Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When the Church Disappoints

We have all experienced this emotion at some time in our life. We feel the Church has let us down or that her programs are inadequate or even substandard. People (young adults especially) are leaving the Church in droves, and we struggle to assign “blame” or establish some reason why so many leave the Church. It has been verified that between 60-80% of youth leave the Church after high school NEVER TO RETURN.

Upon my review of many studies and with twenty years experience working with youth, I suggest that most often, though by no means exclusively, when we feel disappointed by the Church, it is our expectations that needed adjusting, rather than the Church. You may think I am merely defending the institution for which I am invested.

Hold off on that accusation for the moment. The Church has for several decades been wrestling with the question of how best to minister to her flock. And we will continue to wrestle with these issues, which is why I offer my thoughts in this particular blog post. Too often the Church focuses upon the wrong enticements to hold on to her flock. What do I mean?

There are many program and ministries the Church attempts IN A DIRECT EFFORT to attract and hold her flock. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these ministries focus upon the fleshly passions rather than the yearning for God that exists in every human soul.
  • Basketball (and various other athletics)
  • Folk dance groups (and various other cultural ministries)
  • Scouts (and various other leadership building groups)
  • Camping trips (and various other outdoor excursions)

And in most of these activities, the Church falls short in delivering great, superior programs. Why is this? I believe the answer is right in front of our faces. When I first entered youth ministry a mentor taught me, “We can’t compete with the world.” Here is what he meant...
  • We have teenage athletic programs, BUT the Middle Schools and High School will ALWAYS do athletics better than we can. Our programs are “burdened” with fairness and Christian rules of sportsmanship.
  • We have teenage folk dance programs, BUT the professional dance schools will ALWAYS do dance better than we can. Our programs are “burdened” with rules that force equal time in performances for every member, whether or not they attend all the required practices.
  • We have leadership programs, BUT the Chamber of Commerce will ALWAYS do leadership training better than we can. Our leadership training is limited many times because we have “teachers” who themselves are poor leaders, because they are the only volunteers to step forward.
  • We take outdoor trips with our teenagers, BUT they often fall short of expectations because of poor funding sources.

I don’t mean to suggest that our programs are ACTUALLY substandard. It is only when our programs try to “compete” with similar programs sponsored by the secular world, that they appear substandard. If a teenager REALLY enjoys basketball, he (or she) looks upon our Church team as poor talent and not a place where he can shine athletically. A high school star is just another player among GOYAns at a Church tournament. So long, as someone isn’t expecting GREAT basketball, our programs meet the need for fellowship but not because it’s great basketball. I believe the same can be said of many of our programs. In other words, if the teenager is seeking great basketball, he won’t find it here.

There is only thing the Church can offer that is far superior to any secular program. Only the CHURCH can offer CHRIST. If someone is seeking Christ, then the Church will never disappoint, but Christ resides in the Church. The Church was established by Christ, SO THAT people could encounter Him when they seek Him.

So if you feel like the Church is a disappointment, consider what you are seeking. Are you seeking Christ or a great basketball program? If you seek Christ, He is present in the Eucharist for you to physically encounter. If you seek Christ, He is present in the Word for you to study. If you seek Christ, He is present in His Church for you to speak with. If you seek Christ, you will never be disappointed.

And IF you are seeking Christ, and you are still disappointed, is it because your Church is focused too much on trying to compete with the secular world? Maybe you can help by offering to host a program that focuses on Christ and an authentic relationship with Him.

I don’t mean by this blog that we should eliminate all our programs that are not directly related to our relationship with God. These programs are important in that they develop a sense of community. BUT they should stem from the genuine community that exists in the Eucharist rather than trying to attract others into the community. Otherwise, we will continue to be seen as the Church with mediocre programs, and disappointment will remain the standard emotion of our members. AND...they will continue to leave the Church.

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