How to rid the church of young people

Posted: February 20, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

The following is a tongue-in-cheek commentary from Ben Boruff, an active lay member of the Indiana Conference and a leader in the denomination.  You can read his entire article by going to UM Portal.  — Ed Fenstermacher

Here are Ben’s comments…

The following strategies should, if executed properly, help to permanently distance any aging church from young people. 

1) Bore young people with vague affection. Talk often about loving young people, but never let that love result in anything tangible. Occasionally, you may be tempted to verbally scorn young people and drive them from your halls with acolyte sticks and hymnals. Resist. Young people are resilient and stubborn, and antagonizing them may give them reason to advocate for change. Instead, pretend you love young people, and talk often about the excitement you feel when you see them on Sunday. But when they express needs or have ideas, ignore them. Eventually, young people will feel both loved and worthless, and the latter feeling will cause them to leave the church. 

2) Do not, under any circumstance, ask young people what they want. When asked what they want, young people often answer honestly. They don’t have the decency to hide desires behind fake smiles. If you ask what they want, they will expect you to give it to them. If young people are offered the worship and fellowship environments they want, they may flock to church. Better to restrict idea-giving to seniors. 

3) Refit traditional services with guitars and muffins, but change nothing else. “Contemporary” services can be created as halfhearted gestures to young people. Offering sugary food and upbeat music without asking young people what types of food and music they prefer is like giving a friend a ride without asking where he wants to go. 

4) Fill the church with references to past generations. Old paintings. Dated jokes. Allusions to cancelled television programs. Sermon illustrations that involve outdated technology. A barrage of generation-specific references will drive away even the most devout young person. 

5) Refuse to acknowledge today’s pop culture. Follow this rule: If you can’t say something bad, don’t say anything at all. Ignore Iron Man. Shun Sufjan Stevens. Avoid Apatow. Nix Nicki Minaj. Overlook online games. Forget Family Guy

6) Use the phrase “does not condone” as much as possible. These words are nails on a chalkboard to most young people. If you must choose between “We advocate for” and “We do not condone,” pick the latter every time. Condemnation is the Church’s youth repellent. 

7) Whenever possible, remind young people that they are, indeed, young people. Sometimes youth must be reminded that they are not high on the Christian hierarchy. Mention how happy you are that someone of “their age” wants to be involved. Like dulling a work of art with camera flashes, overemphasizing a young person’s age can ruin her or his spark. 

8) Be unapologetically nostalgic. Talk often about when things were better, the days when the birds sang and politicians had class. As we know, the circumstances in which young people are immersed offer nothing good. Speak nostalgically often enough, and young people will see the church for what it rightfully is—a time capsule. 

These guidelines will help any church rid itself of young people. Feel free to share them with mission teams, book clubs and church choirs. But please move quickly. If I’m going to leave the church someday, I’d rather leave now and give myself time to find a more welcoming community. 

Ben Boruff, a senior at Indiana University, is a member of the UMC’s Connectional Table and served on the Call to Action Steering Committee.  He is active in the Indiana Conference.

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