The complaint was voiced at the parish council meeting in this way:
“Young people don’t give enough.”
When I heard about it, my back instinctively went up. I was angry, if not a little disappointed.
And yet, as I allowed myself to calm down, I also came to the recognition that this complaint represented some sort of progress. Minor progress, but progress all the same.
Rather than the same old refrain, “why don’t young people come to church,” this particular church had identified a new problem.
The young people were there. They were contributing in a variety of ways – through worship leadership, outreach, campus ministry and numerous other things. But the books hadn’t balanced, and that required someone to blame. That’s what young people are for.
As I think about it, at the age of 20, I had a whole lot of time, and no money. Now that I’m in my 30s, I probably have more money and less free time. What retirement will look like is anyone’s guess – but the reality is that life ebbs and flows.
It’s interesting how easily we can scapegoat the young. Whether they’re blamed for not being there, or for being there and not contributing enough, it fascinates me how often young people are blamed for the church’s ills.
To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter that the person who first uttered these words of complaint had not performed any financial analysis. It doesn’t matter that they had not broken down the community’s givings according to age, let alone earning power.
What matters is that our communities are able to see the contributions each member makes – whatever their age. What matters more is that we identify and celebrate them. Contributions may be financial, sure, but they might be just as important: the extension of hospitality, the commitment to reading in church, or visiting the sick. They might be tireless prayers on behalf of others, or the gift of imagining and enacting a more just world.
What contributions are young people making in your parish community? And more importantly, how are they being celebrated?