Why Churches Need Kids

I spent three days at a Presbyterian church in Michigan, trying to help the community think about its youth ministry program. I had dinner with the youth from the church, spent a morning with youth leaders, talked for an afternoon with church staff, led an evening discussion with parents, and then led a Sunday afternoon workshop with church members. One of the dilemmas parents asked me to address was the resistance that youth had toward Sunday worship.  Parents and staff members were discouraged by low church attendance from youth and they wanted me to help the church understand how they could understand and address the young people’s attitudes and involvement in worship.

So on Friday night, after pizza and cookies, I sat in a youth room with about twenty teenagers and asked them to tell me about their church, the larger community, and their experience in worship.  The students felt the church was filled with generous and kind people.  They understood the purpose and mission of the church and believed it was an important force for good in the community.  When I asked them to talk more specifically about worship, they listed complaints that I often hear from young people in mainline, protestant, adult-oriented, worship services.

Then I asked, “How do you think your parents feel about worship?” Immediately they responded, “They feel exactly like we do, but they’re afraid to say anything.”  I paused and then said, “Do you think the reason your parents flew me out here to help the staff make the church more ‘youth-friendly’ is really about your parents own frustrations?”  One young man spoke up.  “Yes. The adults are afraid.  They can live with the way things are, but we [kids] complain and they know we’re right and we give them the motivation to try and change things.”

My favorite gathering was with a group of teens who meet at a coffee shop for Bible study early Sunday mornings. During this gathering I was talking to John, a fifteen year old who was recently elected to the church session (the leadership council of the church).  Allowing youth on the session was a radical step for this church, considering that up until ten years ago youth and children were barred from worship.  I asked John if it was difficult serving on the board.  He told me, “Actually, I think I’m helpful.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, many of the meetings are about money and budgets and policies.  I don’t understand most of what is being talked about, so I ask a lot of questions.  When the meetings end there are always three or four guys who pull me aside and confess they didn’t understand what was being discussed and were glad I asked questions.”

“Why don’t the other session members ask questions?” I responded.

“They’re afraid.  They don’t want to look stupid.  I’m a kid, so no one thinks bad of me for asking questions.  It’s funny, because the session leader will say something and I know that no one knows what he’s talking about, but everyone will just stay quiet or they’ll all look at me and hope that I’ll say something.  Eventually, I’ll just raise my hand and say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Can you explain that better?’ It’s like this game we play, where I’m the only one allowed to admit that I don’t know things.”

The Wild Goose Festival: Storytelling

My favorite festival is Greenbelt, held each summer in the U.K.  For years folks have worked to re-create this strange brew of musicians, activists, artists, writers, storytellers–all concerned about justice and spirituality rooted in the Christian tradition.  Well, after years of meetings and dreaming it’s going to happen.  This June 23-26 in Shakori Hills, North Carolina and by golly I’ll be there.   It’s called Wild Goose and I’ve been invited to speak as well as host three nights of storytelling. If you’re in the area join T-Bone Burnett, Michelle Shocked, David Wilcox, Jim Wallis and hundreds of other talented musicians, activists, speakers, and storytellers for a great event.  There’s a discounted fee up until May 15th.  Get your friends and a biodiesel van and meet us in North Carolina. Find out more here.

Here’s a description of the storytelling nights:

Wild Tales: Real Stories by Regular Folks

Each night of the Wild Goose Festival we will host “Wild Tales: Real Stories by Regular Folks.”  In this homegrown storytelling series six brave souls from the festival community will tell a true story, first person, in twelve minutes or less.  Stories will be based on the evening’s theme and will be interspersed with live music by an eclectic mix of musicians gathered for the night.  The whole thing will be hosted and facilitated by Mark Yaconelli, author, speaker, and founding director of the Hearth storytelling series in Southern Oregon.

We’re still looking for storytellers.  This series is open to the entire festival community.  If you have a true story that fits one of the evening themes email Mark at yaconelli@msn.com.  Include a few sentences summarizing your story. Or show up to one of the storytellingevenings and put your name in one of our drawings.  Each night we’ll select an interested audience member to get up on stage and share their own true story.

Here’s the evening themes and some of our storytelling recruits:

Thursday Night:  Locked Up: Tales of Captivity. As part of its mission, the Wild Goose festival will seek to high light prison injustice.  As a way of exploring the prison experience we’ll gather six festival goers tell true tales of imprisonment (physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual) and their struggle toward freedom. Tellers include Becca Stevens from Thistle Farms, Scott Bass from Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation.

Friday Night: Changed: True Tales of Transformation. Hitting bottom. Death and resurrection. Befriending an enemy.  A new heart and mind. This evening’s stories include healings, breakthroughs, and unexpected conversions.  Stories by Gareth Higgins, Nadia Bolz-Webber, and others.

Saturday Night: I Saw the Light: Encounters with the Sacred. A night of interfaith storytelling as we seek to gather tellers from various faith traditions to tell a true experience of the Other.  Listen as Samir Selmanovic, Abdullah Antepeli, Rabbi Or Rose, Frank Rogers, and other festival goers tell true tales of religious experience.

For more information and sample stories from the true tales movement go to The Moth or The Hearth Storytelling.

To sign up for the festival go http://www.wildgoosefestival.org.