A Facebook friend shared a post by a young woman of color, talking about her perspective on the women’s marches. My friend shared it just saying, “Amplifying”. She was putting a voice that was not her own in front of people who might not otherwise hear it, because she recognized it mattered. My friend’s witness was that her own words are not always what are needed, but her privilege can be used to amplify someone else’s voice within her sphere of influence. It’s a testimony to God at work in the world. I think that action, “amplifying,” could be the guiding principle for ministry with young adults on either a congregational or regional level.
Why? First, because this is what we believe and espouse in all mission: God is already present and working in people’s lives, before the Church arrives on the scene. For example, in global mission, our church only sends people overseas at the invitation of local people, to bring specific needed skills, but always in a posture of “accompaniment.” That means we don’t come holding answers or demanding leadership. We don’t arrive to give incentives (bribe) people to participate in our church. We arrive as inter-dependent guests, with much to learn alongside what we have to offer. Why should our approach to ministry with young adults be different than this humble attitude of accompaniment?
Second, I believe the purpose of “amplifying” is most needed because there is such suspicion of the Church’s motivation for outreach. It is well-documented that mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. are declining in some significant ways. Are we interested in “young adults” or others joining so that they can perpetuate our churches? Or do we truly want to be in relationship, which means we will be changed? We can try any number of tactics to “bring people in” but if the object is always assimilation, they will smell the hypocrisy of that before they get in the door. Others have written thought-provokingly about this, such as this Evangelical young adult: http://faithit.com/12-reasons-millennials-over-church-sam-eaton/.
Instead of creating church programs (like an older version of youth group) we think might attract young adults then trying to recruit them, “amplifying” what Millenials are already doing in the world would be the opposite course of action. Here are some ways to do that:
- Acknowledge that young adults are passionate, just not particularly about church. Get into what they are passionate about in the community, because WE as a church want to be changed by them! This would take some detective work out in the community, a good exercise for all church folk, but if it is important enough to us, maybe even the dedicated time of a staff person. Then, we can use some practical theology when we explain to each other how we see God working through a group, project or individual whose words or actions we want to “amplify”.
An example: Eat for Equity! This movement within several satellite cities brings volunteers together to make a meal related to a grassroots non-profit that is working for good in the world. People show up, toss in $10-15, eat, socialize with others who care about such things, and at some point during the evening hear about the benefit organization. Actually, Eat for Equity is all about amplifying, but doing it in a nourishing, low-commitment, way: individual events. A church could do an E4E-like ministry on their own! eatforequity.org
2. Catalogue the assets we as a Church have to offer: network of churches, education, organizational skills, connections, money, public spaces. To empty ourselves like Christ, in order to be inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit, we can think about giving up our space for art exhibitions and performances and our lawns for community gardens. What organizations or community groups already do these things well, and how can we amplify and support them? If we are not trying to entice more members, but to be changed ourselves through an encounter with God working in our midst, then we need to actively invite active groups to use our space, then be present, involved and hospitable to the hilt!
3. Entrepreneurs and Creativity: What is anyone interested in/concerned about/trying to start up that exemplifies God working in the world, and how might we amplify that so that the thousands of people associated with our congregations and their networks might have contact with something/someone they might otherwise never encounter? Can we publish a list of businesses owned by people of color or immigrants, to be explicit about supporting those who are targets of hate crimes? What if we hosted regional “TED Talk” – like conferences, highlighting how God is working through all the contributions and thoughts of the people who live here, for the betterment of our community?
4. Talk about things that really matter. People’s minds only change in ways that really matter through relationships. Congregations are some of the few remaining inter-generational public associations where one common commitment (to Jesus) brings together people who have not much else in common. We have to become known as people who call out bigotry, declare war on poverty, salvage the earth and strive to live intentionally through even our daily choices. We are going to need guides and teachers in those honest conversations, because sometimes in the Church we have been more invested in being pleasant than being honest. We would have to leave behind the right to feel fragile or defensive about what we have “done and left undone,” but asking the generation that has grown up accepting diversity to make our churches honest about our own past and present might just be a way for us into the future.
I could see the same approach for reaching out to a community of color not already present in our churches…
I’m just getting the ball rolling here, and would love to see where this kind of thinking could lead!