means sharing the Good News. And part of the good news is that not every church is like those you see on television!