The new year is upon us. Some of us are returning home after traveling over the holidays. Others are returning to work and to school. Still others are getting reacquainted with their various landscapes, including being familiar with new legislation like the Open Carry law here in Texas. The period of the new year can be exhilarating for some and fraught with worry and concern for others. Some people I know are dealing with seismic shifts in their relationships with families; others I know are dealing with the abrupt shift in vocational opportunities, and are facing the probable reality that they will have to move in order for them to be gainfully employed again.
These challenges can feel overwhelming for some people. You can feel like you are trying to navigate your way through uncharted territory. Indeed, it can feel like “a wild and dangerous land. “
For some people churches and religious organizations have been traditional way stations of support when traveling through unknown regions. But this appears to be changing for younger people. According to the Pew Research Center
§ Since 2010, Millennials’ rating of churches and other religious organizations has dipped 18 percentage points: 55% now say churches have a positive impact on the country compared with five years ago, when nearly three-quarters (73%) said this. Views among older generations have changed little over this time period. As a result, older generations are now more likely than Millennials – who are much less likely than their elders to be religious – to view religious organizations positively. Jan 4, 2016Millennials’ views of news media, religious organizations grow more negative www.Pewresearchcenter.org
Why might there be this phenomena going on for some Millennials ? Are younger people not as religious as others ? Do they feel that churches are less relevant and meaningful compared to other generations of people ? I know of people who were attracted to churches because there was a strong youth program or there was a deep commitment to outreach and to social justice or they were drawn to a church because of a particular relationship with a youth minister, parishioner, etc.
These possibilities would certainly theoretically still exist for young people, but I wonder how churches and religious organizations can be meaningful to them. Technology has changed the landscape of many things including religious life. People can now stay in the comfort of their homes and participate on- line in religious interest or study groups. Worship times are now no longer locked into the time frame of 11:00 AM on Sunday Morning. Now you see worship services being held in the evenings or during the week. Also services are no longer formally structured; they can range from being an “ unplugged “ format to being a “ celebration circle .”
Tom Ehrich in his blog recently observed:
“The prophet Isaiah didn’t blame God for the wild and dangerous land that lay between Israelite exiles and their return to Jerusalem. Isaiah promised that God would help them to “ pass through the waters “ and “ not be burned “ by fire along the way. God would give them strength and courage for the journey. “Morning Walk Media www.morningwalkmedia.com/
We need to remind ourselves that God will be with us as we pass through the wild and dangerous land whether we are believers, non-believers, agnostics, nones. When the landscape is unknown, it’s always better to travel together.
Perhaps the emerging programs of ministry that will speak to young people might center around concerns such as helping the homeless, working for a better environment, advocating for a more just economic system.
We all need to experience safety and shelter, support and comfort. May our faith journeys this year and beyond encompass all of these qualities, and may we able to provide “ good news to all “ now and always.
May it be so.