The quote that grabbed my attention was this:
“The liberal churches,” in contrast, “would often complain about the lack of children and youth programs … yet were unwilling to change their services to appeal to families, young children, or youth.” Even more telling was the way that evangelicals and liberals differed on their approach to youth ministry. “For evangelicals,” Wellman concluded, “if children and youth are not enjoying church, it is the church’s fault and evangelical parents either find a new church or try to improve their youth ministry. For liberals, the tendency is the reverse; if youth do not find the church interesting, it is the youths’ problem.”
Now, the way these two groups are contrasted in this study is unique to the location and parameters of the study, so I have no broad brushes with which to paint (to my friends who are liberal, as well as those who are evangelical). My concern is missional.
My interest is the view of who has the burden to be faithful in our work of reaching and discipling our children and youth. I think that issue presses all of our local churches. What is the answer when we discover we are missing the next generation? Well, I do try to avoid being reactionary and knee-jerk because I don’t think that’s helpful.
But the question surfaced in this research is, “When children and youth are not being reached, who’s problem is it?” Here, I absolutely agree with the evangelical churches in the study (and, to be clear and fair, I have liberal friends I know have the same posture).
I remember something said once by a friend who is a college pastor, expressing frustration that college students active in campus ministries were not always quickly finding a church home in our United Methodist local congregations. His response: “It isn’t my job to make our ministry less vibrant and more boring in order to keep their expectations lower.” Ouch… but a point worth hearing.
Our congregation is doing a great job of reaching and engaging children and youth. But the question is worth keeping in front of us in our good times too, lest we forget.
I pray I’m doing my part in engaging the next generation effectively and being a faithful disciple of Jesus and co-laborer for the gospel with my congregation. That’s a prayer I’ll be putting in to practice in a specific way this Sunday when I begin teaching our Confirmation class.