It is usually thought by most Catholics that the Evangelical “mega Churches” have lots of young adults and that many of our Catholic young adults have gone there. There is, no doubt, a great absence of young adults in most Catholic Parishes. There seems to be a quite literal and physical generation gap, the “gap” being the empty spaces in the Church that young adults would occupy. However, Eric Sammons at his blog The Divine Life (excellent Blog – Check it out!) has called attention to a very interesting article that reveals that absent young adults is a very common problem in Evangelical Churches too. The article appears in the Broken Arrow Ledger entitled “Where have the Young People Gone?” The article also reveals some Churches where young adults are increasing in number and you may be surprised where. Here are some excerpts along with my comments in RED
Two-thirds of young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches are leaving, according to Ham and Beemer. [Authors of a forthcoming book “Already Gone,” by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, with Todd Hillard]…Information in the book is based on data collected from 20,000 phone calls and detailed surveys of 1,000 20-to-29-year-olds who used to attend evangelical churches on a regular basis but have since left them behind…..This is no small survey. Most major surveys feature much smaller sampling groups
“They (young people) have written church off as a moralistic bad guy that wants to keep them from enjoying their life…. I had this attitude when I was young too. My “lack of belief” was not a “studied atheism” but rather a more angry agnosticism. I didn’t like being told what to do. And I allowed what I wanted to do to be the basis of what I would accept. I don’t suppose that every yound adult goes through this phase but many do. In the Archdiocese we have certain forums like Theology on Tap where we try to engage young adults on important moral issues and demonstrate the credibility and sensibility of Catholic teaching. But, it is a long discussion to be had over many years. But if only we can keep them in the discussion, we may win some of them back.
Young people no longer believe in Genesis, which is the basis for Christianity, Garland said. They question everything from creation to the divinity of Christ, and for that he credits laws that require the evolution theory be taught in public school classrooms and ban instruction on Biblical creation. As I pointed out yesterday in my Blog Post I don’t think it is necessarily that they don’t believe but rather that we have failedto set the Biblical narrative forth in a compelling way because, in many cases we have stripped the plot of it’s central conflict which is the terrible reality of sin and the consequent need to be saved. I don’t think it is difficult to demonstrate to young adults that sin is a very serious matter. They have seen friends die from drug overdoes and drunk driving accidents. They know of the reality of STDs and the shallowness of most modern “substitutes” for marriage. They have experienced hurts and betrayals. They are aware of violence, poverty and injustice. I think we just have to get in the game and show them how the Scriptures and the doctrine of Original Sin go a long way toward explaining the broken down nature of the this fallen world. Our teaching is sensible if we focus in on the main problem of sin and disorder, the “problem of evil.” Without this Genesis and the whole Biblical narrative seems but a quaint and fanciful story that does not connect. And with no concept of the problem of sin and the great drama of their lives, young adults see no relevance to salvation, the necessity of prayer and sacraments. They just disconnect.
There is an exception, however. Traditional churches that are liturgical churches and smaller evangelical churches seem to be retaining their twenty-something members in greater numbers than larger and mega-churches…..Now you’d think the Catholic Church would fall into this category. But to some extent we are not reaping this harvest because most of our liturgies lack the flavor of tradition. More on this in a moment. [Rev John] Wilke said the only church he knows of that is experiencing growth in the 20-to-29-year old age group is the Greek Orthodox Church.“The Greek Orthodox Church is a liturgical church. Kids want to return to something different from what they get from the world. If we want to reach these kids again, we are going to have to return to what the early church was doing. We need to raise the bar,” he said…..There is sort of a strange rebound in some of the ancient liturgies, such as Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Episcopalian. What we would call the emerging church is something that is very appealing to that age group. Places that have a sense of order, mystery and transcendence are very appealing….I have experienced a lot of this in my discussion with some young adults who do not find the current liturgical experience of most Catholic Parishes satisfying. Many of them are turning up at the Traditional Latin Mass at I St Mary’s and other locations. I say Mass the Traditional Latin Mass once a month at St. Mary’s and find a growing and vigorous group of young adults there. For the last several years, more than half my weddings come from the Latin Mass group. Most of these young adults were dissatisfied with liturgies in their local parish which they found trendy and ephemeral. Remember, the 1960s folk music is a long time ago to them! Folk singing seems dated to many (not all) young adults. Many are discovering the riches of traditional worship that were dropped in the 1970s. Now I want to say that I do not think that the majority of young adults are asking for the Latin Mass. But what IS observable is that one area of the Church that is attracting and retaining young adults is the Traditional Latin Mass. Also, at a neighboring Parish, St. Peters on Capitol Hill, there are many young adults that turn out for Eucharistic adoration. My data is anecdotal only, but there seems to be a consistent message that many young adults are looking for more traditional forms, they are increasingly attracted by a presentation of the faith that is substantial and serious. This is also evident in the recent trend in vocations to the priesthood and religious life wherein most of the young adults who answer the call are far more traditional than they were 20 to 30 years ago. They prefer traditional forms and insist on orthodoxy. [W]here entertainment is the approach to worship. It doesn’t really satisfy. I think there is a richness in the ancient traditions that speaks at levels where contemporary music fails….[Rev. Shelby Scott agrees]: traditional liturgies and such things as incense and mystery – has become something of a strength and intrigue for the younger generation,” he said.
The Rev. John Wilke, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church,…cited one of Luther’s writings as something for church leaders to consider: “A faith that costs nothing and demands nothing is worth nothing.” “I think that is where the church is today. I get too many things in the mail from churches that say, ‘Come just the way you are, you don’t have to change,’” Wilke said. “While God loves you where you are, he expects you to change. We don’t put the fear of God in our churches, we don’t have that respect. We’ve made Jesus our homeboy. He’s not our homeboy, he’s our Saviour.”…Rev Scott agrees….that Christian worship is going through a significant change. He believes young people are looking for a doctrine that requires more of them than just showing up at church. Here too my own experience bears this out. While it is true that many young adults may still be in the “I don’t want to be told what to do” mode. I think it is also true that many young adults also move to a stage when that begins to abate and they are looking for meaning and answers. Further, I am convinced that most of the rebellious, deep down inside, are glad that some one is challenging them. Somewhere under all the layers they want to know the truth even if they are not ready to fully embrace it. When I was a teenager I was well aware when I was being patronized and I usually respected adults less who humored me and tried to “relate” to me. Frankly they looked silly try to be like a teenager. Young adults too, I suspect, know when we are watering things down in an attempt to be popular. A faith that is integral and properly demanding command more resepct in the end. We will not be taken seriously by young adults unless we ARE serious. Trendy and cheesy gimmicks will backfire in the end unless there is a serious and reasonably demanding faith that is expressed.
The following video was an PBS special I taped on the Latin Mass. Among the topics discussed is the appeal that many young adults find with it.