Sunday, December 03, 2006


I went to Next today with an RC friend. Next is the only "emerging" style church in our city. It's just called Next, without the Church.

On the whole, the experience was interesting. I found their website almost deliberately obtuse trying to be trendy. Figuring out when the meeting/service was was a bit of a challenge (they called it Next Classic and stated that it started at "about 11").

What struck me most about Next was that my friend and I, in our mid 40s, were probably the oldest people there. This was a twenty-something crowd with some thirty-somethings, and with lots of little kids. Funny how all the other churches are full of grey heads. This church had none. And it was that kind of grungy young-intellectual look -- goatees, dreadlocks, noserings, counter-cultural clothes. What also struck me was that this young crowd was 50% male. The young male cohort is the hardest to pull into a church. And here they were.

The church had pews, but it also had some sofas thrown in, apparently for the people in love, because they seemed to grab them. There was a large toy and play area at the back with some pews facing backward. The office was part of the main room. There was coffee and muffins on arrival, although they were in a back room, so you had to know they were there. And of course, there was the rock band at the front.

My son's piano teacher happened to be at the piano, leading the music. They did U2 (Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For), Joan Osborne (What If God Was One of Us), and Bruce Cockburn (some Christmas song I'd never heard of). They also did one song written by one of the musicians, which the congregation apparently knew very well. The music was pretty good, although the guitars and drums were amped slightly more than the piano and vocals, so the main theme was hard to follow. People sang, at least for the songs they knew. The words were up on a slide.

The pastor was impossibly young with a facial hair thing going. He kept handing around the microphone to let others talk -- e.g., he interviewed three children about waiting for Christmas and let another woman improvise a prayer before the sermon. Another woman did the sermon, her first time speaking before the group. Before the service, he walked around and talked to people, not officiously, just very quietly and naturally. He came up to us and introduced himself. Very friendly, not pushy.

The art on the walls was intriguing. One piece looked like a fridge door spattered with paint. I think it was a fridge door spattered with paint. There were some kids' paintings and some canvas boards with paint dripping down them. Purpose of this art? I'm not sure.

I won't get into the theology of what I saw -- I'll save that for another post. But I am occupied right now thinking about the demographics. Why do these young people come to this church? Was it the music? Maybe the sense of community? That and the fact that there aren't any people their parents' age?

I've often thought that churches are based around personality types. Quakerism is for introverts and would push an extrovert to the brink of insanity. Evangelicalism is for extroverts and gives introverts the willies. Mainstream churches try to cater to both groups, possibly very unsuccessfully.

But maybe age groups need certain types of churches too. Maybe there isn't much point in fishing around for other age groups to round out the ones we have. Maybe we should just come out and say it: "Quakerism - a silent worship community targeted at the older educated adult."

No, don't get mad -- I'm just telling it like I saw it.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Nancy--thanks for this report!! You really made me think a bit about why I feel a sort of stop about going to my younger son's church, even though I am impressed and intrigued by what I hear about it. (Here is its website.) Although theologically I don't believe that a church should be an age-segregated support group, I don't want to find myself self-consciously in an "elder-ly observer" mode. And as a survivor of decades of denominational politics (yes, among Friends!), I fear that I would find it hard to give up the "observer" persona.

A couple of comments--extroverts may be a minority among unprogrammed Friends, but there are still significant numbers of them. My wife is an extrovert who began at Beloit Meeting and was very involved in Beacon Hill Meeting before we were married. And there are many of us introverts among Evangelical Friends, too.

In your honest observer role, you suggest we consider saying, "Quakerism - a silent worship community targeted at the older educated adult." Okay, I promise not to get mad. It's a great suggestion to kindle a discussion. With all my heart and soul, I believe that the public message of George Fox and the founding prophets of Friends was intended as a universal invitation to spiritual authenticity and liberation. I'm not ready to accept that we're now just catering to ourselves, and limiting our outreach/evangelism to timid mating calls designed just to get more (and not many more!) people like us. I still believe there's a place for agitating affectionately and creatively on behalf of the proposition that we must put far more prayer and imagination and love into making ourselves accessible. The lack of authenticity in having a MESSAGE of equality and universal love and the urgency of our testimonies, and a PRACTICE of cozy privacy that displays no urgency at all, is poisonous in the long run. More than that, what does it say to those already among us who have the spiritual gift of evangelism but are never allowed to use or even name it?

