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Congregations need new ways to reach young people

10/3/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report is a sidebar to story #469. A photograph is available.

A Report By Kathy L. Gilbert*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Laurie Day (center) and other members of the World Methodist Council's youth committee take time out from meetings in Oslo, Norway, to visit with United Methodist youth from area churches in this 2002 file photo. A UMNS photo by Brittany Dodd. Photo number 03-318, Accompanies UMNS #470, 10/1/03
To say that Laurie Day, 26, has been active in the United Methodist church since she was in junior high school seems like an understatement.

Her many roles include serving as a presidium member of the World Methodist Council and on the council's Youth Committee. She grew up in Idaho and is attending Iliff School of Theology this fall for a master's degree in justice of peace studies. At the same time, she is pursuing a master's in community social work at the University of Denver.

She was the Women's Division 2000 Theressa Hoover Community Service and Global Citizen award recipient. The grant gave her a chance to travel to Kenya to study the changing roles of women. She also served as a mission trip team leader, grant-writing intern, office assistant, youth leader, cook and camp counselor and mission trip participant.

"I have been called the poster child for the Board of Global Ministries," she jokes.

She has been active to a degree unmatched by most church members of any age. Her experiences have led her to conclude that the church must change its mindset if it is going to reach out to young people and survive.

"In another 20 or 30 years, the majority of the membership is going to be gone, at least in the United States, unless we start looking at alternative models of what is church and how people are involved in church," she says.

Those different models could include new ways of worshipping, she says.

"Your 11 a.m. Sunday service is not going to cut it, especially for young adults; we have so many others things we would rather do on Sunday mornings," she says. "Have church at a different time. There are different ideas of what church could be."

Day's role in the church got off to a running start when she was elected to the episcopacy committee for the Idaho Conference while in college.

"Basically I became one of the bishop's favorite young adults," she says. Because of that, she says she has been asked to serve on more committees than one person can handle.

"I feel like bishops and other people in leadership positions only have a memory of like one or two people, and so it is those same one or two people that sort of become named all the time," she says.

The church is friendly to those who are actively involved, she says.

"We are a church of boards and committees and meetings, so the church is friendly to those who go to those things. If you are not involved in that, I don't think the church is friendly. On the local level, it is not very inviting. On a national or international level it is only inviting to a few select people."

The church must provide activities or resources that allow young people to develop their own activities, she says. Many young people she knows are turning to community groups or national organizations outside the church for social justice work.

"For myself and a lot of my friends, our faith compels us to work for social justice and social change," she says. "Unfortunately, right now in the church, there is not a lot of room for that."

While in high school, a lot of young people attend church because they grew up in it and their family and friends go there, she says. "For me it was a social thing, it was fun because my friends went there."

When she went to college, she says she didn't go to a church for a variety of reasons, including the lack of transportation and good campus ministry groups.

"A lot of people say the church doesn't know what to do with you once you graduate from high school," she says. "They just wait until you have young children and come back because you want your kids to grow up in the church."

Says Day: "We are the church now, not just the future."

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*Gilbert is a news writer with United Methodist News Service.

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