I have some bad news and some very good news for Red Letter Christians. Many of you likely already know the bad news, a growing number of those under 50, including many raised in the church, are no longer affiliated with the church. Pew Research has been predicting this declining participation of Gen Next for over a decade. Regrettably, we are continuing to see a declining trend in many of our churches.
Despite that, Pew Research also has some very good news about Gen Next that provides a huge and very welcome opportunity for Red Letter Christians. A remarkable number of Gen Z and some of the younger members of Gen Y, the Boomer generation, are the first “digital generation”.
As a consequence, this good news generation seems to be much more concerned about issues of environmental, racial, and economic justice than older generations.
Isn’t this very good news for groups like Red Letter Christians?
The even better news is that a larger number of these two generations who want to use their lives to join those who are creating new ways to advance environmental, racial, and economic justice as we race into the turbulent 2040s.
I find most pastors are well aware of the alarming number of the American young who are no longer going to affiliate with churches. A growing number of churches will have very few members under 50. However, I am surprised that few pastors and lay leaders are aware of this new “the good news generation.” As a consequence, I find few churches that are reaching out to this generation because they are not interested in joining their churches.
There are a few churches like a small movement based in Seattle called the Parish Collective. They host a conference here every April where the central focus is on neighborhood change making. What makes this focus unusual is that they share some very compelling stories of collaborating with young people from the Good News Generation.
These young people are not members of their church, but they are interested in joining others in making a difference in their neighborhood. In fact, many of them welcome the opportunity to do serious neighborhood change making.
My partner Christine and I have had the opportunity to host Shane Claiborne three or four times when he has come to Seattle for Parish Collective gatherings. The leaders of these Parish congregations welcome the connection to Red Letter Christians. It is always great to reconnect with Shane and recall the early days when we were both getting started. Shane and I did a unique session about social justice issues.
Every church I have worked with over a period of 40 years loves their young people, and there used to be many of them. However, oftentimes they did not seem to be aware of how different the challenges of a new generation are, often much more daunting in terms of costs for college to costs for housing.
My wife Christine and I decided over 30 years ago to develop a more personal connection to Gen Next. If you have heard of Mercy Ships, Christine, who is a doctor educated in Australia, headed Mercy Ships for 17 years before we were married. Early in our marriage, many years ago, we decided we wanted to connect with Gen Next.
We fashioned an unusual way to make that connection. We purchased an ancient house here in Seattle over 30 years ago. It was built way back in 1910. It is a large house with three two-bedroom apartments on three floors that we call The Mustard Seed House.
For over 30 years, we have offered reduced rent, usually to young Christian couples, if they would join us for a meal together once a week where we reflect on our faith journeys. We also garden together once a month. Right now, we are getting ready to harvest and share 100 pounds of Asian pears and 400 pounds of apples. Most importantly, our young guests help us become more aware of the serious concerns and interests of their generation.
I mention this to encourage other couples in Red Letter Christians to consider sharing their empty rooms in their own houses. You will find young serious Christians launching their lives as members of the new Good News generation.
As my first article as part of the leaders’ network with Red Letter Christians and I wanted to begin with a brief introduction of Christine and me. We are looking forward to meeting other members, friends, and co-conspirators of Red Letter Christians. Christine has a very active website and blog on prayer and spirituality, GodSpaceLight.com. She is also an author and her most recent book is: The Gift of Wonder.
Over 50 years ago on that First Earth Day, while working at Maui Community College, faculty and students were shaken when Dr. James Dator from the University of Hawaii delivered an alarming message. He described that we were heading into a turbulent future with increasing environmental challenges. That message led me to quit my job and move to Seattle to pursue a doctorate in Intellectual History and a minor in forecasting.
My primary work is enabling churches and Christian organizations to:
- Learn how to anticipate coming changes,
- So they have lead time to aggressively research new innovative responses
- And select those innovative responses that most fully reflect the teachings of Jesus.
My primary way of seeking to enable churches in this decade of accreting change is offering one- or two-day Futures Creativity Workshops.
Recently, I did what I call a Futures Creativity Workshop with a Presbyterian Church in Enumclaw, Washington. They both anticipated some new challenges they were likely to be facing in the next three to five years and created some new responses. This leadership team knew they were an aging congregation, but they had not noticed they no longer had any young families with kids. They came up with two possible solutions.
First, they came up with a very creative idea to connect with young families. They have an underutilized building. They also have the resources to offer an arts class for elementary age children in their community at no cost to their families. It would save parents money and develop relationships with young families again. They came up with a good number of additional creative ideas. This gives you an illustration of one of the kinds of ideas that are generated with the Futures Creativity Workshops that I offer to serve churches, Christian organizations, and groups of college grads who are launching their lives. If you are interested in learning more, you can contact me: Tom Sine at 206-307-7998.
My current book, that I wrote with Dwight Friesen, is 2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change. It is designed as a study book for churches and Christian organizations.
This book begins by asking: “Have you been blindsided by change? Surprised by the unexpected? Are you among the growing number of those feeling “that left behind feeling?”…We are all indeed racing into the 2020s—a new decade of accelerating change…ready or not! This will be a new decade of opportunity for a new generation of Red Letter Christian leaders!”
Shane wrote a very welcome endorsement. This book “invites us to reimagine the world and to begin building the kind of future that God wants for us and for the world. Dig in…and join the Revolution.” (Shane Claiborne)
2020s Foresight: Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change is designed to be a study book with questions at the end of every chapter. For Red Letter Christian friends who plan to use it as a group study book, I am making a special offer. I will offer to do a 2-hour Zoom visit with your study group at no cost but only ask that you contact me at least two weeks ahead to set that up.
I would welcome learning more about some of the major new challenges facing those working with Red Letter Christians as we race into the turbulent 2040s and some of the innovative ways you are creating to address those challenges.