Faith Time: Worship for Young Professionals

Mobile, AL (WKRG)

They’re calling it Highpoint.  It’s a worship service geared to Christians 19-35 years old.  Rev. Jeremy Steele with Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile joins us to talk about it.  For more information on the service, the format, how it’s different and how to find it, click here.  Here’s a look at our conversation:

Chad: You’re starting services geared to 19-35-year-olds.  Why focus on this group of young professionals?

Guest: It’s pretty simple really. Pew Forum has several studies that show this generation is particularly absent from churches. I think most people expect to hear that young adults are less involved than older adults, but the research shows that we have a much bigger problem than that. Far fewer in this generation (just 18%) are involved in church. When the boomers were young adults, they were at 26%.

Often this is phrased in an institutional way… something like “If we don’t fix this problem there won’t be any church in a couple decades.” In my mind, that’s not really solid reasoning. For me its about the spiritual side of this problem. Basically, this generation is missing out on a life where they are in a real, sacred community with other christians and are being empowered by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus. Those statistics mean that in a moment when they are making major life decisions like Marraige and career, they are completely on the outside of the community of faith. That’s the problem.

Chad: How are the faith needs different in that group as opposed to a general congregation?

Guest: Sure. That’s another great thing about all the research: we know why they aren’t coming and what they are looking for in a church. When you ask them why don’t attend church, you quickly find out that they feel the church is hostile to people who have questions about their faith or doubt and they feel like churches feel more like people sharing space at a public event rather than people who are really there for each other. When it comes to worship when asked to describe their last worship experience the most common response is: Boring.

One of the most significant contrasts comes when you ask these non-churchgoers and regular attendees what they think the church should be about. People who go to church will generally say things like lifting up Christian moral values and teaching the Bible; whereas, these people outside the church say things like feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick and in prison (basically everything Jesus says in Matthew 25.)

What all that means is that we need to be doing things a little differently if we are going to help this generation experience the rewards of the Christian life.

Chad: How will the service be different?

Guest: Well, we are trying to build on that research. So, we are putting a major emphasis on real community with a substantial amount of time during the service as well as moving out to local restaurants, coffee houses, etc after its over. We are going to be radically welcoming to people who doubt because we believe that doubts and questions are an indication of a healthy faith. Every week someone who is leading from the stage will recognize the fact that they have doubts about their own faith. And, we are trying to make our worship immersive, interesting and memorable with a sense of having a deep encounter with God. So, we are doing a service that has strong ties to the most ancient roots of Christianity while using modern music and technology to make those ancient roots easy to tap into. And, we are going to do something in each service to help improve the world from awareness campaigns about human trafficking to sending gift cards and prayers to people who have sick children.

Chad:  How do events like this help people connect with their church and their faith?

Guest: Since the very beginning of Christianity, the church has been in a constant state of learning how to speak the language of new cultures and generations. When we can experience that… people sharing the hope, grace and peace of Jesus in our native language, we can’t help but be more connected.

Chad:  How will the message be tailored for this group?

Guest: Part of it will be the way we use media during the message, but most of it is what we’ve been saying. The message will be much more in the style of a TED talk with a deeply spiritual focus that pushes those listening into really tactical responses.

Chad: What are the challenges of reaching this group?

Guest: For the church in general, part of the problem is that we generally ask them to wake up early on a Sunday. That’s why we are doing this on Thursday nights at 7. For most Christians Sunday morning time is just a tradition rather than a theological issue. But, I think the main challenge is simple: they aren’t there. For one reason or another they have left the church. I think what we are offering will uniquely meet their needs, but the issue is getting them in the door in the first place.

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