Recently, I’ve found myself as the participant of more and more Focus Groups. As, you know, “the young adult.” Which is lovely. Different organizations want to know what I have to say about this or that, as “the young adult” (in the church, this means under the age of forty, but I’ve noticed the age creeping up to forty-five). They’re foreseeing the future, and it looks dismal, so they want to appeal to all of the young adults who are not interested in their organization, denomination, publication, etc.
I know that the FG is an attempt to appeal to a larger base, and perhaps it’s a good first step… but… actually, I’m losing more and more faith in the FG. I’ll continue to be a part of them, because I love the church. Yet, I can’t help but feel like the moderator of the FG gets us together, gathers up all our great knowledge, expertise, and information so he can vet it through his board members–who are mainly older, mainly white, mainly guys.
The problem is that their questions rarely let me say what I really want to. This is what I really want to say:
If you want to make any significant change in the demographic that you serve, if you’re sincere, if you really want to reach out to young adults, then you need to quit thinking of them through the lens of a “Focus Group.” Stop sending us surveys, because what we have to say won’t fit into a, b, c, or d. What we have to tell you will take more than a two-hour block of time. If you’re really interested, you can put us on the board and give us significant power.
I’m not just talking about placing one token young adult on the board, so that she gets patronized by the grown-ups every time she opens her mouth. I’m not suggesting that you put her there, pat her head, and echo her every suggestion with, “Now that’s an interesting idea, but…..” I’m talking about putting a significant number of young adults there so that they can actually express an opinion and have some backing.
I told this to a board member before, actually, and he responded, “Do you want to be on X Board? It took me my whole career to get on this board. I had to work really hard to get on this board. Why do you think you should get to be on it?”
I sighed heavily. I don’t want to be on X Board. I don’t need to be on X Board. No young adult in our country wants or needs to be on your board. But please understand this: YOU NEED US.
There are absolute, radical shifts going on in the very base of our culture. So much that when a person under forty walks into one of our denominational meetings, it feels like we would be more at home on Mars.
We do everything differently. We are wired differently. We communicate differently. We raise money differently. We protest differently. We do missions differently. While you were excited about German modernists in seminary, we were excited about French deconstructionists.
Decade-long arguments over sexuality or theology annoy us. We’re pragmatic and we’d rather agree to disagree and move on. I work as well with conservative evangelicals as I do with liberals (sometimes better), as long as they allow me to have my space to minister in the way that I need to. We’re not impossible to understand, but you’ll never comprehend us if you don’t listen.
So, if I could speak frankly to the boards through one of these focus groups, I would say this. Not because I’m power-hungry, or because I have a generational chip on my shoulder, or even because I’m arrogant (although I know it sounds like I am). I would say it because of my deep and abiding love for the church, and my strong hope that intergenerational ministry might be strengthened:
My generation is different. If we’re not included on your board or organization, we don’t care. We’ll just walk off and start our own thing. If you really want to work with a new generation, you need to get over yourselves. Quickly. You don’t have much time. You’re not the country club that we’re dying to get into. If you’re waiting for a person to turn fifty before you begin listening to what they have to say, or before you consider them to be an expert, it will be far too late. You can’t wait for the younger generations to kick down the door to break into the leadership of your organization. We won’t do it. We don’t need to. We’ll simply walk away.
If you’re interested in sustaining through a new generation, please understand, as much as I believe that my generation needs the denominational church, my peers don’t. But one thing is clear: you need us.
So what about you? What would you love to say to the Focus Group?
the photo’s entitled “focusing the group” by coolmonfrere.