Monday, 27 August 2012

the [un]healthy cult of youth and the old church welcome chestnut

It's an expressed wish, a  catch-phrase, a mantra.
It's a cry of the heart, no more than lip-service, and everything in-between.
It's missional, a sticking-plaster, and perhaps oddly vampiric.
It's a gaping hole, the missing link, the holy grail.
It features on most parish profiles as a need, is ever-present at General Assembly, and if we don't have 'it', we are warned by the sayers of doom that will shuffle into oblivion.

'It' being all wrapped up in the ubiquitous
'we want more children and young people in church'.
Do we?
And what do we plan to 'do' with them?
Have we asked them?
Do we consult this longed for target group when we imagine and prepare fabulous programmes?  [to be fair, sometimes, yes]
Do we mutter darkly about them and their 'priorities' and 'lack of commitment' in our disappointment when they don't eagerly come rushing along to participate?
'They should come!'
'We like to have them in the church'
Are they trophies?
'We like to see them, them'
Hmmm, but not hear them, not be distracted if they are moving about 'more than is really quite acceptable'
Are we actually prepared to welcome them and accommodate ourselves to their needs, I wonder, even if that means the way liturgy is structured, or furniture and equipment might need to be changed?  
Given the prevalence of 'you're in my pew' horror stories when it comes to visitors who are adults, are we prepared to make any type of accommodation to those who are 'not actually us'?
How do we go about being even a little tiny bit more better at just welcoming folk into the kirk should they dare to venture across what can be a daunting threshold?

I do not deny that in various pockets of the wider church that it would appear that the church has a dearth of children and youth.  But I wonder why we are so fixated on this particular age group?
They are not the only generation missing.
Where are the 20 and 30-somethings?
Or folk in their 40's and even 50's?
We are missing several generations - children, and those of parent and grandparent age.

I am not saying we shouldn't want to have children and young people in church; I'm puzzled over why we are focusing upon just them almost to the exclusion of every other generation?
Occasionally, I wonder if it is about energy, and conversely, about tiredness.
Underneath the expressed wish, is there a desire to hand over the ever-increasing, ever-exhausting burden of looking after the fabric of a building which can become the all-consuming focus of a congregation?
Are we imprisoned by buildings which are called 'church', and yet, are merely stone and mortar? 

Perhaps a little missional balance and re-prioritising is in order.
I am not sure I know what the solution is; I do know, however, I never felt freer and more 'church' in the flesh and bone manner as when I was working within a congregation that wasn't shackled by the constraints of a building and which met in the local high school.

This is not a rant.  I am just trying to work some thoughts out in my small, tired brain concerning approaches to mission.  We do need to go beyond the plaintive 'we need children and young people' however and work out how to engage with that great diverse huge bunch of humanity beyond the kirk doors... oh, and while we're at it, might we also stop fixating about who falls in love with whom?


Mrs Gerbil said...

I also think there can be too much focus on bums on seats, rather than spreading the gospel. The good news can be about how Christians live their lives and all who we meet encountering Christ - old and young. That won't necessarily get them into church on a Sunday morning, but it might just give them a relationship with God, surely that's where we should be focusing? Then maybe, just maybe, the people will come?

Nik said...

Yes. When I was employed as a project worker for an ecumenical partnership, it was very hard to get the group of churches to move beyond seeing the work as a potential pew-fodder project. They never quite managed to move beyond the walls of their buildings, whilst oddly setting up a project that was way out there and had the potential to be an incredibly cutting-edge new way of being.
Perhaps we are just creatures of habit, and perhaps I should be less frustrated and judging!