I have just read an article sharing about why 20-30 year olds are leaving Baptist churches in America. I think it is a good article and speaks a lot of sense and, although it is written in the American context, I think there are some good points that the UK church can listen to.
I believe the difference here though is that the reality is that 20-30 year olds are not really engaging with church in the first place in the UK. I suspect that most teenagers who have grown up in church leave before they are 18 years old and are not seen very often in church after that.
One of the points that is made in the article is most 20-30 year olds want an authentic faith where people are transparent and open to dialogue rather than being told what they should believe in dogmatic ways.
As a 20-30 year old and having conversations with my friends in that age bracket I would have to agree. People want the opportunity to discuss and share and question what they are hearing. Very post-modern. They want the opportunity to be heard and taken seriously. They want to be able to challenge traditional notions of religion and faith and be assured that they will be listened to and taken seriously. But I think it is more than that.
People want integrity. If they are in dialogue with a Christian they want them to show integrity of belief, not only in their actions but also in the way they have come to that belief.
It is easy to be a fundamentalist. I can see everything in black and white and not really think about what I believe or grapple with the reality of the human existence. But that is not integrity of belief.
20-30 year olds want people to have seriously thought about why they believe what they believe and how that REALLY impacts our lives. It is no good spouting of religious language and ideals. We need to have thought through properly why we believe Jesus is Lord. Now I know that so much of faith is heart condition, a transformation on the inside. And that is good, for as Jesus said, out of the heart comes the truth of our condition. But Jesus also said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I believe many 20-30 year olds listen to Christians and think that they have literally lost their mind. It leads to a lack of integrity.
The challenge for the church in the UK is also not to create clone churches where everyone looks like everyone else. So many churches, and I suspect even more so in new church movements, simply have a clone culture where everybody looks like everybody else. The church is called to be diverse and I would argue that the local church is called to be diverse, drawing in people from all backgrounds and all walks of life seeing how we can be one in God.
I believe 20-30 year olds who have a desire to think for themselves enjoy diversity and the challenges it brings. It is also to not put everyone in a box which I have been in danger of doing by simply writing this post.
The church can slip into the culture and create sub-cultures where everyone looks the same (think about fashion, tv and music), or we can seek radical new ways of being a diverse local community.
Honest dialogue, thought out integrity and radical diversity are, I believe, a way forward for the UK church to engage meaningfully with the 20-30 years olds in this nation.
And here is an example of one such 20-30 year old!