What is the real reason why so many young people fail to set foot in church?
We see essay after essay and study after study on why younger people do not join a faith community, and we hear all kinds of “Top Five Reasons!” why not. From “you’re too judgmental”, to “you’re too intolerant”, to “your coffee sucks,” we hear about all the things the faith community needs to fix before the disaffected will darken our doors.
But from my own personal, totally unscientific research into the issue, I think these essays and studies are missing the one, single, really-really real reason why many do not join. It can be summed up in one simple statement: “Dude, I just don’t care!”
How do we fix that?
It reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes comic in which Calvin calmly sits at his school desk and tells his very frustrated teacher, “You can present the material, Mrs. Crabtree, but you can’t make me care.”
A great many people simply do not care about a great many things. Not only do they not care about God and church, they do not care to vote, they do not care about the poor and oppressed, they do not even care if we are at war. So long as there is no skin off their nose, their attitude is “M’eh…whatever.” It would seem that despair, ennui, and nihilism have won the day.
I think we need to be careful in our efforts to be a welcoming place, for we may make the mistake of bending over backwards to attract people who just do not care. No doubt, there is a need for deconstructing old systems and ways of thinking that need to be changed or re-imagined, but we might fail to build up something more helpful in its place. We may no longer stay true to ourselves and the Gospel, whereby we become no-one and no-thing.
We cannot make people care. Maybe one day they will; maybe they will know us by our fruits and a light snaps on in their heads about the Way of Jesus, but until then, why are we obsessing over people who simply do not care about what we care about?
Jesus said, “…whoever has ears, let them hear.” I have thought in the past that Jesus is saying, “If you have a pair of ears (and who doesn’t!), this message is for you.” Over the years, I have come to see it from a different perspective; I have taken it to mean, “If you are at a point in your life where you are ready to hear this message, then listen up.”
We cannot make people care, especially if they just are not ready. Maybe one day they will. Others never will. Frankly, making people care is not our job, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job, and we need to stop beating our heads against the wall trying to figure out how to make them care. God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful, to paraphrase Mother Teresa. If following the Way of Jesus is not attractive enough, nothing worthy will be enough. The rest of us need to “keep on keeping on” and stay true to our Gospel path. Perhaps the rest will catch on and catch fire.