I recently received a form letter from the editor of The Banner. In it, he pleaded for donations. I was deeply offended by the letter not because of his plea, however, but because his plea was directed exclusively toward older adults.
In bold, underlined script, he wrote, “We want to be sure that there’s a place at The Banner table for readers of all ages, including our children and grandchildren. Because they’re increasingly doing their reading online, we want to meet them there.” He went on to note how The Banner has made large strides in improving their online presence, quoting a 26-year-old with quintessential, stereotypical youth language: “Thanks for a great publication. For the online version it would be cool to allow comments after each article.” His letter closed by reassuring potential donors that “your gift will help us connect with all readers today so we can strengthen our future as a denomination and as servants of God.”
What bothered me most about the letter was how it was addressed to older individuals and separated young people into a demographic to be reached. As a 25 year old, I felt invisible — I felt like I had no place in the CRC. Youth were not seen as the church alive, but as the church of the future in need of indoctrination. This observation was further confirmed by the next month’s issue of the magazine, with its cover story “Shaping a youth-friendly church.”
Our fundamental orientation needs to change. Instead of defaulting to an above forty age range, the CRC needs to speak directly to our youth. Even though the letter was addressed directly to me — a 25-year-old yearning to belong to the CRC — the editor failed to consider that a subscriber and/or reader of the magazine could possibly be a young adult. We need to constantly remind ourselves that our church includes young adults. Youth are not the church of the future, they are the church of today. Young adults read our church’s magazine and they donate to it.
The church must enfold its young adults into the congregation by creating genuine roles for them. It must listen to and value their input. It must accept them into the full life of the church. But they must do this by walking alongside the youth in order to teach the practice of faith.
In Growing in the Life of Faith, Craig Dykstra proposes that Christian faith is the practice of a set of practices that ought to be developed through good coaching. This means that our churches should recognize that
- Christian faith is more than belief or meaning-making,
- Christian faith is an ongoing process of growth, and
- Christian faith is nurtured in and by a community.
We must not look at young adults as objects, we must instead respect them as fellow image bearers of God. We must intentionally invite them into the life of the church so that we may truly be the inclusive community we desire to become.