Maybe congregations shouldn’t try to keep young people

The Rev Heidi Haverkamp wonders in essay on the Collegeville Institute website, if perhaps congregations should not try so hard to keep their young people:

Last week, I attended an interfaith dinner at a local synagogue. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others broke bread together and listened to presentations on Jewish holidays. I sat next to the Purim presenter—an 11th grade boy in a kippah with a bleach blond curl hanging over one eye. I’ll call him “Jacob.” Jacob told me about his 8-bit music compositions using an old Game Boy, the colleges where he wants to apply, and bassoon composers. We also talked about religion. He said, “I like being Jewish, but I don’t really see myself as religious.” He liked being part of his synagogue, was obviously involved and respected by the adults around him, and gave the most engaging and fun presentation that evening. But as we ate buttered challah before dinner, Jacob shared with me that he probably would not continue to be “religious” when he left for college.

There is no shortage of speculation about why religious institutions are failing young people. Yet, here is a young man who feels welcome, fully engages with his community and its worship, is recognized for his gifts and leadership, and still doesn’t plan to continue being “religious.” (What he might mean by that term would be a whole other blog post.)


That doesn’t mean religious congregations should give up, or that they’re doomed, or that some young people won’t become passionately religious people. My fear is that congregations will become obsessed with ways to “fix” our churches, believing that we can convince young people not to leave by provocative Tweets, new worship styles, the right youth pastor, a “relevant message,” or some other magical solution. If only our churches were different, we suppose, our teenagers and young adults would be attending regularly and worshipping with gusto. Standing in the midst of a cultural shift like this one, we can’t think that way. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try new things or think of what would benefit our young people. But like Jacob, they may still not feel as though organized religion is a place for them, even if they love their congregation.

Instead, we should have confidence that it is enough to be a faith community with integrity—with great worship, music, traditions, and youth programs, whatever they may be in our tradition and congregation—and to be a faith community that cares about and celebrates kids.

Read it all here.

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