Friday, August 10, 2007

Do our Churches have a version of Rumspringa?

You've heard of Rumspringa, right? It's an Amish thing. It refers to a period in adolescence where young Amish are not bound by their communities. And many (although not all) do the crazy things that they think about all the time, but couldn't normally do! Rumspringa literally means "Running Around". They idea is that after they have 'run around', they (hopefully) come back and dig in to community and stay there.

Do our Churches have a version of Rumspringa?

I just read this article from LifeWay. It's a survey of young Americans. It refers to the fact the 70% of American church-goers, aged 18-22, simply stop going to church for a year or more. They leave their home town (say, they come to NYC!) and simply don't connect with a new community in which to be accountable. Go ahead and read the article. There are lots of reasons they give as to why they stop contributing. And many apparently come back.

Here in NYC, it rings true. The Christian Groups on campus (while top-notch) are comparatively small. I meet young people all the time who are not really connected into a community that functions in a healthy way with strong accountability. They sometime go to several churches for different personal-preference reasons ("I go here for the 'worship' , there for the 'teaching', and I drop in to another church for the 'community' " etc.) And many don't go anywhere, except sheepishly when they go home for breaks.

In three weeks time (when the new school year begins) my community, Christ Church NYC, will meet many of the students who will be confronted with this choice.

Some questions you could help me with:

1. What do you make of the survey and the thoughts contained within?
2. Can we do anything about it?
3. (For my Australian friends: What are the differences, do you think, between the continents?)
4. What is a compelling vision for this age group?

Here is a quote:
Stetzer noted, "There is no easy way to say it, but it must be said. Parents and churches are not passing on a robust Christian faith and an accompanying commitment to the church. We can take some solace in the fact that many do eventually return. But, Christian parents and churches need to ask the hard question, ‘What is it about our faith commitment that does not find root in the lives of our children?’"
h/t Justin.
Pic by niznoz


Benjamin Ady said...

a compelling vision for this age group?

Help them to realize how amazingly wealthy and powerful they are. the best way I've found to do this for myself is to get in touch with the people who are astoundingly poor and weak and then give it away.

Ian said...

Sounds about right. I definitely left the church when I came to college for a couple years. I wanted to sleep in too badly, had homework to finish, and didn't know anyone who would go. So it was up to me. Add to all that a very real sense of burnout from what I guess you'd call "cultural christianity" and I wasn't entirely sure that Jesus was who I thought he was.

I returned to the church once I realized that following Christ did not mean I had to agree with the other people I was attending church with, and that it might in fact be good for some of them to be offended and think about why they were... if that makes any sense.

Plus, Navs gave me free pizza. Never underestimate the power of persuasion held by a college student's stomach.

Rumspringa makes me sad. As far as I can tell, the only parts of "English" culture that Amish kids pick up beforehand is all the bad parts... drugs, sex, alcohol, violence, etc. Naturally, they want to find out what it's like, but having had no experience with any of them, go way overboard and in so doing miss out on any good - or at least moderate - things that come out of popular culture. So they get scared or addicted and either go back home or become completely lost.

There's an interesting, if surprisingly un-illuminating documentary about it I'd recommend called Devil's Playground that came out in 2002.

Also, I've not had a chance to mention, but I'm sort of accidentally going into college ministry... I'm moving in with 8 other people from Navs. I'll be the oldest. Yikes! Pray for us?

Justin said...

I will Ian. Do I know you?

-nance. said...

I tried to make predictions before I even read the article, and after reading it, I think I was pretty close (which answers the first question). The reasons why people my age leave the church are almost split 50-50. They either found the Church "uncompelling" enough to leave because its messages didn't hold much sway over their everyday decision making, or they found its "life narrative" too weak, or even incorrect. 50-50. With the Church, they either don't agree enough, or they disagree.

