Facing Up to a Hard Question: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”

D6797 Joanne Whitt

What will happen to all our stuff when the time comes that we need to downsize, move into assisted living – or die?  Derek Penwell, author, activist and pastor at a mainline church in Louisville, Kentucky, points out in a recent Huffington Post article that our kids may not want all those precious family heirlooms, like Grandma’s china or Grandpa’s golf clubs.  Not to mention the furniture and other piles of stuff that we worked so hard to acquire.  It doesn’t suit their taste.  It doesn’t fit their lifestyle.  It will end up in a garage sale or perhaps at the Goodwill.

And then he raises the painful and provocative question: “What if the kids don’t want our church?”

Dr. Penwell concludes: “In fact, in many ways, these [younger] generations increasingly think the church has been running toward the wrong finish line for years – concerned as it seems to have been not with figuring out how more faithfully to live like the Jesus of the Gospels, but in acquiring bigger and better stuff to hand down to a generation that doesn’t particularly want to inherit it.”

“You could try to convince the emerging generations that they ought to value the tools you’ve always used, that they should want to take care of them, that they’re going to need them someday, that they should want to pass them down to their children.”

“Or, you could complain about the fact that these kids just don’t appreciate what you’ve done for them.”

“Or, you could suck it up and bless them on their next wild adventure.”

Food for thought with the clear ring of truth.  Except for that part about not trying to figure out how more faithfully to live as Christ’s disciples.  That is exactly what we strive to do at First Presbyterian Church.  No one does it perfectly, but it is our goal.

So, given that, what is God calling us – our congregation – to do?  Certainly, to let the world know in whatever way we can that in fact we are striving to live the Gospel faithfully, which, to us, means loving our neighbors, “neighbors” defined as everyone regardless of any human condition, and “love” defined as taking action (not just having warm and fuzzy thoughts) to be good stewards of God’s earth and to work for justice and peace.

But also, perhaps we are being called to continue to treasure the gift that church is to us, the gift it is right now to so many people, at the same time that we let go of fears for its future.

How do we do the work that God is calling us to do within the body of Christ, at the same time that we bless younger generations in their next wild adventure?  What does that look like “in real life?”

You can read the article yourself by clicking on this link: “What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?”


  1. Virginia

    Wed 20th Mar 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Maybe join them on their wild adventure (and no back seat driving)? It’s a great question and one that we will be wrestling with for some time, and even then, will continue till the question is owned by the so-called emerging generation.

  2. Jerry Collell

    Wed 24th Apr 2013 at 11:27 pm

    You’re touching on my probable Doctoral question: Alternative church experiences in the “None Zone–” What comes after “Contemporary Worship?” Even the term “Contemporary Worship” is archaic… Where will we mainline denominations meet the next generations?


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