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by Gil Rendle, TMF Senior Vice President
Our friends, Casper and Angie, have offered us “Something More.”
In past blogs, and in our reporting on the December 2015 TMF gathering, “The Forum on Wesleyan Potential,” we introduced you to these new TMF friends, Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston. Recent graduates of Harvard Divinity School, they have fresh eyes and very different life experiences that enable them to see things in radically new ways.
For decades now, church leaders, fueled by generational anxiety, have been asking, “How do we get young millennial folks to our gatherings.” Angie and Casper asked that question in a way I probably wouldn’t have thought of. They more simply asked, “How do these young millennial folks gather?”
Young adults are already gathering, and forming community, and seeking ways to better their lives and their communities. I wouldn’t have known where to look. Casper and Angie helped me to see the purposeful and healthy young communities forming in odd places like exercise gyms (CrossFit and SoulCycle), in community-based dinner parties organized on the Internet, and in a multitude of other places. (How We Gather)
We’ve been so worried about other denominations, non-denominational churches, and cultural secularism, who would have guessed that our “competition” for the hearts and minds of young adults would come in such strange and interesting forms?
Thankfully, Angie and Casper have taken their curiosity further, and in the process discovered “something more.” They discovered that millennial young adults easily talk about soulful community, or the collective well-being, or the circle that encompasses all. In other words, a lot of what lies at the heart of their search for community is spiritual after all.
Casper and Angie acknowledge that these are often fledgling communities searching for something for which they don’t yet have a clear language. And so they show up in places like Pop-up Shabbat, or Laundry Project, or Living School for Action and Contemplation, or Buddhist Geeks, or many other places, unbeknownst to most of us. Their report is well worth your reading. (Something More)
Perhaps their real gift to us is that Angie and Casper are helping us learn how to start with better questions. Instead of asking, “How do we get millennial adults to our gatherings,” it may be more helpful to begin the conversation by asking, “How do they already gather?” Instead of asking, “How are we to give the meaning and purpose of life that we find in the 'something more' of Christ,” we might begin by asking, “How are these young millennials already searching for and finding something more?”
These millennial communities aren’t always, you’ll discover, just millennial, and they usually aren’t at all church-like. But they are there, and they are offering the hope, the disciplines, and the transformation for lives and communities that the church too easily thought was ours alone to offer.
It would be simple, but perhaps knee-jerk, to think that all that these folks need to do is give up their curious ways and come join us. That is not going to happen. Like all efforts of evangelism, Christian mission, and deep caring for others, it is not wise for us to rush in with our own answers to tell these folk we have what they are looking for.
TMF is committed to finding creative, courageous innovators looking for deeper wells of meaning and change. Angie and Casper are helping us discover where to look. Let’s listen and learn first. Let’s learn how these innovators gather, what they do, what they are learning, what difference it is making for them.
Let’s ask, “What is the nature of spiritual formation in communities of ministry outside the congregational norm?” Perhaps the next step would then be to ask, “How can we help? In the name of Christ, in our passion to change lives and to transform the world, how can we help?”
Editor’s note: Our TMF blog shares stories and essays inspired by our purpose: to help individuals, families, congregations and like-minded organizations achieve their God-inspired potential. In this entry, Gil Rendle asks religious institutions to "listen and learn" from innovative communities sprouting up across the landscape.