So, based on these stats (which I really have seen come more and more alive as my college years have passed), we have a weak Church. The Church is offering a weak exegesis of life. And I believe it's because we spend so much time running away from everything. We are still more world-retreating than world-affecting. We are still opposing more than proposing. "The World" creates YouTube, so we create GodTube. "The World" makes "secular" music, so we have our Christian stuff. "Godless liberals" propose certain legislation, so we have American Family Association email blasts that say, "Write to your Senator and tell him that we oppose such and such on TV and such and such in the courtrooms!"

In sum, we don't exegete life: we nag. And nobody wants to fellowship with naggers.

What we really should be laboring to do is uncovering what it is about Christ's teachings that awakens and redirects our deepest needs and questions in life. And, to allude to something CS Lewis said in his chapter "Hope" in Mere Christianity, the way to do that is to become so wrapped up in the understanding of--and, thereby, the articulating of--the greater truth found in God's reality that, in aiming for heaven, we "get the world thrown in." The Church should be comfortable with fielding tough questions and loving tough people because we are here to show "a more perfect way."

People are 50-50. They desire both authentic and purposive community and a compelling answer to the Great questions of life. We need only to look as far as our courage to love all people and our competence in leading all people to see how well we are doing. If 70 percent of people my age are split 50-50 on those two things, then we need to rethink how courageous and competent we are.

And, of course, we do the best evaluation humbly, quietly, and on our knees.

I'll end with two excerpts from a book by Carl F.H. Henry called "The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism."

"If historic Christianity is again to compete as a vital world ideology, evangelicalism must project a solution for the most pressing world problems. It must offer a formula for a new world mind with spiritual ends, involving evangelical affirmations in political, economic, sociological, and educational realms, local and international. The redemptive message has implications for all of life; a truncated life results from a truncated message."


"The battle against evil in all its forms must be pressed unsparingly; we must pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics--everywhere, in every field, we must pursue relentlessly. But when we have singled out the enemy--when we have disentangled him from those whose company he has kept and whom he has misled--we must meet the foe head-on, girt in the Gospel armor."

Lorna (see through faith) said...

my take on this is that in the US it seems that church is very much part of the social scene at high school when people go away to uni or college ... they find a new social scene.

I wonder too what do they go back to later on - cultural church - or a deep faith.

because so often church in the USA seems to be far from that which Jesus died for.

mandy m said...

my thought (for what it's worth ^^ !!)...why would young people "leave the church"??

Maybe because while they were there (even as a teenager)they weren't given a proper vision for ministry (i.e. YOU have a BIG role to play in the extension of God's kingdom!!)

Accountability, practical life teaching etc etc is important, but if people attend, even GROW but aren't being envisioned/guided/empowered/facilitated etc etc (and given the freedom!) to GIVE OUT, intentionally reaching others with the gospel then maybe it's easier to "drop-off" as such.

Philemon v.6 "I pray that you may be ACTIVE in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."

My understanding of this verse = everything we can try to do as a church (including what we do to for this age group) is GOOD, but not FULL if this isn't done properly.


Anonymous said...

What does "h/t" mean?

chelsea said...

Jman - admittedly i havent read the article yet, but my first thought was that the biggest point of comparison between Aus and US is that generally many more americans will go away to college - ie leave hometown and thus associated church/church community - than in australia, we generally stay at home or at least stay in same city, so there is less of a 'forced' pull away from a certain church i guess.

However, in both countries i think there is probably the same vibe at university which impacts that age group - uni seems to be a time to challenge and think about the world, what its all about, etc etc. In same cases I have heard people in Australian universities say this actually means more people are brought into a relationship with Christ through uni ministry cos they are open to exploring it etc. But i guess in other cases its the opposite - this is a time to have fun and break away from what i have experienced the rest of my life, etc.
I guess itd be interesting to hear what the vibe is like at US colleges in that regard... you said Christain groups are generally smaller at US colleges, i wonder whether that comparison with Aus would mean that Americans in that age group are more likely to go with the feeling of freedom in some regard and the aussies are thinking more about religion etc (im sure thast way too a general statement to make in reality though!) or whehter, as u mentioned, its got more to do with being dispalced from that home church, and still finding other ways to be accountable but just in a way that makes it less obvious than having massive groups at uni etc...

hmm... i apologise if my ramblings went on for way to long and dont make nearly as much sense...

but interesting post Justin! thank you!

hope u and the family are well!


john p. said...

