A reader writes:
...there's something that's been festering with me a long time I wanted to write about. Again, I recognize you get a lot of correspondence so no worries if there's no response. I'm a twentysomething single male still staying involved in church within a mainline context. My problem is it's very lonely for my demographic within the church. I don't know how it is in other churches, but in mine I'm usually the only one in my age group who shows up. And I really do like the theology and the people I worship with; but it is difficult sometimes when they are so much older and at different places in their lives than me, and there's no one else in my situation who comes in to worship. I never address this with anyone in the church, because it's just kind of embarrassing and awkward. And I suppose I could try to invite friends to worship, but it's just so hard to speak about my faith with friends because I live in a rather "hip" city and most people my age that I know are very set in the notion that Christianity is backwards and reactionary. I know I should have more courage and hope, but there are times when the loneliness of it overwhelms me.
Thanks for this note. I have a quick suggestion. I wonder what might happen if you met with one or two of the leaders of the church and shared your frustration and asked them if they would be willing to support you in making your church more youth-hospitable... You wouldn't be complaining to them; you wouldn't be asking them to do something; you would be asking them to support you in doing something.
A possible first step might be creating a "listening group." You would announce to the church that the church wants to do a better job of inviting, welcoming, and including young adults. Then you would ask for older adults in the church whose young adult children have left the church to consider inviting their kids to a listening group. This group would ask, "What factors in the church led you to leave, and what would need to change for you to want to come back?" There would need to be a firm promise that the group wasn't an excuse for re-proselytism, and that there would be no argument or defensiveness, and that frankness and honesty were sincerely desired. A small group of church leaders, including you, would host the groups, after doing some reading/training/practice in active listening. You'd probably want to promise the listening group wouldn't last more than 90 minutes, including refreshments.
With local folks, the groups could be held at the church or a person's home, or even a restaurant. With distant participants, it could be done via skype or conference call. The group of leader-listeners would then have data to share with the church ... and an important transformative process could begin.
You're very kind to not want to create any "embarrassing and awkward" moments for the older folks at the church. But I think you are an incredible gift to them, and they need to listen to you, and others like you. My prayers are with you today!