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why don’t we go to church?

Hey y’all!  In case anyone has missed me on the social medias, I haven’t been ignoring everyone  – my computer actually broke and it’ll be in the shop until next week.  My friend Tabi has graciously written a wonderful guest post in the meanwhile that I’m excited to share.  (Interested in writing one as well?  Please click here!)  Enjoy, and make sure to think critically about your own conclusions to her question: why don’t we go to church?

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Thoughts on Going to Church

I’ve recently been asked by friends of mine why my generation doesn’t want to go to church anymore. Now, if you don’t know me that well, that might confuse you. But these friends being people between my parents and grandparents age, I can see why they ask. Where are the young people? At my home church, I’m often one of three people between the ages of 15 and 30 at the traditional service. There are a few more at the contemporary, but not many. At the church I attend at college, there are more of us, but we’re not that visible.

I was recently at an annual gathering (fittingly called Annual Conference) of United Methodist for the part of Illinois that is south of I80. A very rough and not scientific guess of the average age of the lay members (those not ordained into the clergy, but still leading their church in some way and representing it at that legislative body that is Annual Conference) would be around 52.

Why doesn’t my generation go to church?

I grant you that some of us do. Some of us have trouble sleeping past 7:30 on a Sunday morning simply because our brains tell us that we must be awake and we must be awake RIGHT NOW. For some of us, the entire week feels off if we’ve missed Sunday (or Wednesday or whatever night it is) services. Some of us go because we want to. Some still go because it’s part of the familial decree. But that doesn’t account for many in the younger generations.

It’s a question I find particularly troubling. Why don’t we go to church?

Do we feel that we don’t need the community it provides? Are we tired of the pastors or the worship services? Do we disagree with some of the social principles that our churches hold? Do we want to be doing more service and less sitting through services?

Are we uncomfortable with the building? Or do we dislike the idea of serving on committees?

On a broader scale, why is religion, aside from politics, the topic most people advise to avoid around others?

We need the community that faith gives us. One of the many beauties of having a larger faith than just us is that we are surrounded by people. Some are older, some younger, some wiser, some not, some farther in the path of faith, some new to the journey, some questioning, some despairing, some joyous, some filled with grief.

The relationships that come from a faith community are potentially the most important relationships that you will ever form.

Both of my congregations feel like homeThe people there are people I can trust with my deepest thoughts, my prayers, my questions, my ideas, and myself. The people that I know because of being part of a corporate church are people that I love dearly and who love and support me both in my faith journey and my confusing years of college.

Why don’t we go to church?

Are we afraid that the leaders of the church won’t listen to us? Are we afraid of that commitment or scared that we’ll break the church because we don’t have any clue what we’re doing? Are we afraid that we’ll not be able to lead effectively?

But then, I wonder if these fears haven’t gripped every generation since Peter was first told to “feed my sheep.” I’m sure there’s been a lot of praying asking the Almighty just why He is giving us the reins of control to make heaven here on earth and to lead the catholic (as in universal) church. I know there has been a lot of that on my part. There have been many heavenward pleas of “why me?” or “are You really, really sure about this?”

Why don’t we go to church?

Why don’t your friends go? Did they not grow up in a home of faith? Or have they fallen away because someone pushed them too hard on a subject that they don’t want to think about?

Why don’t we go to church?

Has someone said, indicated, written, or even implied that you don’t belong at church? That something about you makes you unlovable by God?

Nothing you do can make God stop loving you.

Nothing you can do will make the Creator, who gave you this life and time and Creation, stop loving you.

You are a Child of God. You have a spark of God within you. It is the spark of life.

Why don’t we go to church?

Do we think that we can’t change anything? That going to church is for old people? That the church is already so broken that there’s no hope of a resurrection?

Why don’t we go to church?

Do we think that we’re not needed?

We are. We are the ones who will carry this faith into the future. It is a mission too important to fail. Do you believe that? Or do you believe that the church has outlived its usefulness to society?

