Has the Church Squeezed Young People Out?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: church is a luxury that many can’t afford.

Disagree?

Consider Squeezed as your summer read.

I read books to find out new ideas, get fresh perspectives, and catch a glimpse into different people’s lives. It’s rare for a book to also really resonate with my own state of mind and life challenges. Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America by Allisa Quart is one of those books that does both.

Squeezed describes the challenges and pitfalls facing the current working family. It’s a world of “Uber Dads,” meaning dad’s who drive their car on the side. It’s a world of 24-hour daycare, because with people working two jobs it’s a reality. It’s a tale of the changing fabric of work, such that traditional work seems to be as unattainable as any fantastic day dream. Sure, life has always been challenging, but long gone are the $30,000 homes, summer jobs that pay for college, and the certainty of staying in one place for more than a few years.

The book’s getting a fair amount of play on NPR.

(Here’s a clip from Fresh Air.)

Here’s a similar take from Bloomberg about income inequality.

Enough introduction.

Here’s why you should care. Squeezed paints a picture, a very clear picture, of that ever elusive and always exciting in church circles – the young family. By young family, I mean people who might be married, might not, probably have kids in school, and are, or were, the lifeblood of many mainline congregations. It is to this class of people that we look to, when we say things like, “Who will take over the (fill-in-the-blank) program/tradition/potluck supper?” and is often the answer to the “Where have all the kids gone?”  

The book is not a church book. It’s solutions are not church solutions. So, you will need to read the book and then squint a little to figure out how the established church might fit into this picture. And, that dear friends, is the point.

Reading it becomes an exercise in seeing both the possible and the impossible.

Suddenly, all those conversations about how it’s sports on Sunday mornings that are keeping the kids away seem more than a little out of touch. It’s not sports, but economic engines that are far beyond the understanding of even our most intellectually attuned economists. Is the economy doing well? Is another great crash coming? Who knows? And, a personal dilemma, who can afford daycare, really?

The answer is probably: it depends.

The landscape Squeezed presents is filled with people that I would long to sit beside in a Sunday service or lead into the unknown. People who take adversity as a given, then use their creativity to try and meet those challenges. (Of course, it’s not just young people and the middle class who are losing in this economy. Here’s a link to an article about the rising rates of retiree bankruptcy.)

So, what’s all this mean?

Queue the buzzwords: church needs to be nimble, adaptable, a different tribe, lean, SMART about goals, transitional, transformational, social media, etc. These all have their place, but after thinking about it most don’t go nearly far enough or offer enough to really do much.

The question becomes what is the church for and what does it matter in this time? Said another way: what makes the church seem salty or different or feel like honest good news? What does this new data tell us about the world we inhabit?

Here’s a stab.

  • Just Housing. Right now our federal government is not a responsive beast, but local cities and towns are. Housing concerns are really local issues. Does zoning allow for people to find housing? Are landlords held responsible for keeping up their apartments? Can workers find work force housing? These are issues that churches can educate themselves about and have immediate impacts upon. Showing up works.
  • Congregational Childcare. Right now our nation’s child care system is broken. Not because of any lack of effort or quality on the parts of providers, but because wages have been stagnant for decades. Families need help with their children. Churches could develop childcare banks, coops and infrastructure to help tip the balance. Jesus would be pleased.
  • Fair Work. Jobs are not what they were. Automation, globalization, etc., have forever altered and are altering the way of jobs and career. Government often is beholden to these corporate interests, leaving room for church revolutionary action. Boycotts. Letter campaigns. Neighbors helping neighbors. Think: that priest from on the waterfront.

The point being the church of tomorrow needs to consider how to help the people of today with justice issues related to housing, childcare needs, and employment. Failing to do otherwise will mean that the church is destined to be for the rich and luxury that only some can afford.

Our challenge, as people of faith, is to really get involved with people’s lives in an uncomfortable and different ways. It will be messy. It will be challenging. But, I believe strongly, that today God has granted us the resources to meet the challenges we face. And, if we don’t believe it, than God’s grace will pull us through.

Those are my thoughts.

What are yours? What do you imagine?

Jeremiah RoodRev. Jeremiah Rood is a freelance writer, minister, anstay-at-home dad. He has served congregations in Massachusetts, where he still lives with his wife and daughter. For more book thoughts read his reviews at Foreword Review. (For more information please visit him at: www.revjeremiahrood.com or follow him on Google+.)

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