So, I want to give a disclaimer before I start this thing: I procrastinated and didn’t finish this until 2am this morning. I had a killer migraine and if any of this temple talk stops making sense, yeah. That’s why.
As a good amount of you know, I was hired at Messiah last year to participate in their Messiah Builds Leaders program. Basically, I’d do Parish Administrator tasks like bulletins, Leaderguides, newsletters, and annoying you guys with dozens of emails. On top of all of that, I was given a Learning Covenant where I made goals for myself, made steps towards achieving those goals, and evaluated the progress made at the end of the commitment. These goals are mainly about fostering spiritual growth and leadership skills – hence the name Messiah Builds Leaders. This temple talk will serve as my evaluation of my first year, and a little more.
I made 6 goals – some easier than others. Actually, my goals go in order from easiest to hardest. I didn’t even mean for that to happen.
1. Discern what God is calling me to do with my life. I’m starting nursing school in less than two months, so I’d say I met that goal the best I could.
2. Explore my strengths and weaknesses. Yeah, I did that too. I even worked on improving all of them, too!
3. Learn how to effectively organize a community and plan community events. I took over leadership with the young adult group and have collaborated outings with Pastor Dustin – some more successful than others – but I think we’re getting somewhere! I’ll call this goal finished.
4. Strengthen my social skills in order to become an effective communicator. I read in front of 100 people during Easter, played the part of a Deacon/Thurifer during Easter Vigil, did announcements, made countless awkward phone calls, and I’m standing here right now. I think I completed this goal, too.
5. Gain knowledge about Messiah, the ELCA, Lutheranism, and church liturgy. I read tons of books, attended various adult education classes, went to conference and synod assembly, and will be going to Hartwick two weeks from now to learn a ton of stuff about the Church, the Bible, and beyond. Surprisingly, I found this stuff to be really enjoyable to learn about. If nursing doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll give being a pastor a shot. Or maybe just be a Deacon. That’s a bit more reasonable.
6. Last but not least, #6. Discover ways to make Messiah more appealing to young adults. This was my toughest goal, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever find a sufficient enough answer for this. I’ll talk a little more in-depth about this before I let you go back to regular scheduled programming. This is from a previously unchurched person’s perspective.
Before you get to hear my boring opinion, though, lets read you some other opinions.
- Nobody is listening to us – why blindly serve an institution we cannot change or shape?
- Helping the poor isn’t a priority for the church.
- We want to be mentored, not preached at.
- We want to feel valued.
- The public perception of the church isn’t a good one.
- Churches need to be more like Jesus.
- Church is bigoted.
- It lacks meaning.
- It’s too early.
- Church isn’t cool enough.
- You’re trying too hard to make church cool.
- Church is too much like a country club.
- We want meaningful experiences; we can get that anywhere.
- Community is not valued.
- The church is a source of division and not unity.
This is just a taste of what millennials are thinking churches lack in. I disagree with many of these, but there are a few I’d love to focus on:
We want meaningful experiences; Helping the poor; Community; We want to be mentored.
These all hit me the hardest, because that was originally what I thought of churches; meaningless, self-indulgent, and uncaring. Boy was I wrong. Messiah does not lack in any of these. We have a very caring community. Our food pantry does all they can to help those who are food-insecure to make ends meet. They are dedicated, hard-working, and genuinely care about their community. We have individuals that volunteer with SICM Summer Lunch. We have educational advocates. A congregation with tons of current or retired teachers and nurses. We have a day where we participate in God’s Work, Our Hands. We have a community-focused day every other year where everything is free or at an extremely low cost. I’d really love to see mentoring grow here, but I believe Messiah Builds Leaders is a huge step in that direction. The list is endless. The opportunities at Messiah are endless. If there is something you want to see Messiah get involved in, there is someone who will listen and help you figure out how to get that started. We could go anywhere for meaningful experiences, that’s right, but why not do it together with your faith community?
So where is the disconnect? Why aren’t we reaching more young adults? Church may not be a priority for some people, but that isn’t the case for everybody. I know there are individuals in our very community that long for everything that we have. How can we convince them to try us out? Perhaps more of a public presence, a bigger push on outreach? We’re currently working on making some of our outreach materials more up-do-date, so that’s a really good start. The biggest thing that I think we can do is bust those stereotypes – really show them that we care about EVERYBODY. We’re Lutherans. We’re followers of Jesus. What does that mean? What does that offer to them?
I’ve only done a little bit of digging around in a topic that is very, very big. Like, I’m pretty sure there is a degree for this kind of stuff somewhere. Leadership programs like the one I’ve been so blessed to participate in are more important than ever. With older members of congregations moving onto different chapters of their lives, it is our turn to step up and help keep the church alive. We have fresh ideas, social media literacy, and so many other skills that we can harness and use to our advantage. We have voices. We even have Kiersten on council; we have a voice and people are eager to listen. Harley and Amy did a smaller version of a learning covenant last year as camp counselors and had a really enriching experience working with inner-city children. Kody is currently working on his learning covenant as our Communications Coordinator. I’m planning on doing a round two of this while I am in college with fewer goals in a few areas I wish I got to cover during my first year. We have all participated in discipleship, and I am so excited for what else the future may bring and what other young adults in our congregation may want to get involved in.