What about the young ‘uns?…a bit of a rant.

There was a short posting over at RevGals a few days (weeks?) ago that I’ve been mulling over. The posting spoke about how the next generation of church members (30-40’s) are not interested in getting involved in church governance. Some of the reasons listed included timing of meetings (during the day) and certainly were valid, but it got me to thinking….

Might it be that the reason that these members aren’t interested is because of their much touted “distrust of institutions”? I’ve been spending time with some union folks lately and I certainly hear the same concerns from them that we are voicing in the church. I know that I’d love to have more of our 30-40 year olds involved on our Vestry…and I know the Vestry would be delighted to have them join in, but when they are asked, their automatic response is “No, I don’t think so.” They don’t even give us a chance to be dismissive of their ideas, or to tell them “Oh, yes, we tried that before and it didn’t work.” They don’t even give us a chance to say, “We’ll work around your schedule as best we can.” Our attempts to involve these valuable members of our congregation are met with dismissal.

When I speak with the union leaders I know, or the community organizations I hear much the same story. It seems that our younger members could care less about the important work of keeping our organizations going. And yes, I know that maybe they don’t think that our institutions are valuable and important…but so far I haven’t heard them come up with any alternatives. Who, I ask you, will do some of the important work that our civic institutions do…who will speak out on behalf of the ordinary working folk, who will push back against unjust public policy, who will collect the food for the food bank, provide volunteer sandwich makers for the homeless, and all the other things that churches and other service organizations do?

And yes, I know these young parents are busy, but I was busy too when I was their age, I know what it is to juggle kids, daycare, skating lessons, 4-H, a full time job, (actually 2, I was a ranchers wife), but I also found time to sit on several community and church boards. I know what it was to have older members look at me with “that look” and ignore my ideas. I remember the frustration of being told “that’ll never work here”, but I kept on and eventually some of my ideas DID get listened to and tried, and in the meantime I learned a lot about politics and how to “make friends and influence people.”

If we old folks have indeed but barriers in the way of the next generation becoming involved, then please tell us, but if it is simply a matter that they distrust institutions and the present governing structure, please GET OVER IT. We need you to be a part of making change. We know that what we have doesn’t always work as it should, and we’re open to making things better. But we can’t do it without your input. Just sayin’

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About theladyfather

Anglican Priest of an ethnically diverse small city parish.
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3 Responses to What about the young ‘uns?…a bit of a rant.

  1. Teri says:

    It could be that GenX will be lost to institutions, just as the Lost Generation was. It’s far more likely that the Millennials (currently age 12-29 or so) will be the ones invested in building the institution. Some of us Xers will do what you suggest–get in and push. Others of us will start doing that only to be rebuffed, thus justifying our cynicism about institutions. And many will simply stay away–whether because of our stereotypical cynicism or because, *honestly* (ie too bluntly, because I haven’t had any coffee yet, so please keep that in mind when reading!), we have two problems.
    1. (I said this on the RevGal blog too) We’ve spent our entire lives hearing people complain about meetings, talk about how nothing gets done, what a waste of time they are, how long-suffering people are for continuing to serve and try to change things from the inside, but wow aren’t meetings just pointless? WHY would we want to be involved in things that appear to primarily involve meetings (ie church boards) when that’s what we’ve heard forever?
    2. We’ve been unwanted in leadership yet simultaneously marketed to and sought after as a token young person…now suddenly everyone wants more young people. Well, sorry to say, it may be a case of too little too late. If people had cared about us and our input before we turned 30 or 40, we might be more invested now. SO, that means: it’s time to start working with the NEXT generation–those in their teens and 20s. They’re the ones we need to pay attention to now, to listen to now, not because we want a token young person or because we want to be able to say we have a youth elder or because we want to prove that we support youth ministry more than the church down the street, but because we truly value their ideas, input, evaluation, experience, hopes, and dreams. If we focus on the 30s and 40s, we’re going to lose the Millennials too, for this same reason.

    Just my opinion as an end-of-GenX-er who’s in and pushing, but getting far more pushback than anyone seem to believe, including the people who are doing the pushing back.

    • Thank you Teri. I found your comments helpful. (And now I know it’s OK to call you Gen X–I wasn’t sure if that would be demeaning or not; at least it’s better than calling you young’uns–got it!).

      I found your first point very helpful, and it likely will apply to the next generation too. If the dinner table talk goes: “Oh darn, I’ve got to go to a Vestry meeting tonight” followed by a string of complaints, or worse yet….”You wouldn’t believe what happened at the meeting…” followed by a litany of how boring and what a waste of time the meeting was, then the message we’re giving is “Why bother?”

      So then, perhaps what we need to do is ensure that our meetings are productive and positive. We do have a couple of Gen Xers on our board, but it’s hard to keep them involved and engaged. Interestingly enough, I find they are the least willing to look at new ideas and the first to say “We can’t do that! I like it the way it was when I was growing up.” But then, we’re Canadians and we don’t do innovation very well.

  2. Teri says:

    PS: it can be incredibly frustrating to be continually called “the young people” when in your 30s and 40s. If 30s and 40s are the young people in the church, we have a bigger problem. Hopefully there are some people under 30 in the church too. So I guess point 2b is “when do we get to be real grown ups, part of the church/institution/whatever in our own right, not just as “young people”?”

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