As we race into 2022 most of us in our Episcopal congregations are aware that our churches, like most churches, are graying and declining. This is not a surprise to most pastors. Pew Research has been predicting for a decade that a declining number of those in generations Y and Z are not going to affiliate with our churches.
Last month I preached a sermon at Saint Andrews Episcopal Church here in Seattle. I shared some very good news about generations Y & Z that few church leaders seem to be aware of. Since these two generations are the first digital generations they are much more aware of the issues of environmental, racial, and economic justice. Even more importantly a higher percentage of these two generations want to respond to these important issues.
For 10 years the Colonial Church, a congregational church in the Twin Cities, made a very unusual offer to the young in the community by connecting to their concerns for those in need where they live. They offered a competition for change-making, no church attendance required.
Brian Jones, the missions pastor, created this new program called Innove’. Brian Jones has offered his creative ideas to other congregations since then. At the Colonial Church Brian Jones created an annual competition for any young in their community. Each year the young contender who won not only received money to launch their new venture.
Business leaders in the congregation also donated their time to be the launch team to help the young innovators launch their change-making venture as I document in my book Live Like You Give A Damn: Join the Change-Making Celebration.
A young businessman named Mark won the final 10th year of this competition. Mark and his wife had become so concerned about the challenges facing 90,000 Somali Refugees that they moved into the Somali neighborhood settled in the Twin Cities to get acquainted.
Mark’s winning idea for Innove’s Competition was to create a new form of neighborhood empowerment. Mark researched the Somali diet. He discovered that one of their most popular foods was called a “Sambusa”. It is a spicy pastry filled with meat and vegetables. Mark started by persuading several large supermarkets to start carrying the Sambusas.
Mark then started working with leaders in the Somali community to hire young moms from the community that had difficulty finding work because of their limited language and job skills. Mark then found a church, with an industrial kitchen, that welcomed this opportunity for community empowerment. Reportedly these young moms were delighted to be employed, at a good wage, making Sambusas that they grew up learning how to make.
Recently newspapers reported that the current economic downturn in the US means that young people in many low-income communities will not be able to afford community colleges to secure the skills they will need to secure jobs that pay a living wage.
Several years ago Justin Beene, a young innovator, persuaded a church to launch The Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation. They offer two classes to help address the needs of unemployed young people: 1. Youth Builds teaching construction trades, and 2. Rising Grinds which trains young people for restaurant work.
Thank God for Episcopal Churches all over the US that have been providing feeding programs for school children and their neighbors during the pandemic. Now we encourage you to invite young people in your communities that want to make a difference, to join you in creating new forms of neighborhood empowerment in your communities too. It could be a creative way for your church to connect with a new generation who want to make a difference in tough times.