Young people are absent from the church. That is a broad enough statement that it is both true and untrue. It is true insofar as statistics show a decline (Barna Group estimates that only 9% of Gen Z is engaged in church). But it is untrue that young people are not interested in the church at all. First, if we define church more broadly to include para-church ministries such as camps, faith-based mission organizations, youth groups, or college ministries, you would find a lot of young people. And there are particular types of churches that tend to attract young people (often it’s just a matter of reaching critical mass needed to build and maintain certain programs, i.e., young families tend to like churches with big youth programs).
But mainline denominational churches like our own St. Andrew’s, which are based on a model that is not exactly popular at the moment, are not attracting younger people (as if you hadn’t noticed). As important as it is to maintain an intergenerational community, I have never thought that the answer was to become something we are not in order to keep up with the times. Instead, I think it is important to be clear about who we are and then be the best form of that possible. In other words, we represent a tradition that has value and we should strive to be good stewards of that tradition. At the same time, we should be open to listening for the spiritual needs of all generations and consider the ways that we can meet those needs well.
For this reason, I was thrilled when Lila Woodard agreed to have her name put forward to serve on Session. She is one of those young people who are invested and engaged in the church. She knows our traditions and week after week, she is there in the pews engaging in them. She also can offer insight into what it is like to be young today, opening our eyes to the spiritual needs and faith perspectives of her peers. So, contingent on the congregational vote after worship on June 26th, she will start next September as Elder, offering her gifts of insight and imagination, which lend a particular hue that will add depth to our already profound ministry.
Thanks be to God!