UMC urged to reach out to its future: youth

FLORENCE – What’s the number one most boring place in the world for American youth? Church, a survey says. Number two? A funeral home.

That’s no way to keep youth active and engaged in United Methodism, said Rev. Lowell McNaney. In a sermon June 11 at Annual Conference, McNaney urged United Methodists across the state to reach out to children and teens and bring them to Christ now, before the window of opportunity is lost.

“It’s like cement; you have a window of opportunity to get in there before it hardens and only a chisel or a jackhammer can get through,” said McNaney, of Crossroads UMC in Concord, N.C. “Ninety-one percent come to Jesus before the age of 21. If it’s 91 percent, then most of our efforts should be to those age groups.”

Dressed in a bright turquoise polo shirt and sneakers, McNaney called today’s youth the “church of the future” and said congregations need to get creative in building an environment that will attract young people and make them want to serve.

“You show me a church, a conference, that does not have a vibrant, active youth ministry, and I will show you a dying church, a dying conference,” McNaney said. “We need to offer them a mission and a purpose. This generation cares more about what they were saved for than what they were saved from. Inside they know they were created for a purpose. That’s a tremendous thing to say about them.”

He spoke about a youth group that went on a mission trip to Mexico and saw people who came to faith but had nowhere to worship. On their own initiative, the youth went home, raised money, went back, bought land, built a church and hired a pastor.

Another church, attended by McNaney’s father, had close to 150 parishioners but decided it wanted to do everything possible to reach the next generation. So it changed the service style, changed the music and actively cultivated youth. While 20-30 believers left the church, today it has grown to a church of more than 6,000 worshippers.

“Dad said, ‘Personally, I don’t care for the music that much, but it’s reaching the young people, and for that reason I like it,’” McNaney said. “My dad cared more for souls than personal preference.”

The sort of environment McNaney advocates is one that engages youth and makes them feel comfortable and tuned in, possibly using video clips and modern-day music, such as the contemporary style offered that Friday night. In a service that included music by C.R.O.S.S. Praise Band, Advent UMC, Simpsonville; a movement and mime performance by Boys of Praise, St. Mark UMC, Taylors; T-shirt tossing by student ministers; an offering for Epworth, Revolution, Breeze and Asbury Hills; and a dramatic dance act culminated by the nailing of a loaf of bread to a cross, many congregants were moved to tears as they clapped and sang along with the service.

Congregational Specialist Judson King, Connectional Ministries, said the ministry of young people is vital to United Methodism.

“Sometimes we might not think of youth and young people as the least of these, but they are,” King said during the service. “They are people we have left out, we have forgotten about, who we need to reach out and touch. They need to have Christ in their life.”

“We need to do whatever it takes to reach these people,” McNaney said, pointing out that Jesus did precisely this when spreading his good news to the world.

“This generation is more interested in spiritual aspects than any generation in history. And you’ve got our denomination that is not reaching young people. We’ve got to take a real honest look and see what we’re doing. If you are fishing and nothing’s biting but others are catching fish, you try something else, because the fish are biting.”

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