All across America, churches are struggling with how to reach young people. Statistics tells us that more than ever, younger generations are abandoning Christianity and organized religion as a whole.  In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing young people back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show.[1] They want community, they want connection, and they want authenticity.View More: http://amylorraynephotography.pass.us/henderson

Experts say that the first factor that will engage younger generations at church is as simple as it is integral: relationships.[2] Young people need to experience the life-changing love of God through other people.[3] And it’s not that young people just want to spend time with a bunch of people their own age. Another author says that having older fellow congregants matters because young Christians will be the first ones to admit that they’re looking for guides through adulthood.[4] They want to learn how to pray and read the Bible; to enjoy fellowship and be part of community.[5]

But it’s not just any older person, they tend to be looking for older adults that are living their intentions. They want people who are sincere and authentic in their faith. Experts say that religion has survived through the years because it provides people with community, with friends—with support.[6] The key to advancing Christ’s church and our church here in Henderson isn’t through flashy lights or loud music, it’s by helping people make connections through personal relationships.

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Another interesting tidbit is that 67 percent of young people prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77 percent would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.”[7] While certainly the trend is to build churches that look more like a shopping center than a place of worship and to avoid any overtly religious wording, research is actually telling us young people appreciate the religious practices others are so apt to abandon. One author says:

What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.[8]

Community, connection, and authenticity; three simple yet profound things that can’t be imitated. Three things also we see in our reading from Luke today.

Walking on View More: http://amylorraynephotography.pass.us/hendersonthe road to Emmaus, after his resurrection, Jesus encounters some people talking about the events that had recently taken place in Jerusalem. Jesus approached, and unrecognized to them, asked them what they were discussing. They told him about his own crucifixion and death, and how the women had found his tomb empty. Hearing this, Jesus thought it was silly they didn’t understand, so he explained why everything had happened. When they neared the village, they invited Jesus to stay with them because it was getting late, so Jesus did. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they realized it was Jesus.  Immediately Jesus vanished from their sight. When they realized what had happened, they ran to tell others about meeting Jesus on the road and how he had been revealed to them in the breading of bread.

In their encounter with Jesus, these people from Emmaus found community; “stay with us” they said. In their encounter with Jesus, they found connection; “were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us,” they said. And in their encounter with Jesus, they found authenticity; Jesus sat with them at the table, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” In sharing a communal meal, these people experienced the risen Christ. We don’t just practice communion because it’s tradition, we don’t just do it out of habit, we do it because we believe in taking bread and sharing it with one another we experience Jesus again ourselves.

Truthfully, young people are looking for what we have; a community of people with which to engage, folks of different ages and experiences with which to connect, and authentic faith practices in which to participate.  We each know this deep down because we each have experienced it, just as those from Emmaus did with Jesus long ago.

 

[1] Rachel Held Evans, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” WashingtonPost.com < https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.0f6160d80670> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[2] “5 Reasons Millennials Stay Connected to Church,” Barna.com

<https://www.barna.com/research/5-reasons-millennials-stay-connected-to-church/> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[3] Nancy Flory, “How Does the Church Reach Millennials?” Stream.org <https://stream.org/how-does-the-church-reach-millennials-hint-its-not-flashing-lights-and-rock-band-worship/> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[4] “The Unexpected Things Millennials Want in Church,” RelevantMagazine.com <http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/unexpected-things-millennials-want-church> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[5] Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 64.

[6] Tom Gjelten, “Why Religion Is More Durable Than We Thought In Modern Society,” NPR.org < http://www.npr.org/2017/04/28/525895389/why-religion-is-more-durable-than-we-thought-in-modern-society?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170428> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[7] Rachel Held Evans, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” WashingtonPost.com < https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.0f6160d80670> (accessed April 28, 2017).

[8] Rachel Held Evans, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” WashingtonPost.com < https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jesus-doesnt-tweet/2015/04/30/fb07ef1a-ed01-11e4-8666-a1d756d0218e_story.html?utm_term=.0f6160d80670> (accessed April 28, 2017).

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