By Revs. Don Dewey and Susan Gonzales-Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers
Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." Mark 4:9
Cellco Partnership, which operated under the name Verizon Wireless, launched their “Can You Hear Me Now?” campaign in January 2002. It was an effort to increase their market “footprint” and expand coverage for more mobile phone users. It also helped establish higher-ground branding for Verizon amidst their competitors.
The goal for this campaign was to show future customers that their networks were better at avoiding dropped or lost calls and maintain stronger connections for their phone service. Verizon was spending $1 billion every 90 days for this campaign!
This past weekend I attended the REVIVE conference held at Mission gathering in San Diego. A guy referred to as “Science Mike” led one of the workshops offered. Though Mike is not a scientist in the traditional sense, he has done extensive study on generational characteristics. In this workshop he was specifically sharing information on what is referred to as the “Millennial” generation, those born between 1980 and 2000.
Looking across the broad spectrum of church in America, Millennials are seen as the “lost generation.” According to one study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history, and most drastic among Millennials described as 22- to 35-year-olds.
• Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
• 59 percent of Millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
• 35 percent of Millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
• Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
Another staggering statistic shared in the workshop led by Science Mike at REVIVE was that 35% of Millennials (and growing) are in depression. Some of this is attributed to the continual use of electronic devices. He said that there are at least two things that help mitigate this rise in depression among this generation. One is their involvement in sport activities. The other is active participation in church and/or a faith community. Unfortunately Mike says, that most churches do a very poor job of connecting with Millennials and younger generations.
This is both good news and bad news. Good news in that a faith life improves our overall life no matter the generation. Bad news is that we in the church have failed to connect well with the younger generations.
Their mass absence from our churches is a silent cry, “Can You Hear Me Now?” While so many in our churches bemoan the fact that there are fewer and fewer young people in their midst, yet when ask what would they like to see in their church they almost always reply “more youth and young adults” but rarely take the time to find out what they need or want from their church or faith community.
Mainline churches, including Disciples, continue to experience growing decline even with our best efforts to start new churches and yet remain reluctant to make the necessary adaptive changes that might begin to reach and connect with our newer generations. Many will say that the church is dying. I believe the church, as we’ve known it, has been and will continue to evolve, change and transform to meet a continual need with or without us.
Our scriptures tell us: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
The mission of God is emerging all around us and most often in places and ways we least expect it. God’s activity is not limited to age, culture, language, generation, style, place, denomination or any other category. The desire in every human being to be drawn into the mystery of God knows no boundaries. God’s Spirit continues to move in and through us seeking connection and asking again and again, “Can You Hear Me Now?” Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." Mark 4:9
Sam Eaton has written a provocative article/blog titled, “12 Reasons Millennials are over church”, see: https://faithit.com/12-reasons-millennials-over-church-sam-eaton/ I would encourage anyone interested in some of the concerns of the Millennials to read it. Besides the critique of why Millennials are over church, I appreciated that he offered some suggestions for what churches might do to change this situation and connect with this lost generation.
Obviously there are no quick or easy solutions to the ever shifting and changing landscape of church in America, yet I believe we must begin to take the time to listen to the needs of our young people if we want to be a part of God’s continual activity and mission in the world.
I continually hear from those who are new to Disciples that we are the best-kept secret in mainline churches. Friends, we can no longer afford to be a secret when there are generations unable to connect with the Good News of Jesus Christ because we have not done our work in connecting with them.
I don’t believe we need to spend $1 billion every 90 days to do this. However, I do believe we need to be continuingly asking our younger generations, “Can You Hear Me Now?’ with the desire to make the best possible connections!
Together on the journey,
Don and Susan Your Regional Ministers