If you haven’t guessed by now: I don’t have the answer. I just have more questions. But I do have two pieces of advice. First: go to church. Second: learn, listen, and eventually – if they are necessary – help lead the changes that need to happen. Those old people with white hair who sing in the choir or collect the offering (Tithing is something we need to talk about… but that can wait for a bit.) are excited that you are there. Yes, sometimes they seem grumpy or stuck in their ways. But sometimes, you’ll get the grandpa who is excited to see you just because you remind him of his grandchild. Or the organist who is just so pleased that someone else wants to start playing the piano occasionally to give her old, gnarled hands a break.

Ok… I guess it’s three pieces of advice. Third: don’t just sit in the pew on Sunday. That’s a great start. If you haven’t got there yet, get there first. But if you’re already there and I’m just preaching to the choir, go join something. Volunteer to be part of the Trustees or lead a class or sing in the choir. Do something to make the church survive and thrive.

The few of us that are there already aren’t going to be able to hold back the flood without you.

Why doesn’t our generation go to church?

Why don’t we go to church?

Why do I go to church?

To celebrate, worship, and remember that God is Holy.

To honor the traditions of the past and work for a better tomorrow.

To have a community of other believers who support me in all that I do.

Because people hug me there, and living alone in the dorms gets lonely.

Because I can’t sleep on Sunday mornings and the rest of my week is wrong if I’m not at church.

Because I want to help lead this generation and the next closer to the path that they are called to.

But mostly, I go to church because I am a daughter of El Shaddai, and I want to walk with my hand in the hand of the One who gave me this life here and now, and hopefully make this world a better place for others.

Being a part of a church allows me to do this, and helps me on my way.

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Tabi grew up in the United Methodist church across the street from her house in her tiny little town where she was an active member until beginning to attend the University of Illinois. She’s a Musicology and English major who spends most of her time at the Wesley Foundation on the UIUC campus.

If you’d like to reach her, her email is tjnelso2@illinois.edu.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. jjc #

    Hey Ryan,

    As you know, I’m not religious and I don’t think this really got to the heart of why our generation has an increasing number of atheists. For me, I found that the church had relatively unsatisfactory answers to my spiritual problems. When I pressed for answers, there wasn’t really much in the way of discussion or true academic thought. For me, much of the time the answer to tough questions was ‘God works in mysterious ways’ or ‘It is God’s will.’ That’s a terribly unsatisfactory answer to questions like ‘why do good people suffer’ or ‘why did I get born in the states while other people, probably more virtuous than I, end up in the slums of Nairobi?’ I think that until churches are able to go beyond preaching and in to true academic and philosophical debates, young people will turn elsewhere. Though I’m sure Christian values can be good ones, I find that Christianity has been utterly inadequate in answering the pressing questions that I have about this life. There was a great article in the Atlantic if you want to read it : http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/.

    Anyway, I hope everything is going well and that you have a good one!

    June 17, 2013
    • thanks for your comment, Jon, it really is always good to hear from you. I don’t know how much you know of my own story, but I think I share *a lot* of the same critiques of religion that you do. (<– These are hyperlinks!) And to be honest, I don't know why exactly I've been one of those who – after having been beaten over the head with ignorance and abused by the church – has decided to stick it out and still call myself a believer. To be real with you, maybe that won't last in the long run, though I certainly think it may.

      Something tells me I know the exact same kinds of questions you were asking (eg. why does God commanding genocide make it any more okay than, say, Hitler doing so?) and the kind of responses you would get (eg. "God's ways are higher than our ways," / "God has a plan and a reason for your pain"). And I definitely think, as C.S. Lewis put it, that a young man who leaves the church because he is not holding an intellectually honest commitment towards it may in fact be closer to Christ than a man who goes every week out of obligation to his parents. I can't help but think that if the image of the Christian God you were presented was so dull, so terrible, so obtuse and intellectually stifling and dishonest, it was actually better you rejected the mindless pursuit of that idol.

      I'd love to continue this conversation anytime! Hope all is well in your travels, my friend.

      June 17, 2013

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