|‘Wandering generation’ looks for connections|
The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt speaks
about the importance of making church friendly for young people and
single adults. A UMNS photo by
Cassandra Heller, Board of Global Ministries.
By Elliott Wright*
Aug. 5, 2008 | ORLANDO, Fla. (UMNS)
The fact that many Americans have little idea what "church" means or
what happens there was a recurrent theme at the 2008 United Methodist
School of Congregational Development.
The point was underscored by sociological data and pastoral experience,
but more attention was given to ways of responding creatively to the
challenge than to decrying the concern.
Lack of knowledge of "church" is most acute among those under 35,
prompting one pastor and author to focus her presentation on that
The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt is co-pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and author of the 2007 book Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation.
She is herself a young adult and describes her generation as
"wandering" when it comes to connections to God and systems of meaning.
"We have a huge opportunity with the wandering generation," she told 300
people gathered in Orlando at an annual event focused on church
development. She was linked by satellite to another 150 at a similar
event in Grand Rapids, Mich.
At its best, the “church is a place where they can form connections—with God, the world and each other.”
–The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt
"What young adults are looking for is right there in our
congregations," said Merritt, whose church is located across the street
from George Washington University in the Foggy Bottom section of
However, church-as-usual to those over 40 may not be recognized by young
adults as a place of caring or a repository of answers to life's
Contemporary young adults, according to Merritt, don't need the church
in its present form, but they do need a church interested in
relationships and connections rather than programs. At its best, she
said, the "church is a place where they can form connections—with God,
the world and each other."
Based on media presentations of religion, many young adults do not know
that "Christianity is not the Republican Party, its leader is not Pat
Robertson, and its message is not what you hear on Fox News," Merritt
"We need to think about 'church' a little differently," she said,
picking up motifs from her book which uses "tribal church" as a metaphor
for those who band together on a spiritual journey. The emphasis is on
A different lens
Merritt invited her United Methodist colleagues to look at some of
the realities of life for young adults today. "Yes, we may be used to
getting what we want, but there is a great shortage for young adults
when it comes to medical care, housing, community and other basics that
are needed to make connections," she said.
Young adults, she continued, face difficult challenges with regard to
employment, finances and a sense of stability. Many are deeply in debt,
often from college loans, and find it necessary to live with parents.
Western Presbyterian Church is a progressive-minded, inclusive
congregation that is growing. It engages in a variety of community
ministries, including a feeding program that it successfully defended in
court against some of its neighbors in Foggy Bottom.
Merritt encouraged congregations new or old not to base their entire
appeal or plans for growth on nuclear families or the pattern of getting
children involved so they will bring their parents to church.
Those are good models, she said, but there is also a large population of
unmarried young adults among the unchurched, and the church has a
responsibility to that wandering generation.
*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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