Surveys show that young people have an interest in religion, but not in religious organizations.
A Pew Research Center survey published in May found that 35 percent of adult millennials — that is, those Americans born between 1981 and 1996 — are religiously unaffiliated. In fact, there are more unaffiliated millennials than those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21 percent), Catholics (16 percent) or mainline Protestants (11 percent).
The reasons vary — from judgmental church doctrine to hypocrisy to a desire not to be tied down by membership obligations.
So, how do churches minister to those who have either left the church or have never attended one?
One way is to change the model.
A group in Lititz is trying to reach the unaffiliated and disaffected through Lifetree Cafe — a one-hour meeting held Mondays from 7 to 8 p.m. at General Sutter Inn. The group held its first session Oct. 5.
Lifetree Cafe describes itself as a “time and place where people gather in a coffeehouse setting to hear stories and engage in conversation on a different, relevant topic every week.”
Its interfaith mission is to “help people grow in a relationship to Jesus.”
The Rev. Jerry McGrath, senior pastor at Lititz United Methodist Church, helps with the program, which also has the support of various Lititz area churches and the Lititz Ministerium. McGrath said the meetings often appeal to young adults who call themselves “followers of Christ and not Christians, because they don’t want to be tied into the institution.”
Anisa Candy is among them. She had not attended church in eight years, nor was she interested in rejoining a church. Invited on a cruise, she discovered the group was from her friend’s Sunday school group.
“This is not where I want to be,” she remembered thinking. But in that week’s time, she saw how the husbands and wives connected with each other.
“I saw what a godly marriage was,” she said. “I decided, ‘I have to make a change.’ It was like night and day.”
Now, she helps guide Lifetree Cafe discussions. Attendees are welcomed by a host or hostess and sit at tables of four. They view a video, then discuss it. Scripts are provided by Group Publishing, Loveland, Colorado, which is known for its Vacation Bible School materials.
A second video often is shown and then the entire group discusses the topic. The session ends after exactly one hour.
The sessions, said McGrath, “deal with life issues.”
One recent issue was, “Is marriage obsolete?” This Monday’s topic asks if a broken trust can be restored.
The concept is not unheard of. Other Lifetree Cafe groups exist locally, and young Catholics have been hosting Theology on Tap at Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Lancaster for several years.
Planting the seed
David Kammerer, 73, of Lititz Church of the Brethren, has been part of a church plant in Lancaster and serves on several ministerium committees. He is excited about this ministry.
“I’ve taken many seminars on church growth and church planting,” he said. “I felt the Lord laid the vision on me and this is part of it.”
Allowing people to ask questions and discuss issues makes sense in this age of online interaction. People can comment online about newspaper stories, tweet comments that scroll across the bottom of TV programs and ask questions of politicians online. Why not hold a program about life and religion that allows people to offer their thoughts and raise questions?
Kammerer said churches often rely on programs to preach the Gospel.
“It’s very mechanical,” he said, “and I think this is what is driving our youth away.
“They say they don’t want to listen to a three-point sermon. They want one topic really talked about. And that’s what this is.”
When asked how this might affect congregations that have houses of worship to maintain, McGrath said “We’ve got to stop being so concerned about seating capacity and more interested about sending capacity — which Jesus said, ‘Make more disciples.’
“This is really about kingdom building.”