Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Church as Community: A Young Adult Perspective

This blog is usually reserved for my own thoughts, rants, and pondering and is primarily for my own amusement. Today is an exception that I think you will appreciate. 

Last night I logged on to Facebook and immediately came across a piece written by my 34-year-old son, prompted by some experiences his family (Brian, his wife Lyda, and their two daughters Ashley and Ayla, ages 5 and 2) have had in their local congregation. If you're paying attention, you will have understood that those girls are our grandchildren, so all of this has context for me.

I was surprised by the thoughtful reflections and the powerful recommendations he made, not because I thought him incapable of such reflection, far from it, but because I had no idea he had given this much analysis to issues of church life. That was a learning moment for me.

The Facebook piece got a lot of positive response and it's been reposted a number of times. I thought people who read this blog would enjoy Brian's essay. I wish I had written it myself, but I didn't. So the best I can do is claim he comes from good stock and turn this page over to him. For one day.

The Church as Community: A Young Adult Perspective
by Brian McMurray

I seem to be hearing a lot lately about churches having a concern that the young adult membership isn't as engaged as it used to be. There are several reasons as to why that may be - but the more compelling topic is how to change it. I've thought about this quite a bit and I have a few ideas of what a modern church might do to engage this age group. These are only my own thoughts.


1. Be a community, not a religion. I'll be honest, the "religion" part of church is not why I'm there. It never has been. Sure, that's important (and as I get older it is becoming more important) but I believe that the conversation that takes place AFTER church is more important than what happens during the service. I would make this time something your church focuses on. Focus on your community, not just your worship and you'll attract new members more easily.

2. Sunday school should be an opportunity for supporting each other. We've recently made our Young Adult Sunday school time into a discussion group. One week we'll discuss a current issue in society and then alternate the next week with a discussion of our own lives. This turned Sunday school time into a much needed support group for our young adult families. I now look forward to Sunday school, something I never even used to attend.

3. Be even more accepting of young kids. Sure every church thinks they're accepting of kids but there's a difference between tolerating a child in a service and actually gearing your service or other activities to include young children. The entire service doesn't have to be this way and it doesn't have to be every week - but kid friendly moments (not just story time) during a service make a huge difference in the way I, and frankly my kids, feel about church.

4. Use technology (audio/video/internet) in your church. If you're not at least on the road to modernizing and using technology in your church, you might as well give up now because you'll be obsolete in 5-10 years - tops. If you don't have a young adult helping with this stuff in your church - ask. In my case, this was exactly how I wanted to help in my congregation. I saw this as a way I could contribute to a need the congregation had.

5. When you want me to help with something - make it easy for me to sign up. Don't call me on the phone in the middle of the day and talk for an hour about what you want. Be specific, give me a quick way to sign up to help and I'll let you know if I can (this is actually one of the main reasons we built the product we did recently at Opus).

6. Don't hit me over the head with money or time commitment requests. If you are doing the steps above - creating a community, giving support, being accepting of kids, the money and time commitments will come because you're creating a relationship with me. As me time frees up (basically as my kids grow older and more independent) it will be difficult for me to turn my back on that relationship. Everyone knows they should give some time and money to their church. In fact, most young adults admit to feeling guilty if they aren't. It's ok to ask for help and it's great for everyone to know the budgetary needs of the congregation - but don't make it seem like it's the only reason I'm there or you'll drive me away.

7. Allow casual dress. Sometimes people want to dress up, sometimes they don't. You don't want to have a church that judges others based on what they wear. Let people wear what makes them comfortable, especially if they're not participating in the service. Many will choose to dress formally, some will dress more casually but you'll make people more comfortable and thus, feel more positively toward your church.

8. Stop judging my friends. I grew up with several gay friends - which is not uncommon these days. If my denomination doesn't support my friends' right to love the person they love or marry the person they want to marry - and ESPECIALLY if my denomination won't allow my friend to participate as a minister - then my denomination doesn't accurately represent me and it makes it very difficult for me to support it with my time or money now or in the future. I'm sure people disagree with me (or have the exact opposite opinion) but look at the world around you and ignore this at your own peril. I believe that the churches who focus on acceptance and community over division and requirements will be the most successful in the end.


I'm sure there's plenty to disagree with for some people on my list - and that's fine. This is just my opinion, if you disagree, that's cool. I will say that I'm glad to be a part of a church (Walnut Gardens) that already does all of these things (it's where I got the idea for this post). We have great older membership that really reaches out to include the young adults. It's not unusual for the young adults go to movies with the senior members just because they like hanging out together.

But I realize it's not like this everywhere. From my perspective, these changes are all worth making if you want to re-engage with young adults and see your congregation grow in the future.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Red Carpet Needs Vacuuming

Pretty much everything wrong about American culture is on lurid display when they roll out the red carpet for a breathless procession of celebrity worship prior to the annual Oscars award show. 

