A few weeks ago when I started my first pastoral charge at Summerfield United Methodist Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, I was harmoniously elated about the wonderful possibility of taking the church to the next level in God.
A month later, I am just as passionate and excited about the future of our church. The first Sunday that I started at the church, it was brimming with young people between the ages of 13-27. After service, I invited the young people down to the fellowship hall so that I might become acquainted with them, but more importantly, to talk about the different ways in which they might become even more involved and engaged in the worship experience.
What I learned during our time together is that for the first time in a long time they hadn't been to church. But they heard that a new, young, energetic preacher was appointed to the church and they didn't want to miss an opportunity to speak with me about their growing disdain in hopes that I would help to restore the church back to its glory days. I got the impression that they were all desperate to see change happen in the church, but even more than that they wanted to be listened to. Many of them said to me that this was their final plea before abandoning their roots.
While it is true that young people are not flocking to our churches in large droves today, it doesn't mean that they are not hungry and thirsty for God's word. My guess is that most churches want to attract and retain young people, but are not willing to make the necessary changes to help that transformation happen.
Many of our churches are stuck on sticking to tradition. Although tradition containing valuable knowledge doesn't mean that tradition is always right. Sometimes tradition needs to be modified and revamped while retaining pertinent pieces of existing knowledge. I am of the opinion that regardless of what tradition one comes from, one should consistently be rethinking church with respect to the various aspects of church life from the worship experience to how our sacred institutions are governed.
This means that the church must be relatable, compassionate, and inclusive. The church must be more than a place of worship on Sunday mornings, but it must serve as a permanent oasis of liberation where young people can talk candidly about sensitive topics that directly affect and impact their daily lives.
My goal as a young pastor is to affirm the talents and gifts of young people and to challenge them to grow spiritually, while allowing them to be their authentic selves without judgment or condemnation. I realize that if the church is to have a future we should be more committed to young people. We need to listen to them and let them assist us in reviving the 21st century church.