Straight out of university I moved to London, I had a year placement all set up and I was ready to start my life. I registered a new email address with pretensions to drop the Danny and become Daniel. I was ready to be a grown up.
I’d moved away from home to go to university, I’d settled swiftly and part of that was finding a church. I’d grown up in Southampton, lived in the same house my first eighteen years and been a part of the church from the day I was born. Church was a place I knew people and where I was known. It was not a small church, but by virtue of a countless Sunday, fundays and games of hide and seek I had a place I belonged.
Moving to university created a rift, suddenly the known nature of church was replaced with a void of choice and novelty. But when you have organised tours of churches in your new home town, life is made a whole lot easier. There were some churches which with the greatest respect to them and friends who were and are part of them were simply never going to be the place I called home. And when I settled upon where a place to be a part off, integration was facilitated by special events, teams and a group of people in the same situation as I was.
All of this is a way of very briefly sketching the ease with which I transitioned from a church that I loved and felt a part of to another where I felt the same. When it came to searching for a church in London there was no such custom built process or teams prepped over the summer for my arrival. I was on my own. One Sunday before I moved I travelled up to London, with my sister for company, and went to a couple of churches, it was a surreal experience. You are on your own in the mist of people who know each other. When I moved I tried out a few more and chose a church to make my own. And for a year I went fairly diligently, went to a small group slightly less diligently, and when my year was up and I moved back to Southampton I faded out of the church without effort or notice. The last Sunday I went was like the very first.
Movement is a defining fact of life for many people in their twenties. Something happens, and then the next, life moves on, priorities change, home is a moveable concept, and church becomes a convenience store. It becomes something static while we are mobile so we drop in and out and our relationship with it becomes more like a consumer and a provider than a church made up of people.
And the problem only gets worse when the church responds to this attitude. It’s sees people wanting church for what they can get out of it and they seek to provide that. Now I don’t go in for all this self-flagellation nonsense, I’m not saying we should make church boring and hard work and painful just so we are not appease our more sensual appetites, but we shouldn’t change just because we think it will make people like us more.
Four years go I returned to London and aside from visiting other churches for baptisms, christenings and the like I’ve stayed with the church I went to the week I arrived. And now is the place for very carefully crafted confession: I don’t agree with everything, and I don’t like everything. Just step back and imagine what a church would look like if you did agree and like everything. You would be preacher, worship leader and serving the tea, and doing it all to yourself.
There’s a crisis with people in their twenties leaving church, but I don’t think the answer is to serve them the church that they want on a plate. I think that church needs to challenge the presumptions and attitudes that we hold and ask why it is we hold them. Maybe when the church is clear about what it is and what it is for it will find the authenticity so sought after.