I like the movies, thought there were many outstanding films and performances justly recognized for their artistic merit and entertainment value, and I even enjoyed much of the program itself. I confess to losing track of how many bare breasts Seth MacFarlane had seen from among the actresses in attendance--his musical homage to the best mammary performances of the year was perhaps a tad crude. Bob Hope would have done it more subtlety but with a similar naughty chuckle.

The Oscars show and awards have been analyzed and critiqued from top to bottom and I have nothing to add, or mercifully choose not to do so. But I am in a bit of a toot about the red carpet and the appalling opulence, ignorance, and superficiality it represents in an era of unemployment, gun violence, sequesters, and threats to the very preservation of the species--global warming, renegade asteroids, nuclear bombs, unmanned drones, and Honey Boo Boo.

We are experiencing a serious erosion of the character of America and it is not just a domestic matter. Its consequences are being felt in our homes and neighborhoods but its impact is global. It is felt in many ways.

We have a broken governmental system that is reaping the scorn of the American people. We have acquiesced to a culture of incivility that demonstrates a shocking acceptance of racial slurs, childhood bullying, political intolerance, and a total lack of respect for diversity in ethnicity, personal lifestyles, and the marketplace of ideas.

And despite a system that arguably led to the worst economic crash in 70 years we continue to accept an ever-expanding gap between the rich and the middle class (let alone the poor), rewarding CEO's, money managers, athletes, entertainers, and a select few with obscene wealth while unions get busted and teachers, industrial workers, public safety employees and others limp along hoping they won't lose their jobs or succumb to the fear du jour--that they might get sequestered, whatever that means.

NBA Bad Boy Player Dennis Rodman meets with
North Korean Big Boy Dictator Kim Jung Un.
Probably discussing nuclear proliferation.
In the midst of this primal disorder our society still seems willing to embrace this culture of celebrity that celebrates the worst of us. It ranges from rented jewelry to eye-popping dresses leading to red carpet questions like, "You must tell me, darling. Who are you wearing tonight?" Oh please! My favorite answer came from a minor actress enjoying midlife, "Oh, I just pulled something out of the closet at the last minute." [Grant applauds]

And then came the biggest mistakes of the night. They actually let some of these starlets talk into the microphone. Oh Sweet Jesus, why? Surely somebody got fired. A boyfriend with a big neck and chin stubble looks around as Bambi explains how she had been born to act. I'm looking at that boyfriend checking out a redhead over by the palm tree and I'm thinking I'll bet I know where she practices her acting.

I'm sorry. See what this nonsense does to one?

But you know what? This really isn't very funny. For example, this week Dennis Rodman, former NBA basketball player who was at the center of countless debacles throughout his career, became the first American to formally meet with the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jung Un, who apparently loves basketball. Just turned 30, he is the youngest leader of any nation in the world and his country is one of nine nations with some form of nuclear capability. When asked what he thought of Kim, Rodman said he was an "awesome kid."

When Honey Boo Boo points the way
how can her adoring fans not follow?
And then cometh a seven-year-old child beauty pageant winner who has managed to parlay rudeness into cuteness and precocity into authority, landing her entire dysfunctional family a reality television show. It is reported that the family is paid $50,000 per episode and the child has accumulated a personal worth of $300,000.

Critics were largely appalled by the seeming exploitation of a rural Georgia family, most of whom were chubby, had atrocious eating habits, and got into a thin mint scandal with the Girl Scouts. In fairness, she has supporters as well, including celebrities who embrace her star quality and point to her as a role model for children who have to deal with weight problems.

Apart from her serving as an icon of American decadence and frivolity, I've got no issue with Honey Boo Boo; I had never even heard of her until she began appearing in the headlines alongside coverage of John Kerry's first international tour as Secretary of State. As Kerry was adroitly moving from one hot spot to another, trying to deal sensitively with such issues as the searing violence in Syria, it kept feeling like that story was partnered by this little kid vying for attention and her parents vying for you know what.

What must the world be thinking of us, I kept wondering?

And that is the nub of my little rant against the celebrity culture. Those who know me will surely agree that I am more than willing to look at the lighter side; much of what I write and speak is delivered with a twinkle in my eye. Seriousness of purpose does not negate humorous reflection.

But laughing at funny is not the same as laughing at stupid. We are awash in celebrities without talent, wealth without merit, and causes without virtue. When matched with national and global distress and with increasing public anger we are at risk of a dangerous upheaval in our society. There are incredibly deep and significant questions arising from our very foundations, and Bambi, Dennis Rodman, and Honey Boo Boo are not the answers.

I will concede this. I didn't see them, but I'm sure Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis walked that red carpet as well. It is not just that they have enormous talent, but when it came time to speak they were gracious, eloquent, humorous, and had something to say. In other words, they are stars. I can live with that, and even celebrate it.