The Elusive Generation

One thing I have found working with young people in both libraries and churches is that it is very hard to reach the college/young singles groups. A lot of time is spent at libraries trying to devise programs to bring in this  elusive age group. I’ve seen churches dealing with the same thing. Trying to answer the question of how to draw in this demographic. I think part of this problem can be solved by trying to figure out how we lost them in the first place.

Most of us attend church or go to the library for the first time as children and are brought by our parents. I think most libraries and churches do a very good job of providing what families with young children are looking for. For the most part, the kids enjoy the experience and even if they didn’t, they are a captive audience. They have to go where their parents take them. I have rarely seen a church or library devoid of children. The beginning middle school age is similar. They still mostly arrive with parents(unless the library is within walking distance) and still enjoy attending library classes and church events. Sports and school are starting to get busier, but not at the same level as high school. After this, though, is when things start to get harder.

In high school, kids have more school work, a more active social life, more activities and more freedom. They no longer have to go when the parents go. The parents can be at church or the library without dragging the kids along. The kids are busy with school and friends and won’t just show up at the library or at church just because it’s there. There has to be a very compelling reason for them to show up.  They won’t attend library classes or youth groups that are mostly geared toward younger kids. They won’t attend scheduled events and classes just because they are there. It takes more work to hold the interest of the older teens. Unfortunately, this means in many cases the older teens drift away and we focus our attention on the younger kids who show up.

After drifting away, the teens then go to college. This takes them even further away from the home church/library, gives them more freedom and much busier lives. They might go to the library on campus to study, but they aren’t flocking to the public library on break to pick up books or attend events. They might fall out of the habit of attending church while away and balk at attending with the family while they are home. Eventually, they graduate and start their independent lives. If we are lucky, once they have kids they will remember how much they loved church or the library when they were younger and come back with their kids, but until then they typically are hard to reach.

So, what does this all mean? I think that it would be better to take a look at the high school and college years to determine how to keep them from drifting away rather than how to get them back once they are gone. We need to look for classes and events that will keep the older teens and college students interested. Churches need to have separate classes for middle school, high school and college students. Grouping them all in to one class does them all a disservice and usually results in the material being too young for the older teens. Libraries need to hold events and classes geared toward older teens and keep at it until you find the right ones. Don’t give up and focus on the younger kids because it’s easy. Libraries should try to hold events in the summer to attract the college kids home for the summer. If we can figure this out, we won’t have to worry about bringing them back. They will never leave.

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Church: You’re Doing It Wrong

Two recent articles made me aware that too many churches and/or the people of the church are still spending time worrying about the wrong things.

The first article was about someone who is writing new hymns. Taken alone, this is a good thing. It’s nice to see someone who is still interested in writing hymns for the church. Unfortunately, in the comments what I saw was an argument over music style in a church. The “hymn” people said that contemporary services are shallow because contemporary music can’t possibly lead to a real worship experience. The “contemporary” people say hymns are boring and will keep a church from bringing in younger people. I don’t understand why we need to argue about it. Like hymns? Go to a traditional church. Like contemporary music? Go to a contemporary service. What is making the worship experience shallow is worrying too much about how others worship and less on our relationship with God.

The other article was from The Washington Post and talked about how churches struggle in the summer with dress code issues. Some people still believe church should be coat and tie for men and dresses for women and no exceptions. I attend a service where people wear shorts and t-shirts in the summer and football jerseys and jeans in the winter.  Is my worship experience shallow because I wear casual clothes and sing contemporary music? I don’t believe it is. What I do believe is that if I am so focused on being offended by what other people are wearing I likely am not focused on God and that would make the experience shallow. If you want to wear a coat and tie or a dress, that’s great. Do what makes you feel comfortable. Just don’t impose your beliefs on others and I won’t try to force you to wear a Ravens jersey to church.

I think it’s time we stop arguing over petty stuff and start loving each other. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

Ray Boltz and the holier than thou’s

There has been a lot of buzz on the blogs recently regarding this article in the Washington Blade regarding Christian artist Ray Boltz coming out as gay.  Of course, many Christian blogs are denouncing him and I have seen comments from people saying they want refunds in all his CD’s they have purchased.  Unfortunately, many Christians seem to need a group they are allowed to hate to make themselves feel better.  My position has always been that even if you believe homosexuality is a sin, that does not mean you can condemn the homosexuals.

I use the story of Jonah in my middle school boys class to illustrate my point regarding this issue.  Many people focus on the fish part of the story, but there is much more to it.  Jonah as told by God to go to Ninevah to deliver His message.   Jonah ran away from this task because he hated the people of Ninevah and did not want them to be saved.  God sent a storm ,Jonah admit sit is his fault and is thrown overboard.  The fish that swallows him is actually a good thing and saves him from drowning.  While in the fish, Jonah gives in to God and consents to go to Ninevah.  After preaching the Word and Ninevah and seeing the people repent and be saved, Jonah was angry.  He tells God this is why he did not want to go, because he knew God would save them and he didn’t think they deserved it. 

It doesn’t take long for the boys in my class to get to homosexuals when I ask which group would the their(and the church’s) Ninevites.  Somewhere along the way we have forgotten the fact that God views all sin the same and have decided their sin is worse than ours.  Not only that, we are repulsed by their sin and stand ready to expel them from the church as soon as we discover it.  Through all of this, we have the nerve to act like we care to know the answer to the question What Would Jesus Do?  What Jesus did is illustrate love for mankind even through their sin.  I also believe he said “Judge not, lest you be judged”  and also to not point out the speck in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring the beam in yours.   We could all stand to live by these guidelines.  “Christians” who are all about hating others for their beliefs are the reason so many people have a bad opinion of any church these days.

I’m not questioning religious belief with this.  All of this still applies if you believe homosexuality is a sin.  This sin is no worse than the sins you commit every day.   Would you want me to denounce you and call for you expulsion from your church because I found out you lie  or cheated on your wife?  I think not.