A quick search on Amazon using the words, “leaving church” reveals dozens of ominous sounding titles:
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church
Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts
Generation Ex-Christian: Why Young Adults Are Leaving the Faith
Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
These titles combined with statistics that suggest 40-50 percent of youth group kids will fail to stick with their faith in college have left many within the church in a state of perpetual panic, convinced that the church is dying and the world is doomed.
I'll admit that there are days when I feel this way too but then inevitably something happens that convinces me that all is not as it may first appear; That underneath all this talk of doom and gloom lies hope.
I saw this hope manifest itself on Sunday, when my students led my congregation in worship. For two and a half months, these high school youth learned about worship so that they could craft a service that showcased not them, but God - the creator of all things.
At no time was this more evident than during the sermons, which four of my high school seniors gave. One spoke of how, in community, she had discovered that “Jesus took on our burdens so we could live a life of salvation.” Another shared how our congregation's support of our summer mission trip to Rwanda taught him that he is never alone and that God is always with him. Another spoke of how despite the fact that science and religion are often pitted against each other, she had encountered Christ through quantum mechanics. And still another shared how time and time again, she met Jesus in the middle of her doubts and as a result, believes that "when we come together as a group of Thomases searching for Jesus, great things happen." This same student went on to boldly and courageously tell those in our congregation, "I’m praying for those of you who can’t see God, and for those of you who are in so much darkness, you don’t want to see God."
One by one, these students painted a beautiful picture of a life rooted in faith; Of a God who is vividly at work in their lives; And of a church community that even though it's far from perfect, has faithfully nurtured and supported their faith formation for years.
At the end of this service, we sung a jazzy rendition of “This Little Light of Mine,” a hymn students chose because of its use of the light metaphor, an idea which was part of the day's reading from 1 John 1:5: “God is light; In him there is no darkness at all.”
After worship, a friend told me about how she had watched a little old lady with a walker practically “dance” out of the church to our students' rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” during the postlude. I'm convinced this woman had some extra spring in her steps because during the service, she saw and felt hope - through the words of our seniors, the dignity of our youth throughout the service, their choice of songs, and the countless ways in which these high school students used their unique gifts to glorify, honor, and worship God.
I'm convinced that despite the statistics and the ominous titles about youth leaving the church, this little old lady would beg to differ. My guess is that since Sunday, if asked about the state of the church, she'd say, “It's alive and well because God is doing powerful work in the lives of our youth.”