Kate Baer blogs at motleymama.com. When she wrote a post mentioning her Mennonite upbringing, she received questions regarding church attendance that she wanted to answer. The conversation is posted below with her permission.
I have noticed that a rather large percentage of the “young married” Mennonites (I am in my mid-40s) in our area do not attend church regularly. Are there particular reasons that you and your family have chosen not to attend church? Do you think you will attend again when your husband’s schedule is more predictable or as your son grows older? I have concern for the future of the Mennonite church if we lose so many young families. Do you think they will come back to the church in the years to come? Is there anything the rest of us can do to welcome them back?
I grew up Mennonite (I’m in my early 50s) and of course we have all seen the younger generation leave for college and never come back. These are all great kids. They’ve come from good families and went to church all their life. (I know that doesn’t make you a Christian). I can tell from your writings that you are a thoughtful and kind person and I would never question your morals. I like your honesty and my question to you is this: Why should I encourage my daughter to go to a Christian college when statistics show that she will probably lose her virginity, drink too much, not go to church while she is there, and will very likely question Christianity and not attend any church when she returns?
Whenever someone asks me why we’re not going to church, my default answer is that it’s too far (45 minutes) and that Austin has to study (he does). I say this knowing it’s only half true, because even when we lived five minutes away and Austin didn’t have to study, we did not go to church. We slept in and made blueberry pancakes and watched Hulu because that’s what our generation does.
I will be the first to admit that part of the problem with twentysomethings and church is that we’re bored. We wake up early and put on a skirt only to be met with baby dedications and a sermon that is 27 minutes too long. We sigh over sharing time and roll our eyes at long-winded announcements. As a friend recently put it, “We don’t like church because we’re a bunch of arrogant jagweeds.”
There’s also the whole business of cynicism. We’ve become hardened by youth pastors who turned out to be pedophiles, preachers who turned out to be adulterers, spiritual leaders who give advice on subjects they know nothing about, Christian fundamentalism at its worst. We see the crazies on the news with their hateful signs at abortion clinics and military funerals and we shudder. We hear people we know, people we love make hurtful, absolute statements in the name of Jesus and we cringe.
Our generation is tired of culture wars. As Rachel Held Evans points out, “We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.”
I emailed a few of my peers to get their perspective on church. Their response was similar to my own. Church has become a stigma. If all of a sudden we are “Christians” going to “church,” we make the rest of the world cringe.
My friend Carrie wrote, “I love the story of Jesus so much, but get so angry and depleted when it gets boxed up; covered in shiny stickers and sold by Mattel. Or drawn with a thick black Sharpie onto a hate sign. Or hot ironed onto T-shirts made in China. Or melted into plastic figurines with painted smiles, smooth hands and white skin.”
Our generation is at a turning point. Despite our cynicism and lazy Sunday morning sleeps, we are people grasping for a real and inspired life. We want a church less about church and more about community. We want a church with reached-out hands instead of clenched fists. We want real. We want relatable. We want compassionate and inclusive. We want to talk about things that matter now.
We also just want to sleep in sometimes, too.
Regarding Christian education or one private institution over another, I don’t think it makes much difference. Whether or not your daughter parties or has sex has less to do with where she is than who she is. I haven’t parented a teenager, but if you want my advice, communication is the number one resource when it comes to defending against the “demons” of this world. If you want to talk specifically about my alma mater, out of the eight college friends I’ve remained close to post graduation, seven of them attend church regularly. One even brings her Jewish boyfriend, so I consider that win all around.
Baer received 114 responses when she posted this on her blog. She encourages more insightful discussion here or there.