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I have wanted to write you for years, but I was never exactly sure what to say. Writing letters used to be so simple. My early attempts all started the same way: Dear So and So, How are you?
The second sentence was equally gripping: I am fine. Even at five years old, I knew that people are supposed to say they are fine. Not to mention that printing "I am spectacular" or "I am distressed" would have taken forever on that red-and-black-lined kindergarten paper.
If only correspondence were still five-year-old simple.
Well, when in doubt, go with what you know, right?
Dear Church, how the heck are you?
Learned anything lately? Surviving all your international projects? On the brink of any crazy ideas?
I hope, of course, that you and yours are well.
Me? Well, I'm not exactly basking in the spiritual high life. Unlike my kindergarten self, I am not always fine these days. And unfortunately, it's not just me, Church. Many of my peers seem to be calling in sick as well.
You may have read, or at least heard, the statistics on my generation's church attendance. If not, let's just say that you might want to think aboutadding truancy officers to your local church staffs.
George Barna, president of the Barna Group, compiled research from surveys of 2,660 twentysomethings and found that "Americans in their twenties are significantly less likely than any other age group to attend church services, to donate to churches, to be absolutely committed to Christianity, to read the Bible, or to serve as a volunteer or lay leader in churches."
Barna, of course, is not the only one noticing my generation's shift away from the institutional church. We haven't been nominated for the perfect attendance trophy in anyone's award ceremony. Well-known church consultant Bill Easum warns of even wider attendance losses. He points out that "the vast majority of the population under 40 years of age is unchurched."
Not only are the twentysomethings' pews getting cold, so is our commitment to religion in general. As a 2004 Gallup poll reports, "Younger Americans are more likely than those who are older to claim no religion."
My generation's dwindling relationship with the church and its faith systems also have captured the attention of Christian authors. In 2002, Robert Webber's Younger Evangelicals put the spotlight on twentysomething or young-in-spirit adults who "freely acknowledge that they differ with the pragmatist's approach to ministry."
Dave Tomlinson, author of The Post-Evangelical, also underlined changing faith trends among younger-variety Christians. According to him, this group has "difficulty reconciling what they see and experience in evangelicalism with their own values, theological reflection and intuition."
To tactfully state the obvious, many twentysomethings are disillusioned with you, Church.
I am no exception.
Born a PK (read: Pastor's Kid, not Promise Keeper), I logged hundreds of hours in the pews before I ever learned to pronounce the word church.
While some parents struggled to get their kids to take ownership in the local church, I presented a different challenge. Not only did I take ownership in our local church's mission, I literally seemed to think I owned the building. I would have bet my offering that my signature was on the church deed, scribbled with the same visitor pen I used to play tic-tac-toe on the back of bulletins.
In fact, I probably still owe a few apologies to the many well-meaning adults who occasionally reminded me not to run in the church hallways. As I sped by, unaffected by their warnings, I would flash them the obviously-you-don't-realize-who-you're-talking-to look. These are MY hallways.
As a pastor's kid, I took my role in the local church very seriously. Among a long list of other self-appointed responsibilities, I was in charge of flashing my dad a handwritten "It's 12:05!" sign when a particularly long sermon didn't seem to be coming in for a landing.
In short, my childhood was an eighteen-year course on Christian leadership. And while I like to joke about having front-row seats to seven days of sermons a week, I would not trade my initiation to the church for anything.
By the time I graduated from high school, I was on track to carry out Christ's mission with atypical intensity. I immediately gravitated toward Spring Arbor University, a Christian college in south-central Michigan that provided the perfect context for experimenting with my evolving ministry ideas. I doubt anyone was surprised four years later when, before I even received my degree, I launched my adult career as a full-time staffer at a local church.
And not just any local church. Westwinds, my first place of employment, was hands-down the most compelling context I'd ever seen the word church attached to. The attenders were passionate, the services were creative, the staff was driven. As a result of being teamed with this congregation, my adult years seemed to pick up right where my childhood left off: I was living, breathing, and bleeding church and having the time of my life doing it.
The more time I invested in local church, the more I believed -I mean really seriously believed-the premise that "the church is the hope of the world."
Excerpted from Dear Church by Sarah Cunningham Copyright © 2006 by Sarah Raymond Cunningham . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 20, 2007
I asked many of the same questions and made some of the same compliants. Not much has chanaged during the past four decades. Still, keep up the fight. A good book for church executives and pastors to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2006
Sarah's book was powerful, you can feel the pain of where she has been. She touched some raw nerves of my own emotions as, I, a 40 something, have also been disallusioned by a few of our local churches. She writes with unusual clarity and depth for someone her age. After finishing the book, I have renewed hope of finding a new community of believers where we can be loved and serve Christ even more fully.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2006
Disillusionment! My experience of â¿¿churchâ¿ has been nothing short of the word. In her book, â¿¿Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation,â¿ author, Sarah Cunningham, takes an authentic, raw look at todayâ¿¿s institution of â¿¿church.â¿ I grew up in an old-school, hell-fire-and brimstone Baptist congregation. Although it was never stated verbally, the message was strong and clear that piano and organ hymns were the only way to worship God, church doctrine was the most important thing in life, and the outward appearance was the only thing that mattered in your Christian life. Our family was part of this church for my entire childhood, yet â¿¿churchâ¿ was just something you did on Sunday morning. As God took me through that time in my life, I was certainly given the foundation on which to base my life. However, as I learned to think on my own through high school and much of college I began to experience disillusionment for the very first time. At the time, I didnâ¿¿t know what it was, but I found myself getting bitter, maybe even angry toward the church. Questioning the entire church process and even my relationship with God and the church was part of my regular routine. Evan as the church went through a transition stage, there were still the hints of â¿¿oldâ¿ that ate away at my spiritual life. For a period of time, I threw my hands up and gave up. If this was all there was, I wanted nothing to do with it! Knowing I would be moving away made it especially easy to transition out of â¿¿church.â¿ After moving over two hours away from home, I found myself longing for the relationships that once were a part of my life. I started attending a church, which was a big step for myself. For the first couple months, this were great, as in the honeymoon stage of my new church relationship. Soon, the honeymoon stage began to wear off and I was faced with some of the very frustrations I once had, yet on a much smaller scale. I later began working with students as a part-time job, which helped to overcome my disillusionment. Itâ¿¿s hard to rely on tradition when working with teens. As a twentysomething myself, there has been no greater hope to know that I am not alone in my frustrations. â¿¿Dear Churchâ¿ gave an honest insight into the frustration I was faced with, rather than sugar coating it and giving the old pat-on-the-back while shoving me back into the â¿¿game.â¿ There are many individuals from every generation who have given up on church, consciously or not. Not only does Sarah Cunningham look deep into this process, she gives hope to those that have experienced frustration with the church, large or small. From those that have dealt with the disillusionment to those that are experiencing it this very moment, â¿¿Dear Churchâ¿ is a book that will call on itâ¿¿s readers to examine their own life and deal with their past or present disillusionment. The church is where itâ¿¿s happening! â¿¿Dear Churchâ¿ explains that the church is the instrument that God has designed to carry out his mission. There is a deep passion for the church between the lines as Cunningham takes her readers through the journey of hope through disillusionment. It was a startling reminder of my own frustrations with the â¿¿churchâ¿ and my passion and love for it, all at the same time. Whether youâ¿¿re dealing with frustration, have given up on church altogether, or are part of the church trying to reach all people, this is the perfect book for in-depth insight into the minds of the disillusioned.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2009
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Posted July 14, 2011
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