Monday, May 23, 2016

Why Young People (Alone) Are Not the Future of the Church

A few weeks back we celebrated the birthday of the church, when 120 people (Acts 1:15) were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and took to the streets sharing the good news of Jesus (Acts 2).  All of Christendom - currently around 2.2 billion people! - grew from that small group, and this humble beginning made me wonder about two things.  First, how many of these 120 were young people?  Of course, we have no way of knowing, but it seems likely they were all adults, and many of them were probably older adults (by that day’s standard).  The second thing I wondered was:  “Did their age matter in any way?” and the answer to this second question is much easier.  It didn’t matter a bit. 

The growth of the early church, fueled by the Holy Spirit, is a matter of simple mathematics.  If more people join the Church than leave, the Church grows.  This is true regardless of the ages of those in the Church, and those joining.  By the same token, if more people leave the Church than join it, the Church dwindles.  Again, regardless of the ages of those involved.

So a church full of young people will die if it doesn’t have more people joining than leaving.  And a church full of old people will grow if it does have more people joining than leaving. 

I point this out because there is a widespread notion that “young people are the future of the church” and this partial truth can be dangerous for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it places the entire weight of the future on a certain age bracket, and that’s too big of a burden to dump on any one group.  And secondly, it absolves all older people from any responsibility to be the future.

To be clear, young people are the future of the church, but so are old people, middle aged people, and those generations yet to be born.  Everyone who walks through our door or shares in our fellowship is our future. 

You who are reading this are our future as well.  Even if you keel over dead upon finishing this article (please don’t!), you are still part of our future.  There is a neglected Christian doctrine called “The Communion of Saints” which says that all believers, past, present, and future, are connected in the community of faith and part of our fellowship.  All believers shape us throughout the past, at the present, and deep into the future.  In other words:  Those who have passed on continue to shape us in powerful, and mysterious ways, and are still very much part of our fellowship and our future.

So none of us is allowed to dump all the responsibility for the future on “young people”, or any fraction of God’s kingdom.   We all share that responsibility, and we all matter together.  And whoever you are, whatever your age, there’s no excuse for sitting on the side lines. 

I suspect that some congregations, by embracing the idea that “young people are our future” are disappointed when a visiting older person walks through their doors.  “We need young people!  How can we grow if we don’t get young people?”  People can sense when they're met with disappointment and they won't come back.  Instead we should be thrilled to pieces when anyone walks through our doors.  We should welcome, honor, and enjoy all people God sends our way.

We are blessed at Maple Avenue because we do have folk of all ages sharing in our fellowship, and that is exactly as it ought to be. Young people alone aren’t the future of the church.  We all are together.  So let’s roll up our sleeves and start shaping a future worthy of God’s Kingdom.

Yours in Christ;