What Are “They” Looking For?

Probably not this:

By “this” I’m talking about a sanctuary full of people who look like themselves – only older.  I’m talking about a choir and pews and a pulpit.

By “they” I’m talking about “the young people.”  Millennials. Gen Xers. Gen Zers. Even those Boomers who used to be with us.  “They” are the Nones, the Dones, and even the “Wons” (those we convinced to join but we rarely see them.)  I’m often asked “where is everybody?”  “Why don’t people come to church anymore?” (It’s a complicated answer.)

Please do not misunderstand me.  I love the look and feel of church in terms of choirs, pews, and a pulpit.  I’m a fan of pipe organs along with drums and harps and trumpets and pianos and whatever other musical instruments people know how to play.  I like screens.  I like no screens.  I really like candles and banners and fresh flowers.  I love beautiful liturgy.

But this is not what most people are looking for.  Church is not about the trappings of an institution.  Real Church is what people are looking for – but not the way we – or even they – think of “Church.”

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”

Lots of preachers preached on that text last weekend, and yet increasing numbers of our neighbors have stopped expecting much life from their local churches.  Here’s my take on what human beings are looking for in these days:

  • Honesty. Are people pretending to be something they aren’t?
  • Community. Do we learn from each other and care for each other?
  • Refuge. Are we safe here?
  • Hope. Will I find meaning and encouragement?
  • Support. Will they love me when they realize I’m a hot mess?
  • Something holy and eternal.  Is this about supporting an institution or something bigger?

It’s important to remember that those of us who are privileged and prosperous underestimate the numbers of people out there looking for food, affordable housing,  gainful employment, medical treatment, and safe neighborhoods – first and foremost. When I asked a wise pastor recently what was going on in her rural congregation regarding dismantling racism, she said that “people are mostly concerned about having enough food to eat.  Considering other issues is a luxury.”

I believe with all my heart that the Church of Jesus Christ will thrive when we offer what human beings really need to be the people God calls us to be – whether we believe in God or not.  In spite of the bright words of The Resurrection, many people would not think to look for resurrection in a church.  Why is that?

Image of an anonymous Protestant church in the Midwest U.S. on Easter Sunday.

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