Yesterday I ha the “opportunity” to hit the streets of Old Town to poll twenty-somethings that do not currently attend church on a regular basis. This polling was a result of a sermon by Dr. Perry last week when he revealed poll numbers from a recent Pew Forum research poll.
Four percent. That’s right, only four percent of twenty-somethings attend church on a weekly basis according to Pew and in that same age bracket only one-third have no religious affiliation. That is about ten percentage points higher than the national average. Here is the backdrop.
On Sunday, Jason walked into the Guback Center and said he had a task for me this week. As I always do, I “eagerly” responded and was up for the task. Christianity and twenty-somethings. Interview twenty-thirty somethings to find out what they think about the church. Easy enough, I thought. I would simply grab the video camera and my iPhone to head out and record video and audio interview samples of the targeted demographic.
Now, where do twenty-somethings hang out? I decided that I would go to Post Hurricane Sandy Old Town Alexandria and seek out my unchurched and non-church going peers. I figured that in two hours I would have plenty of survey answers. “No problem” I thought.
Two hours later, only two people responded to me. The rest of my peers blew me off. I thought to myself that I finally understood how sidewalk evangelists and the GreenPeace petitioners feel. Of the two people that responded, one was a self described Christian and the other had never stepped foot in a church. It was not that he did not want to respond to my questions, it was that my second interviewee did not feel comfortable providing any feedback on something he had never experienced.
Mason provided me with my only response. The self-described Christian goes to church once a year if he is lucky, and I bet you can guess which day of the year that is. I met Mason outside of a coffee shop off King Street, as he was talking to a friend. When I approached the men, Mason’s friend gave me same polite “no-way in hell” smile when I presented my request for discussion. But Mason tip toed around the subject for a minute and then opened up.
The level of honesty Mason presented me with shocked me. He did not hold back his opinions but did not bash the church. I had the preconceived idea that many of the respondents would be hostile towards the church. Mason does not hate the church, in fact from what I gathered in our conversation he would like to come back to the church.
Mason told me that, in his opinion, the church today does not reflect the Jesus he has read about in the Gospels. He does not think that most congregations reflect the diversity and inclusiveness that is called for by Jesus. Mason is a 6’3″ bearded man with ear plugs and multiple ear piercings. He told me that on few times he has attended Sunday worship over the past half decade he has felt judged and ultimately not welcomed at the church.
Mason went on to tell me that he thinks it is sad that mainline denominations continue to fight and become divided over doctrinal issues. It is hard to join a community when you see from a far that there is turmoil and conflict within the organization. Mason wrapped up our conversation by telling me that the first thing he thinks of when he hears the word “Christian” is the Westboro Baptist Church.
This last observation from Mason really irritated me.
“Not all churches are biggots like those nuts out west”, I quickly asserted.
“Oh know” I thought. I had gone from interviewer to opinionated Christian, bilboard holding and irritating street protestor, hyped up on more espresso shots than any one person should have in a two hour period.
It was obvious Mason saw and responded my response. He reassured me that he knew not all Christians were like those nuts out west. And that he too thought it was sad that the first thought that came to mind was the Westboro Baptist Church.
We wrapped up our conversation with the usually pleasantries and I added an invitation to one of our weekend services at Aldersgate. And if I am honest with myself, I doubt that I changed his mind on Christians or the church in general. We are fighting an uphill battle and if my conversation with Mason is any indication of the damage that has been done, we are not winning the fight.