Pyrotechnics versus tradition in growing the Church

Here is a nice piece from Rev. Sarah Puryear, a young Episcopal Priest, writing about the efforts of the churches - particularly the historic and liturgical churches that grew out of the Reformation - to reach Millennials.  She notes that many of the "silver bullet" and "quick fix" strategies are rather superficial, saying:

"If churches are looking for quick fixes that might ease their sense of panic and attract young people, they need only consider the suggestions of millennial Jordan Taylor, who suggests in his video “How to Get Millennials Back in Church” the following remedies: fog machines, light shows, aggressive worship leaders, and a beard for every staff member. Taylor’s sarcastic suggestions expose a central weakness in many churches’ thinking about how to draw millennials: young adults can tell when they are the target of marketing strategies, and they generally don’t appreciate it."

She goes on to underscore new research that demonstrates the importance that parents - mothers and fathers - play in passing the faith on to the next generation.  As a society, we love to outsource "problem solving" to properly accredited professionals - and so we try this same approach when it comes to trying to keep our children connected to Christ and his Church.  Instead we should look to the time-honored practices of families praying together, reading the Bible and talking about their faith together, and of parents living a dedicated Christian life for their children to see and learn from.  This is no silver bullet.  It is simply the organic and natural process whereby a Christian parent's faith can bear fruit in the life of a child.  I strongly suspect - in the entertainment age when the TV screen (rather than the family altar) is the dominant focal point of the home - that it is the collapse of the "home church" and the Christian training of the children by their parents that is really at the root of the decline of active Christian faith in our culture.

Finally, she believes that this organic/natural family model can inform the communal life of the church as well, as she writes: 

I believe there is a parallel here for the Church. Rather than luring young adults through flashy programs or outsourcing their formation to experts, we will contribute to the spiritual formation of the next generation best by being serious about our faith ourselves. We must be serious about our faith on two levels — first and foremost, demonstrating what it means to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus; and second, modeling what it looks like to be a Christian in the Anglican tradition. Most Episcopal churches don’t stand a chance against nondenominational churches in a pyrotechnic competition, but we have a rich and beautiful tradition in our prayer book that goes beyond short-lived trends that will seem horribly dated within a few years’ time. Our tradition will not appeal to everyone, but it will draw young adults who long for something deeper in a superficial and distracted age.

I believe the same can be said about the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.  We share in the same liturgical and doctrinal stream as do the Anglican churches (if only we'd remember it in practice); we share with many churches a special emphasis on the spiritual disciplines and practices that can deeply anchor one's life in the life of the Triune God: the Early Methodists teach us to live by a rule of life, to practice meditation on Scripture, prayer, fasting, sacraments, silence, covenant groups, corporate praise, and so on.  I am afraid that we Methodists currently seem to be buying into more of the "let's look to the entertainment industry to find a flashy, wizz-bang, silver bullet" mentality, rather than committing ourselves afresh to the deep doctrinal truths and spiritual practices of our own tradition as a key to connecting people with Life Himself. 

In an age of loud, superficial, and often mind-numbing (rather than intellect-sharpening) entertainment/distraction I believe there are many young adults looking for ways to connect more deeply to God and to Reality.  Christ has created his Church precisely to help people do just that!

Last week our local church led a retreat of 25 people to a Benedictine Monastery.  We had among us a handful of young adults who had a great experience.  No fog machine, but instead the Daily Office.  No light show, but instead Lectio Divina.  No celebrities, but instead some genuine Christian community - what we Methodists call "holy Conferencing."  And through it all, God was near...and that was enough to feed our souls.

"My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever...for me it is good to be near to God; I have made the Lord God my refuge..."  Psalm 73:26-28  

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