Last month, the United Methodist Churches of Indiana met for Annual Conference. This multiday gathering is to do the business of the church, make decisions that impact all of United Methodist Churches in the State, and renew the connection of those together as the people called Methodists in Indiana. One of these connectional pieces was the address made by the “Emerging Leaders”. This conference group is made up of church members from across the state ages 13-19.
In their presentation, these young people shared the highlights of the conversations they had from a retreat back in the spring. These young people shared that they love it when the church focuses on what is good. They love it when the church takes actions to help those in need. They expressed what they want the church to know. They want the church to know that they are tired of waiting. They are tired of waiting for us to stop arguing in church about things that don’t really matter. They are tired of waiting to feel like they truly matter, and they are tired of waiting to be seen and included. They also stated they want the church to know that as young people in the church, they are ready to be good neighbors to all. Their presentation concluded by stating, “We want the church to be a place where all people experience God.”
I also want the church in general, and North Judson UMC specifically, to be a place where all people experience God. I sincerely think that one of the primary ways we can do this is by listening to the voices of young people. This was a point that was also made at Annual Conference. One of the other elements of Annual Conference is a time of teaching and group learning. This year the presenter was a co-author of a book called Growing Young. He pointed out that all churches left to their own devices will grow old. If we want to grow young, if we want to be a church that young people want to be a part of, then that is a choice we have to make. That starts by valuing young people, prioritizing young people, and listening to young people.
We are fortunate at North Judson UMC that we are still blessed with youth and children. I know we may not have as many young people as we might once remember, but they are still with us. Do you know who they are? Do they know who you are? Do you know what they care about and are passionate about? Do you pray for them, by name regularly?
If, as a church, we want to grow old, then we do not have to do anything. It is going to happen no matter what. But, if we as a church want to grow young, then we need to prioritize young people. We need to know them, we need to listen to them, and we need to pray for them.