You've probably heard of millennials, genxers and babyboomers. I'm technically a boomer, born in 63, but I never had direct experience of the defining elements of that generation - civil rights, the sexual revolution, Vietnam. I fall somewhere on the border between boomers and xers. But I'm definitely not a millenial, the generation born since 1990, who are largely absent from the church.
I'm just learning about millenials, but I have run discovered a spiritual movement that speaks to their outlook. It's called emergent Christianity.
Phoenix is a good place to go in January. Oppressively hot in summer, the desert lets maximal sun reach the ground in the colder months, to the benefit of everyone who lives or visits here. This is also where Doug Paggitt, Tony Jones and Sarah Cunningham—leaders in the emergent movement--chose to host a conversation on the future of faith.
We are meeting in Central United Methodist Church http://www.centralumc.com in downtown Phoenix, and it's a perfect venue, almost a symbol of where we stand in our denomination. Built in 1950 at the peak of American Methodism, it is a gorgeous facility with "some problems," the senior pastor explained to us, “like many 65 year olds.” He asked for tolerance, if we ran into problems, which he enumerated with the patience of a seasoned senior pastor.
Our denominational expression of Christianity faces some aging problems too. We are largely a fellowship of dedicated older believers, but the younger generations are not coming up behind us. Last year we closed five churches in Wisconsin, which doesn’t sound alarming until you multiply that number by 20, the number of years we’ve been declining. Then you get the number 100. One hundred churches, more or less, have closed during the 20 years since I returned to being an active Methodist.
Decline in the Methodist church is part of a larger decline in mainstream Christianity generally; the current forms of worship, fellowship and church governance no longer speak to young people. Young seekers look for relational authenticity, intellectual and cultural relevance, “flat” forms of doing church, and engagement in missions and social justice ministries—which apparently are lacking.
The people gathered here—the speakers, groups, and organizations—embody these qualities. Check out Solomon’s Porch http://www.solomonsporch.com/ in the Twin Cities and Ecclesia http://www.ecclesiahouston.org/ are examples.
I don’t completely understand this movement yet, but I feel the Spirit working among the people here in a fresh way. Yesterday I met someone who went to the same Intervarsity Christian Fellowship I attended in Eau Claire. She gave a 7-minute talk—three poems illustrated by a PowerPoint with a friend’s photography. This is an example of emergent Christian spirituality. I’m paying attention.