I don't know – and neither do you
I've been a "young person" for 10 years, working with youth, college students and young adults in local churches, mission experiences, summer camps and campus ministry settings. You would think by now I should know exactly what young people want from the church. But I don't.
There are plenty of things I want from the church, plenty of things my junior high youth want from the church and plenty of things my fellow seminarians want from the church. But, it takes actually listening to someone to learn what a person wants.
I asked young people what they want, and I listened. This is what I heard:
- Acceptance – a place where you can be yourself, a non-judgmental family and a place to serve and belong
- Authenticity – an authentic place to build relationships and a place to learn, grow, question and be a part of authentic community
- Relevancy – social and cultural leadership relating to justice; church that isn't in a building but out with real people; church that involves a balance of spiritual growth for people of all backgrounds, races and socioeconomic realities; sustainable outreach to a continuous community; and a place of reconciliation and healing
- Jesus – a body that boldly shares the gospel
What do young people want from the church? A place to feel accepted and loved unconditionally; authentic relationships; growth in a trusted community; a church that is relevant, engaging the world around it, not cloistered inside a building; a church seeking justice and reconciliation in issues of racism, sexism and economic disparities.
Young people want to be heard by an accepting and authentic community of Jesus-lovers who are relevant to the world.
There is no way to know what young people want unless you ask them. There's no universal, easy answer. You must engage genuinely with the young people around you. Ask them questions. Listen to them. Then, take them seriously and act on what you learn. It is as simple as that.
Ricky Harrison, 23, is a first-year student at Duke Divinity School. A member of First United Methodist Church, Richardson, Texas, he is a member of the United Methodist Connectional Table. He was a delegate to the 2012 General Conference and will serve again in 2016.