August 16, 2006
Family Faith Feud: Why are young adults not finding their places in their parents’ church?
Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.
This post is a preview of McLaren's commentary in the upcoming Fall issue of Leadership. Here the Emergent leader encourages churches and parents to begin investigating why young adults are leaving the church - not to argue them back into the fold, but simply to understand their perspective. NOTE: Some of the more thoughtful comments to this post will be reprinted in the Fall 2006 print issue of Leadership, available in mid-October.
There was irony in the title of the old TV game show Family Feud. The irony was that the feuding between families was much less intense than the cheering within families as members tried to answer the same trivia questions.
In our churches, family feuds of another sort arise when members of the same family are asking different questions. For example:
In the third row, left side, mom and dad are asking how they can raise their 14-year-old daughter so she will never rebel and never get in trouble. Meanwhile, their daughter, seated with her friends in the last pew, is asking how she can get out from under their control.
Or in the ninth row, another mom and dad are wondering how they can be sure their 18-year-old son will (a) go to a good college and get a good education so he can have a good job and a good life, and (b) not be exposed to philosophical, scientific, or political questions that may cause him to question his faith. But their son, sitting with his girlfriend in the pew directly behind them, is asking how he can find a college where he can ask the philosophical, scientific, and political questions he has already been exposed to in high school.
These families share something in common: their young adult kids are not easily finding their places in the church of their parents. The problem is widespread. I have been in two groups of pastors lately where someone asked how many of our post-high-school kids were actively involved in the church. No pastor in either group had a majority of his kids involved in the church; most had no kids actively involved.
We are well-practiced in the arts of blame and guilt and shame. But I would like to propose a different response. Why don't we start asking the same questions? Why don't we begin with the questions young adults are asking? Let's start collecting data from families in thousands of churches on the responses to these questions. The purpose would not be for rebuttal or argument, but simply to understand and learn. Here is a question that might begin the conversation:
What questions did the church not answer for you or not answer well?
Maybe a season of asking questions like these could move us beyond family faith feuds, to family faith conversations.