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Christian Faith and the Next Generation

In the past few months several Building Faith articles have focused on topics addressed at the May Children, Youth and  a New Kind of Christianity Conference in Washington, DC. The conference organizers have begun releasing podcasts of the keynote speakers, the first one from noted author, Brian McLaren.

Some of McLaren’s initial comments can be found here. You can also listen to his entire presentation here. The question we’ll share here that he spoke on is, “How can we reclaim the drop-outs from our church? How do we promote retention of young adults?” But first we need to understand why this generation has left in the first place.

McLaren reviews the points made in Dave Kinnamon’s recent book, “You Lost Me.” In quantifying why young adults (in some cases a whole generation) has left the church, he feels that the Church (note the capital “C”):

  • Is overprotective – it is a creativity killer
  • Is shallow – it offers easy platitudes
  • Is anti-science – it does not welcome questioning, which is what science is all about (why, how, etc.?)
  • Is repressive – (see overprotective)
  • Is exclusive – it includes those who follows its belief system only
  • Is doubtless – it is shows excessive confident, meaning it (the Church) has all the answers

Today’s Christianity (for the most part) offers an inductive faith (learning the answers and the ‘truth’) for children that doesn’t work for most adults. Many congregations in mainline Christianity are aging  and have members who are no longer parents or even grandparents of small children. They are “aging out” without an understanding of how to create environments for a new generation (young adult, as well as children). All of our Christian traditions have peaked and are now struggling with depression, what Diana Butler Bass calls, “the religious bear market.”

McLaren challenged churches to look at their statistical records of children’s enrollment and youth ministry participation. If you have a better than 20% retention rate past youth group you should determine what you are doing that is making this successful. The system has not been “minding the gap” between youth group participation and church participation. Yes, many go off to college or move to other communities . . . but how do we keep in touch with them . . . how do we know where we have succeeded or failed in forming Christians? We need to start talking about whole life spiritual formation in a new kind of Christian faith in which adults are eager to continue their formation and not just that of children and youth who then “graduate” and not need anymore engagement with learning to be a disciple of Jesus (just like the parents who they will become). We see that many adults drop out as soon as they raise their children, perpetuating the understanding of education is just for children.

It’s not enough to have a great children’s ministry. It’s not enough to have a great youth ministry. Where are all the connectors? What happens next? Richard Rohr would ask those in their 40’s and 50’s, what happens in the “second half of life” to nourish your spiritual journey in a faith community?

The Church has always been an evolutionary faith. Acts of the Apostles (chapter) 1 to Acts 28 is an evolution of how the Church grew and adapted to the environment in which it found itself. Faith cannot be frozen in a box.

Evolution is always optional. Extinction is always possible.

There are many models that currently exist that follow this adaptive, creative way of being church. John Westerhoff (Will Our Children Have Faith?) has been outlining this model for years. Jerome Berryman has given us a model in Godly Play that offers such expansive ways of engaging with God and our faith. The Network of Biblical Storytellers engage creatively with the biblical story. There are many models begin developed by publishers – we need to share these broadly across our denominational spectrums.

Questions we need to ponder and answer as we move toward the future:

  1. What is the purpose of our church?
  2. What is the message we proclaim?
  3. What does this look and feel like?
  4. How do we do it?
  5. How do we move from here to there?
  6. Who are we?
  7. What condition are we in to move forward?

McLaren looks to the work of Otto Scharmer (MIT) and his Awareness-based Leadership Platform.Programs (curriculum) won’t solve the problem, it’s the systemic issues involved – those who may be trying to implement it that could sabotage it all, unknowingly. We need to be open to the Spirit, open to new ideas, open to the person who is right next to us.

Seven Components of Awareness 

  1. Theological detoxification
  2. Christian identity formation (without hostility to others)
  3. Integral mission (economic, social, environmental, personal and institutional)
  4. Lifelong spiritual formation
  5. Doctrinal re-formulation (healing teaching vs. destructive dogma)
  6. Re-branding and affiliation
  7. Sustainable (regenerative) systems

Listen to the intricacies of McLaren’s address to help unpack some of these concepts here.

What creative ways are you building a new kind of Christianity?

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