Can the generation gap be bridged?

By Christian Piatt
The Pueblo Chieftain

This week I attended the biennial General Assembly for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fort Worth, Texas. This is a big mouthful of words that means a bunch of Disciples get together every two years from around the country to kibbutz.

It’s always fun, a lot of work, and though it goes by quickly, I always leave drained.

At this assembly I presented two different workshops. The first one was about the theology in the media in a cramped first-floor room, packed to the walls with nerdy pop-culture theologians and other onlookers eager to understand what kids these days do when outside the four walls of church.

The second day, my wife, Amy, and I presented together about young adult spirituality, using MySpace as an analogy for contemporary social systems. The room was three times the size of the first one, and it too was near capacity with a wide range of folks. There were youth and young adults of the church looking for some sense of validation and connection. Also scattered throughout the venue were pastors of established churches looking for ways to put a hip face on their ministries. Still others were attracted purely by a sense of the alien, as unfamiliar with MySpace itself as they were with the unique spiritual needs and longings of the people using it.

Most of the questions we fielded were general in nature, mostly about our research methods, the personal experiences we’ve had as a couple involved in ministry together, and our take on how young adults’ spirituality is unique, if at all. However, there were a couple of choice questions that helped us realize how great the chasm really is between us and some of the older members of the crowd.

One gentleman asked a question about MySpace that was so completely off track that I didn’t even know where to begin to answer. Fortunately, Amy jumped in to save me. Another man asked about the difference between MySpace, the largest social networking site in the world with nearly 200 million users, and a personal website.

Though the concept of MySpace as a social tool was only a metaphor, it momentarily became a clinic on the Internet, digital communications and other basic computer how-to’s. We even had a couple of people leave when they realized we weren’t there to help them build a MySpace page to recruit droves of young adults into their congregations.

There is no sure-fire formula, 40-day plan or hi-tech gimmick to attract young people to church. This, however, doesn’t stop people from desperately looking for one.

There is no shortcut to deep, trust-filled relationship, a sense of caring community and real belonging, which is what we younger folks long for from church more than anything. But, ultimately, there are a disturbing number of church leaders whose primary motivation for recruiting us to their churches is to keep their congregations from dying.

We’re more than a warm body and a few bucks in the plate. Yes, we probably will think of ways to change things if we join your church, so don’t invite us unless you’re really open to new ideas.

We also will not be impressed simply by slick presentations, hip verbiage in a brochure or a dynamic website. If you’re considering adding these few superficialities to a church that, beneath the surface, has no desire to have new life breathed into it, save your money and energy. If you really want to know us, what we want and believe, sit down over coffee – not in your church – slow down and ask us about our own stories.

If we’re hesitant to share, it’s mostly because we’ve developed a razor-sharp cynicism about a world, church included, that always wants something. Give it time, be patient, and you’ll soon come to realize that beneath our dyed hair, tattoos and piercings, we’re not much different than you. What’s more, whether you believe it or not, we still look to you for a glimmer of what God might be in the world.

Relationship is a bigger investment than a Myspace page, but if you want us, you’ll have to come find us. We’re still waiting.

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