“There is a fine distinction between building a church and building a new tower of Babel. I think that there is a permanent temptation to forget the difference.” -Henri Nouwen
Denominational loyalty is gone for many people in this generation, but institutional loyalty to the church has also faded. Among the young adults of today, we encounter a seeking generation that is finding spiritual engagement outside of the church community. The statement, “I don’t feel the need to go to a particular building to worship,” is indicative of a looming problem in the church today: an overwhelming concern for preserving the institution of the church that causes us to throw programs and money at the problem of declining attendance while neglecting relational ministry. More programming is NOT the answer. Instead the church needs to focus on building intergenerational communities where the lay people are equipped and encouraged to minister to each other and to graciously receive the gifts that others have to offer. When the community exudes the love of Christ to all people, young adults who seek communion with God and with others may again find themselves drawn to the church.
The formation of such a community requires a radical shift in the mindset and role of the laity. Our parishes need to become places where Christ-like hospitality and holistic pastoral care are not just the domain of the clergy but rather the vocation of every member of the church regardless of age. Parishioners have to be willing to share their lives with each other, an oblational act that requires an atmosphere of trust, love, and reconciliation. The strength of the church is that we have all of these things in Christ by whom we are sustained, loved, and reconciled to God and each other.