Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Challenge For Churches To Stay Relevant

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week titled, "Some Harlem Churches in Fight To Survive and Stay Relevant" by Trymaine Lee. The article centered on All Souls' Episcopal Church in Harlem in New York City, one of the smaller churches in Harlem. It is 104 years old and it is losing congregants, year after year. According to Ann Mayfield, who was quoted in the article, "We're seeing several funerals a year and the new members aren't coming in...Sometimes we feel powerlessness in carrying out the responsibility we have for the community." The article also mentions that "The gentrification of Harlem has helped deplete their ranks, as younger residents, black and white, have arrived but not taken up places in their pews. The great historic churches of Harlem don't seem to have as many financial problems as the smaller churches. Many of those churches have been instrumental in helping to transform the neighborhood.  
Also mentioned was the fact that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has had to close churches in Harlem as well, because of similar challenges. 
So where are the young people and why don't they come to Church? Of course, some do, but apparently from the people quoted in the article, many young professionals who live in the high priced condo's and historic brownstones aren't joining Harlem churches or supporting them. Crucial questions, for all inner city churches are: How do congregations attract young people? How do churches stay relevant in the modern world? What do young people find appealing when they come to worship?
 I believe, all people, of every age, need prayer, time for reflection, the peacefulness and calmness that one receives in Church (or any house of worship), the graces received from attending Church, the spiritual boost, the sense of community and being part of a faith community, which is filled with advantages for young and old.  For Catholics being able to receive Eucharist and the great gift that is. So why aren't young people convinced of that? These are crucial questions that must be answered by every Christian Church and parish in the 21st century, because the future of the Catholic Church as well as Protestant Churches depends on how many resources and how much effort is given to attract young people to the pews. I can tell you one thing I know for sure, they want good, relevant, inspiring homilies and good music. That's for sure. 
Like the early Church that struggled with many challenges and not only survived but flourished and grew, we can hope and pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this century and openness to the promptings of the Spirit. There is much work to do in evangelizing young people. With the help of the Spirit and the help of innovative, creative thinkers and doers, I pray future efforts are successful, for all churches.