I was visiting with a nearby church governing body, talking about Tribal Church, and the pastor asked, “The book is very hopeful, but do you think it might be too hopeful?”
It’s a good question. Six million young adults have left our churches (evangelical and mainline). We cannot keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. We will need to change.
But we will change. There is no doubt about that fact. There is going to be a major, undeniable shift in the next twenty years. In my denomination, the PC(USA), 40% of our churches do not have pastors. Most of those churches are under 100 members and cannot afford ministers.
Add to that, we have a swell of Baby Boomers who will be retiring in the coming years, so that we will go from 700 retirees per year to almost twice that number. With that level of overturn, there is no way that the landscape of our denomination will look the same. Things will alter dramatically as a new generation comes into power. We do not need to force it. It will be a natural evolution.
And, as most pastors learn, when a church is in upheaval, when people are grieving the past, the best thing to do is to give people hope. I don’t see any point in berating church leaders for not being relevant enough, or effective enough, or good enough. I don’t see how that gets us anywhere. (Although… I have noticed our strange love for people who beat us up… I just don’t think that’s the most effective approach.)
But I did not write about hope for the mainline because I think it’s an empty motivator. I didn’t just do it because I think it’s a pragmatic tool. I wrote a hopeful book because I have a very optimistic outlook for our church.
When we look at the churches that are closing, we realize that the money for the sale of the property will go back to the local governing body. Then the proceeds often go for developing new churches. And, it just seems to me that the Holy Spirit must be moving in all of this, because there is, at the same time, a generation of pastors who want to plant churches. They are innovators, and they can’t wait to start something fresh and new.
I have hope for our denominational churches, because we have been advocates for social justice for decades, even when it wasn’t popular. And, in the years to come, the college students who grew up with W, are leaning quite heavily to the left.
And while we’re looking at adults under 25, we can also note that they’re not snarky and cynical like me and much of my generation. They are much more institutionally and community minded. They are less likely to do drugs. They do things like vote and join organizations. And, if we’re smart, they might even start joining churches. They are, numerically, huge. Much bigger than the Boomers.
I have hope for our denominational churches, because we have spent years in prayer and meditation. We have practiced the art of discernment in troubled times. We have held fast to our intellectual integrity. And we have been wresting with some deep issues concerning unity and diversity. We hold all of these spiritual traditions in our bellies. And this is a time when the world is hungry for them.
Photo by Helmut Gondim