Creating a New Religious Community Sarah Cunningham
26 I Nonprofit Professional Performance Magazine I still get letters from people who say they have a kid who grew up in the church, they never understood why he left and can’t talk to him about it, and the book gave them insight into what he might be thinking. I get notes from church staff and leaders who are extremely disillusioned and didn’t feel like they had a safe place to talk about it. Somehow, in the messiness, I connected with people. The feedback was reason enough to share what I learned, so I issued an updated version last year ( Beyond the Broken Church ). I tried to keep the tension I felt in my 20s, with a bit of wisdom from my 30s. I hope my readers give me permission to grow up that way. I say in Picking Dandelions , ten years With my dad as a pastor, I never imagined church was perfect. But worship was exciting to me and a core part of my identification as a member of my local church. My first job was as a church staffer in my early 20s, an idealistic life stage when I wanted to save the world with help from my church. Then people close to me suffered big disappointments, deeply impacting local congregations I cared about.That, along with learning about abuses of power in church history and the lack of diversity in the modern-day church, disillusioned me. So I started writing, immortalizing the weakest stage of my life. There are raw and painful things in my first book ( Dear Church : Letters from a Disillusioned Generation ). I really chased wisdom in writing it. I didn’t want to say anything irresponsible that would drive readers away from the church, though I included a lot of vulnerability and angst true to that life stage.
go so we can take this to the future. Elders want to do things the way they’ve done them. There’s something beautiful about that tension, though. Churches of yesterday and today must work out their differences just like our governmental checks and balances, or like the Democratic and Republican parties balance each other and prevent the nation from going too far in either direction. Churches of today and tomorrow perform that same role for each other. Expressing appreciation for other generations’ gifts is part of it. Some things change because the world itself changes. By 2050, for example, the US will have more non-whites than whites. Every church should naturally become more integrated. Since we know that’s where we’re heading, those in influential positions should preemptively plan to best serve those diverse emerging congregations to engage new demographics. A lot of church leaders are lost when a kid who has grown up in their church cuts ties in their 20s.The answer sometimes is simpler than data and research. Use your natural relationship-building skills. Call and make sure they’re all right, and offer a continued commitment of friendship. Have coffee. Say things like, “Maybe you’re working through things or you’re just busy, but know that we’re always rooting for you, we’ll always welcome you back, we’d love to hear what you’re thinking about that prevents you from being with us…” Stay in touch. Be a source of support. People gravitate toward love. Talking to young people themselves will get you farther than making things more “cool.”
from now I hope I’m different than I am now. I hope my writing is different, too, because that will mean that I’m continuing to grow. Social Observations. We Millennials have developed comfort with ambiguity. We often have both/and: career and motherhood, connection and independence, or texting friends while we’re doing other tasks. Some of us prefer both/and politically too. A third of young people don’t strongly identify with progressives or conservatives. Free thinking is encouraged, with no penalty if you haven’t landed on one specific answer and can’t defend it. Comfort with ambiguity is different than many in previous generations. Our parents and grandparents went to bookstores and checked on who wrote and published a book. If it wasn’t a press affiliated with their religious denomination, they didn’t buy it because it might be heresy. Millennials open a book, read a couple pages and the back and think, “this applies to me and I’m going to buy it,” or “it doesn’t apply to me, I’m not going to buy it.”We don’t need to agree with 100% of what we read, and we understand that good and bad can come from a number of places. Bringing Generations Together. To bridge the gaps, churches must establish the value of intergenerational partnerships. Young people wish the former generation would let
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