Membership and Belonging: Young Professionals at Church

I recently read (via Facebook) a well-meaning article questioning why some young people are attending church but not becoming members.

I don’t have the link anymore, but the concept – or maybe the complaint – has really stuck with me. My husband and I are regularly attending a church without being officially on the membership roll, and after some careful consideration, I’m still okay with that. I think it’s worth discussing, though, because it’s part of a disconnect that exists between churches and a particular part of the population.

I’m talking specifically about young professionals, married or unmarried. What does this segment look like?

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  • We relocate frequently for our jobs – every 1-3 years. Or, we may change employers frequently. Either way, we’re trying to establish ourselves in life and in business, and we’re not especially tied to any one area.
  • We travel for business regularly, and we may also accept temporary assignments (say, 3-6 months’ duration). It’s a Lean In kinda thing: we’re young and relatively unattached; now’s the time to get those types of experiences.
  • Our friends and family are located all over the place: in our hometown, in our college town, in the last place we worked. We are not living in any of those places, and there’s a lot of family expectation and social pressure to maintain those relationships and show up at key events like weddings and birthdays. As a result, one, two or even three weekends out of the month, we’re on the road.
  • We’re dating or married to other young professionals who are also dealing with the above. Chances are, they’re  not the same denomination as we are.

As a result:

  • We’re not able to be in your church every weekend, so when we are, please don’t come up to us with big sad eyes and say how glad you are that we’ve decided to ‘come back’. Remember, we may have been to church somewhere else. You’re not the only church in the world.
  • We can’t come to your Tuesday afternoon Women’s tea or your 7 AM Men’s breakfast. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to participate or that we are “Sunday Only” Christians. Nor does it mean that we aren’t adults yet (even though not being able to participate in adult activities can make us feel that way).
  • It’s exhausting to search for, join, and commit to a church every time we relocate. Ideally, we stick within our denomination or to more open churches. (I’ve found United Methodists wonderful at being open – but that’s just me.) It’s much worse if we also have to ‘convert’ or go through classes to join. The effort does not seem worthwhile when we’re just going to pull up our stakes in a few months and go somewhere else.
  • We really just want to be able to participate in authentic worship in a welcoming and inclusive environment. No gimmicks and no sign up sheets. We’ll give, we’ll come to potlucks and church events when we can, and we’ll sing super loud if that’s what you want. Just don’t ask for more than we can do at this moment in our lives.

With all that: I’m thankful that I have found a welcoming church where I haven’t been pressured in any way, and where my husband and I can both fully participate together. I would love to feel more like a member by being included in the life of the church – yes, I’m talking about those teas and service events – but they seem to be geared towards housewives and retirees. So I’m letting that go, for now.

And please, when you see me at church after a two-week absence: just say hello. No intervention required.

 

 photo credit: Matthew Wilkinson, “Montreal Steps”, via Flickr. license

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One thought on “Membership and Belonging: Young Professionals at Church

  1. This is a fascinating discussion and an issue I think about. As a “young person”, I get asked all the dang time to be on this committee or that committee or to come help set up for a meal, etc.

    Sometimes (sometimes!) Sometimes I’m available, sometimes I’m not. It bugs me that that has become the sign of a true Christian. I’m sorry, but nowhere in the Bible did Jesus say, “Blessed are those who sit on the Church board (serve the Ladies’ tea, bake 5 doz. brownies, etc.).” And I agree with you, I think it’s time for a rethinking of the way we’ve been doing church. Sometimes I feel like the church has gotten stuck in this 1950s model and, really, it’s not working anymore. Anyway, thanks for bringing this up! A fascinating topic!

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