Young adults are not a group that the church has done a great job reaching. The often-referenced Pew Research Center study shows a church that has largely failed to keep the attention of the Millennial generation. Even among those who were heavily involved in Christian religious practice, many do not choose to maintain their church membership or to seek new religious communities as they age. The patterns of Christian education have not largely changed during this period. So it is logical to pin responsibility on Millennials.
Moral Therapeutic Deism
The work of scholars like Kenda Creasy Dean suggest otherwise. In Almost Christian, she introduces the concept of Moral Theraputic Deism. My quick quick paraphrase of MTD is that it serves as a no fat, no sugar, caffeine free version of Christianity. This is the version of Christianity that you might see characters on an ABC prime time show espouse, not counting the occasional use of judgmental social-conservativism for dramatic tension. Like the Jesus Project in the ‘70s, MTD gives us a stripped down version of the Gospel. This version features a Jesus that is nice, tolerant and tame in word and deed. Millennials have not invented this version of Jesus on their own, this is the gospel they received from us. We value a Christianity that does not ‘rock the boat.’ Coffee and Fellowship hour after the service are treated as at least as important an aspect of our life together as the worship service that precedes them. Moral Therapeutic Deism is the Christianity that we have communicated to Millennials perhaps more in our actions than our words.
I think this is a big part of why young adults are not in our churches. A Christianity that doesn’t ask much more of us than basic human kindness and being “good” people also doesn’t offer much in return. There are young adults who know that the Gospel is about much more than being a good person, but why should they look for it in the Church? A place that, by and large, doesn’t like change and that invented the very version of Christianity they are seeking an alternative to?
Our First Program Missed the Mark
It was into this environment that we sought to introduce a new program. One where we asked young adults to live sacrificially, work in service and commit a year of their lives to the Church. We had chosen to subscribe to a model that, if we were seeking to establish it five or ten years ago, might have been successful. We still believe in the value of living in an intentional community and committing to service as a means of self discovery (it is worth noting though that none of us were going to sign up for this program). Unfortunatly, Moral Theraputic Deism and trend toward consumerism did not prepare young adults to hear us and we failed to communicate our vision in a compelling way (plus all the reasons previously discussed for difficulty in getting started).
In light of all we’ve found regarding our program it is clear that some changes need to be made. In the simplest terms, we have the choice of fixing our current program or doing something new. We looked at what it would take to fix those things which can be fixed and several things become clear pretty quickly. It can be very expensive to fully account for the needs of 3-6 people for a year. Even brining our current program up to be competitive with other programs places us among a large group of similar options, all competing for the same group of people. There are also just some structural barriers that are inherent in the nature of the program.
Connecting Young Adults with the Work of the Church
We’re working on something very different than version one of Motor City Mission Corps. We are part of the Presbytery of Detroit and honoring the community to which we are accountable means that there is not a whole lot I can say at this point about where we are going.
I can say that we are seeking to be faithful both to the churches and organizations that support us, who have joined in our mission as well as to the young adults in our community. We see our purpose as connecting young adults to the work of the Church in the world and we want to make it possible for young adults to pursue the call of God on their lives. We believe in their ability to lift up their communities and want to help enable them to do so.
Photot by Marc Wieland via unsplash.com