Field Guide 2: Engagement with Spirituality & the Church
REFLECTIONS AND NEXT STEPS INSPIRED BY THE RESEARCH
In the first part of this field guide, we explored how a lack of connection may be contribute to the anxiety that many young adults feel. We also looked at how your community could offer a real and authentic source of connection and hope to young adults.
Now comes the difficult part: making a case for young adults that there is value in being associated with a place of worship in the first place. Field Guide 2 will help you think through some practical steps your church can take toward this end.
Before you dig into this field guide, consider the following questions as a team:
- What is the perception of our surrounding culture toward Christianity? Do the findings of the study we just read about match our ideas of that perception? How are they similar or different?
- Do you think young adults’ ambivalence or negative feelings toward religion and Christianity is fair? Why or why not? How has the Church in your culture contributed or defended against those feelings?
- How is your church equipped—or not equipped— to minister to and foster reconciliation with those who have been wounded by Christians or churches? With the high number of dropouts in your cultural context, what are some ways you feel your community or the broader church in your society can begin to help in healing the wounds of the dropouts?
Ambivalence … and antagonism
Many members of this generation show a deep ambivalence toward religion—and in some cases, a deep antagonism. While a majority of young adults says they believe in spiritual forces, when that spirituality is tied to a religious group, doubts and opposition crop up. Young adults say the hypocrisy of religious people is the biggest reason they doubt there is anything spiritual. There is even a large minority—around one-third of young adults in some countries—who believe that religion is harmful to people and detrimental to society.
The situation for churches is even more stark when it comes to trying to address people who grew up in the Christian faith but have left, or those who don’t attend church very often despite identifying as Christian. This group views the Church as politically problematic, judgmental and insulated from real problems in society. Church teachings, likewise, are considered flawed or insufficient.
The reality is hard for many churches. Yet there are still steps you can take to help the young adults in your midst seek and know God.
An unfair responsibility
Addressing church wounds is never easy. A person might have burdens from a different tradition or theology you personally find abhorrent; there might be hurt from a situation that is completely indefensible. You and your church might be made a scapegoat for the sins of others, and that will feel unfair.
But it’s also an opportunity to show how the Church works. As a global body, every Christian expression is responsible for fostering reconciliation for past sins. You might not have the same theology or church polity as the churches you see have truly hurt people, but you do have a responsibility to work toward making things right with those willing to listen in your context or circle.
Think about how your community can repent for the sins of the global Church. Think about what seeking reconciliation and asking forgiveness looks like (and how it may look different from place to place). And then do the hard work of continuing that ministry each day, as you continually follow the sanctifying power of the Spirit.
Disliked for the wrong reasons
There are plenty of ways that churches in any culture will stand in opposition to some surrounding cultural values. A community of peacemakers seeking to do justice, show mercy and walk closely with God will naturally fall outside the norm! Yet many young people are suspicious of Christianity for reasons beyond the gospel. Some of this is theological variance; some of it is carelessness. Often churches are unclear in their treatment of issues that need to be dealt with with deep sensitivity. Work on your church’s words and deeds. Make sure that when you hear opposition, it’s because your community is following Jesus, not because people think you believe something you don’t.
Help people find what they’re missing
Even the young adults who are active and happy at churches still report some things they miss. And these aren’t just preferences—going to church without any friends or family for support is hard! Where can you easily offer new opportunities for young adults to find community and connection in your church?
Does Your Church Have:
Opportunities for social action?
Opportunities to connect?