Growing up one of my favorite stories was about the boy who cried wolf. It’s a great lesson. The boy cries wolf, people come to help. There was no wolf. He does it again. Again, no wolf. Then eventually, a wolf comes. But by then, when the boy cries wolf, no one believes him. This story had a strange affect on my life. Through it I learned saying or asking for something had consequences. If we aren’t careful, we break people’s trust and then when we need them, they won’t be there.
The Church is not known for its flexibility. We aren’t typically masters of innovation. Some churches are, sure, but let’s be honest, they are more exception than rule. The modern Church is struggling to find ways to actively engage the next generation. It’s estimated that 95 percent of students who grow up in the Church walk away from their faith during their college years. That should tell us we are missing something.
I’ve read articles, heard statements, listened to podcasts and discussions from young adults about what they want to see in the Church. I’ve heard their complaints, their protests, their objections. Whether it’s not seeing the value of community, feeling the Church doesn’t care enough about social justice, doesn’t do enough to serve others, or doesn’t offer enough ministry for their specific age range. I’ve heard millennials complain about all the things that are wrong with the Church.
After about a decade in ministry I have noticed something. People are very quick to talk about change and very slow to actually do something about it. Older people want to see young people in church, but they don’t want the style or methods to change in order to reach them. I remember I was interviewing at a church a few years back and they knew they needed to change. All they had left was a small, devoted core of older people. So, we discussed doing things differently.
They had a few minor requests:
Don’t change the service structure for old fashion liturgy.
Don’t change the worship style. They were still using a pipe organ. Worship service sounded like Dracula was about to show up.
Don’t change the community. They wanted things to change, they just didn’t want things to be different.
Young people come in and they want to see the church serve. They want to see the church engage in community. The heartbeat of the millennial wants to see the church living out the Gospel. I’ve heard young adults talk about how the church needs more service projects. Then when the church did a serve project guess who was there? Not those who protested for it. I’ve heard young adults say the church needs more community. They want to spend time with people their own age. When the church offers to put together groups or a ministries for young adults you know who doesn’t come? The same young adults who complained the church didn’t have it.
Over and over, when the church offers the very things they are crying out for, they don’t show up.
Things don’t change because we want them to. Things don’t change because we think they should. Things don’t change because we get together with a bunch of other people and talk about how they should be different.
If you want to see something different, you have to be willing to do something. Going to your pastor and telling them you want to see something isn’t enough. If you want to see change, show up. Your presence is your support and without support, the things you want to see won’t happen. If you don’t like that a church doesn’t have an active group of young people or doesn’t serve enough, guess what, if you show up, that may change. It doesn’t matter what we say if we don’t show.
I hear millennials talking about how they don’t have a voice and aren’t heard. This may be why. If you don’t show up to the table for long enough, people are going to stop setting a place for you. The problem seems to be that we are a generation that wants to see things happen but isn’t willing to put in the work to actually make them happen. We care enough to complain. We care enough to criticize. We care enough to talk about what needs to change. Do we care enough to do more than that?
If we ask for something and the church offers it and we don’t show up, we cried wolf. If we said we wanted to see something but then won’t commit to it, we cried wolf.
Progress takes time. If we aren’t willing to put in the time, we have no right to complain about the lack of results. Some churches don’t listen. They have people who are willing to be involved, willing to show up but the church just stands in the way. But there are plenty of places that do listen. They try to address the needs and desires of their community.
We are a generation good at stirring up one another to love and good works. We just don’t do a great job of meeting together. Which means we’ve only fulfilled part of this command. Jesus didn’t rescue us from sin so we could be better people who care for the sick, the poor and the hurting on our own. He gave us the Church so we could grow in Him, and work together for His mission and His glory to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and provide for the poor through Godly community.
If you want to see something change, show up. Invest. Do something to change it. I If you don’t support attempts to move things in the right direction then be honest, you don’t really care if it changes, you’re just using the imperfection of a group of imperfect people to justify your disengagement.
Jesus didn’t give us the Church to be perfect. He gave us the Church so we could learn to work together for His kingdom in our imperfection. It’s easy to see the problems. Seeing a problem doesn’t change it. The only way the community of God changes is the people who are a part of that community care enough to change it.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.