A Gathering Voices post by Adam Copeland
I just got in from a lovely block party celebrating National Night Out Block Party Night. At the party several friendly folks asked, “So, what do you do?” I always hesitate a bit when I get that question these days. It’s complicated.
I see myself as part pastor, part faith based community organizer, part event planner, and part sojourner. To answer folks, “I’m starting a new church” is way too simplistic and misleading, since The Project F-M has never really conceived of itself as a traditional church -- it’s in response (or reaction) to the traditional church, actually.
Last week I attended the ELCA Mission Developers Conference in Newark, NJ. The conference is held twice a year for new Mission Developers, to help orient them on how the ELCA does mission development (roughly equivalent to "church planting" in other denominations). The conference has a great value in connecting developers to learn from one another, and presenters set some theological framework for starting new faith communities. While much at the conference was plenty good stuff, I struggled at many points thinking, “But this just won’t work with young adults.”
I really appreciated Lara’s thoughtful post yesterday, “What Do We Do With Young Adults?” It gets at some of the contextual challenges of church for folks in their 20s and 30s. And it has me thinking, if I were king of the world and arranging a mission development conference focused on emerging young adult faith communities, what questions and issues would I be sure to tackle?
- Spiritual but not religious - this phrase is used by many of the young adults with whom I speak in one-to-ones. It’s a great phrase because it describes for so many their discomfort with the church. It’s really helpful. I like it. But it’s not particularly descriptive. I’d love to tackle, in a group setting that accepts this phrase as positive (or at least benign), all the facets of its meaning.
- What about the aversion to worship? A lot of the 20-30 somethings I chat with are very spiritual, think about faith often, seek community gatherings, but are really hesitant to be connected to anything called “worship.” I have my theories, but I’d love to hear what the experts think about this, and if it’s an across-the-board phenomenon.
- What’s the right balance between making space that’s open to everyone’s questions and making a space that communicates (broadly speaking) what the Church believes? Pretty self-explanatory. The folks I connect with really want a place to tackle tricky theological issues. But they want a place to ask questions, not be spoon-fed answers. I’d love to hear how other mission developers walk this line -- or where they cross it.
- Please don’t emphasize congregational sustainability, stewardship, or looking like the model of a churches that have existed for 100 years. This model of a church with 150 members, a 100K annual budget, and shiny building is just dandy for many, but it’s not the mindset of most young adult focused churches I know. The problem is that we know how to pull that traditional one off, but other models are trickier. Thinking outside the box is difficult, and I’d love the opportunity to honestly talk numbers with other emergent mission developers without the assumptions of traditional models.
- How can the unique gifts of young adults these days be put to use for new ways of ministry? I feel like much of the literature around young adults and the church these days is about how young adults are different than other generations. That’s great. It’s certainly true. But most of what I read gets stuck in explaining how, even though things are different, we don’t have to lament. Little I’ve read takes the approach of truly rejoicing in what this generation has to offer the church. How would our conversations look be different if we said, “God has blessed us with a generation that does not accept the B.S. of previous models. Hallelujah! Thanks be to God. Now what?”
If you were planning or going to attend a mission development conference on young adult ministry, what would you hope to tackle?