This is something I dealt with alot while I was in college (a college with woefully low male leadership in ministry)...Early in my first year, almost by necessity, I became a leader in an on-campus and off-campus ministry.

over the next several years, due to spiritual exhaustion, my passion quickly depleted. It was difficult to find discipleship or even connection at the church I attended because it was 30 minutes from campus with three other universities already in its sights for college ministry. I never once met the pastor while there.

I also watched countless numbers of friends and classmates dabble with churches here and there, irregularly attend ministries on campus, and then finally give up on the whole community thing for a time.

The key thing, it seems to me, is the very fluid and impermanent nature of undergraduate life. Even at my most committed phase in college, i had a difficult time setting down roots at a church because I felt too committed to ministry on campus in the first place.

Given the kind of freedom which most first-year students experience with their arrival at college, I think it is difficult (Even for the more committed ones) to imagine the kind of permanence and commitment it takes to put down roots in a church.

nb...not all go over the deep end as a result. many just wade in the kiddy pool for four years.

this was my experience.

Kat B. said...

Chelsea already said something I was going to say. Less kids leave home to go to Uni in Australia. That will have an effect.

Looking back, I had a period of rumspringa myself. I didn't go to church for the first few years of uni because I had been in such a strong Christian environment for so long that in a really perverse way I wanted to test my faith. I made virtually no christian friends, and didn't go to the uni church. While this meant that I did drift in the way I lived my life, the beliefs that I held were still the same.

I came out the other side of it (praise God) stronger as a Christian and am now back at church. I had reasoned out why I should behave like I was told to by the Bible, in terms that made sense for me personally and weren't just something I did because I would be judged and rebuked (lovingly) by the christians around me.

While my rumspringa made me wiser and helped me find earthly happiness, it wasn't until I went back to church that I found my joy.

I don't think it was a disillusionment with the church, or the lack of a compelling mission being placed on my heart. It was that when I moved away for Uni, I did it because I was itching for new situations and circumstances. I wanted to find out who I was when I went somewhere completely on my own. For someone who's been a Christian their whole lives, you can get to this stagnant place of complacency and routine without fire, and my time of rumspringa helped me find my fire.

I'm going to stop typing now. Because I'll take up the rest of the page. Hope it was helpful. See you in December!

Benjamin Ady said...


H/T means "Hat tip". It means "I found this information or article or video or what have you on so and so's blog, and I'm giving them some credit--tipping my hat as acknowledgment."

Craig Tubman said...

My trip around the world in 2004 totally had Rumspringa running through its veins. And if it wasn't for a psycho angry email from a Christian brother after an incident or two I may have made some continued big mistakes.

When you come to faith early on in life, there is a sense that you really have 'missed out' on your right-of-passage as a teen and young adult.
I don't blame the church for this.

I blame -
"American Pie 1 & 2"
"Road Trip"
"Cant Hardly Wait"

I allowed pop culture to shape my thinking far more than my faith.

and to be honest. I still struggle with this.

sometimes its hard being in the immediate minority....even if you do follow the all powerful God of the universe.

Ian said...

yep, you do know me. Ian Korn from NYU Navs. we're even facebook friends.

John P. said...

ive been thinking about this a little more and wondered something:

has anyone else got the sense that sometimes seminary is a rumspringa light...a diet rumspringa, if you will.

There have been times where I have looked around and felt like many of the future ministers around me were treating seminary like a big bachelor party...

anyone else? perhaps it is just where I went...

Justin said...

John P -- So you've seen Rumspringa at every level!

When are you next coming to NYC? (We aren't going to Atlanta for a little while).

Rumspringa didn't really happen at the seminary that I went to. Some downright sin happened. Certainly cynicism and some grumbling took place. But not really Rumspringa. My College was more earnest (best word I can think of) than many of the colleges I've seen here in the US. And so the 'bachelor life' really just meant playing more cricket in the courtyard and staying up a little late!