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Friday, November 14, 2008 

Why Are The Missing Generation Missing? Because We Lost Them.

The Reporter, the official newspaper of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has reported that the LCMS Youth Ministry folks have put together a group of young adults to help find what happened to what is being called "a missing generation". This “missing generation” are those classified as young adults in their 20s and 30s that no longer go to church.

The seven members of the group, all within the targeted age category, will meet in a local St. Louis coffee shop in order to keep with the culture of the age group that the committee has been tasked to attract. The committee set out two main goals that they wish to achieve;
• "to enable congregations to build a culture where young adults are able to fully participate in the life of the church.
• "to enable young adults to become an integral part of the church community, living out their faith in a global context."
In addition, Jessica Bordeleau, coordinator of Lutheran Youth Fellowship and Young Adult Ministry with the youth-ministry office, and the committee's convener, said;

the committee plans to launch a Web site as early as next year to provide listings of best practices in young-adult ministry, links to books, training events, and other helpful resources. She said the committee also is exploring ways to "promote service leadership opportunities for young adults."

Also from Bordeleau;

This is a generation that is passionate about social justice and service to the community.”

Where to begin…

I’m still struggling to see why so many think that to become relevant the church must become more like the culture. Likewise, why is it that only youthful hipsters with soul patches and goatees can “win” over youth? When the hipsters do attract youth, and I do believe that they will for a time, are they really going to integrate them into a congregation? At what point will the event move from Starbucks to the congregation gathering around the preached Word and administered Sacraments? Do we look at any other age group and say they can only be reached by “peers?” No, we don’t and no we shouldn't.

How are the youth and young adults expected to step into roles of leadership if they don’t understand that the center of the Christian’s life is Christ and his gifts? How are these youth and young adults going see the merits of going to church by meeting in a Starbucks with a group that didn’t even mention Christ in its reported goal? Leadership without Christ can just as easily be found down at the local glee club or Masonic lodge. The lodge can just as easily offer the opportunity of “social justice and service to the community” so why bother with a church? At the end of the day what’s really the difference if Jesus is left out of your mission goals?

For all the complaining that kids leave the church, these folks seem to go out of their way to create a subgroup of youth apart from the community of all believers that is the congregation. Why would youth and young adults want to be part of a congregation when those who are leaders always set them apart as their own tribe? How are these youth to lead if they don’t understand that they are members of a congregation? If the problem of youth not feeling that they are part of a congregation is really that we ourselves have separated them into a separate group apart from the congregation then I would argue that it is and that I have the results of thirty years worth of the small group church growth seeker sensitive movement that can back me up.

St Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians chapter 4 encourages that church (and ours as well) to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul tells the congregation that they are one family gathered around one confession of one Lord. At no time does Paul say that small groups in the church at Ephesus need to meet apart from the gathering around that common confession.

Paul goes on to say that there will be “apostles, the prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. These workers that are being raised up will always point to the congregation of saints gathered around the Word and not subgroups meeting in coffee shops.

Why speak of and highlight the congregation’s unity in faith? The apostle explains;
“so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

I believe that it is we adults who need to grow up and start treating our youth and young adults like they are actually part of our congregational families. It seems to me that the committee’s solution of changing cultures fails to recognize that it is because we treat youth ministry as something separate and apart from the congregation that the missing go missing.

Think I’m wrong? Just ask a teenager returning from a national youth gathering what he liked best. If he or she says that it’s the rock bands, the dramas and skits, or getting to throwing beach balls around during a worship service, you will see a glimpse of how far from congregational life we have led them. Sure it’s cool for them but when they return, do they want to go back to your worship service without the light show and praise bands? The answer of why the lost generation is lost is that the adults drove them there and gave them an incomprehensible map to help them find their way back.

It is true that we adults who need to change our culture but we do not need to look to the culture of the world for tips. Starbucks may be popular and hip with youngsters but it offers nothing but a caffeine fix which is not terribly helpful for dealing with sin, death, and the devil or church attendance for that matter. If you want a culture that deals with sin, death, and the devil, start looking and acting like a church and attendance problems will fix it self, no enabling required.

Read the whole article here.

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It's getting so my skin crawls when I hear the words "enable" and "global context." I start feeling ill when people turn "task" into a verb.

Everyone involved in this project seems to be missing one critical issue. The generation behind me, (I'm a GenXer) is far and away better than any other generation at spotting when they're being pandered to and when someone's trying too hard.

The book "The Essential church" while having a fair amount of stuff that I think is hokey has several good comments and observations. One is that the way "youth ministry" is done in most churches amounts to a "holding tank with pizza" (or in this case, coffee.)

No wonder we lose 'em after confirmation.

Thanks, Frank. Well said. I linked to this from my blog, where I recommend the book "Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be" by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

Thanks again for this insightful analysis and bureaucracy-shoveling.

Missing generation? At my LCMS church in Boston the majority of members are in their 20s or 30s. I'm 28. Our president is 30 and our vice-president is 34. Most of our elders are in their 20s or 30s. Our average age at any given Divine Service is probably about 35. So what do we do that brings in the younguns'? Straight-up historic liturgy and ceremony out of the LSB with a heavy emphasis on Lutheranism's theology of music and musical heritage. And, obviously, good 'ole Law and Gospel preaching. I have zero tolerance for people who think that secular hipness is what so-called "young adults" want in their churches!

I want to go to Bethany's church!

Right. Form a committee. That's what my generation wants...committees tasked with being relevant.

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