OK, on the other hand, there are two realities I have to face. One is that some Quaker groups are going to die. They're terminally self-satisfied, and as I said in one of my recent posts, they're pretty much dead to the world already. Secondly, you can't learn how to relate authentically to the spiritually hungry world out there through shame or dutifulness, although blunt provocations and awkward questions can help raise questions that simply were not considered before. I'd love our signs to say, "We gather at 11 a.m. to meet with God as a community, and we'd love to have you with us," but we can't say that unless we're actually doing that. We certainly can't start being joyfully invitational out of shame that we're not measuring up to our ancestors somehow, or because Johan is disappointed in us and has said so on a blog; there has to be a positive corporate eagerness in there somewhere, even among the introverts.

See, you never fail to get me going! Thanks again.

PS: How about starting a programmed Friends meeting in your area? I've never given up the dream that I outlined at Canadian Yearly Meeting in 2000--that every population center should have at least one programmed meeting and one unprogrammed meeting, in creative relationship with each other. Alternatively, how about a second unprogrammed meeting, but this one served by a pastor?

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Lissa said...

I agree that Quakerism probably draws more introverts, but I don't think that is important. What I DO think is important is that you say it's for the "older educated adult". I'm twenty - I'm not even out of college yet! And I'm Quaker to the core. I did find your post very interesting and well written, but honestly, you make us sound like a dwindling bunch of wrinklies!

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Well, I *did* say don't get mad...

We could substitute "church" for "Quaker" - I think the net effect would be the same. Except for some (some, not all) fundamentalist/evangelical churches, all churches are peopled with grey heads.

At least, around here. Maybe it's different in the States: I hear that 60% of the population goes to church. But here, it's less than 30%, and in some regions, less than 10% (Quebec). We're more like Europe. [gallic shrug]

So to my way of thinking, it's not a case of just trying to attract more young people to meetings or churches. It's something more, something deeper -- a disconnect at the core. This interests me.

I'm going to chew on it a bit more.

At 8:36 PM, Blogger QuakerK said...


As I read your post a puzzle arose in my mind. On the one hand, my meeting certainly fits the profile you describe--we have no young adults, no one between ages 18 and 35 (though that may be in part the geographical area we pull from). On the other hand, Fox was very young when he started the movement, and though not all early Quakers were young men and women, some certainly were. So why would it be appealing in the 1660s to all ages, and not now? Is it, as Johan says, we have no message now, no urgency? Or is it a worship style that's not "hip" enough?


At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

It's not necessarily so generational. I actually do think the generational aspect is probably exaggerated by the less religious culture of Canada compared to the USA.

I am now a member of an emerging church, Cedar Ridge Community Church (founded by Brian McLaren, probably the best known emerging figure). It's a little less out there than Next, but not a traditional any kind of church.

Cedar Ridge has a very wide age spread. Yes, we have a lot of the generation at Next, but a lot of older folks as well. This may be partly the age of the Church - it celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. But I think it's more than that.

And the meeting I used to belong to is not that much different in age range than Cedar Ridge. There are a lot of young families in several meetings in our area. The meeting is a little whiter (although it's located in an area where whites are a distinct minority while the church is located in a predominantly white exurb), and more homogeneous demographically in a number of respects.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goodness! I went to Cedar Ridge a few times and gave up because it was just another enormous megachurch, where people only talked to people they already knew, and nobody knew what to say to a quiet 40+ single woman who showed up alone.

In fact that's a pretty good summary of most of my churchgoing experiences in this area... nobody knows what to say to a quiet 40+ single woman who shows up alone. So they don't bother to say anything...

I've had the same experience at trendy Episcopal churches and Quaker meetings. I finally gave up, since I'm not going to stop being quiet, female, middle aged, or solitary, any time soon... and God knows perfectly well where and how to find me. That's all that matters.


Post a Comment

<< Home