What If the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?

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About Derek Penwell

Derek Penwell is an author, editor, speaker, and activist. He is the senior minister of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky and a lecturer at the University of Louisville in Religious Studies and Humanities. He has a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Louisville. He is the author of articles ranging from church history to aesthetic theory and the tragic emotions, as well as the forthcoming book from Chalice Press, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World, about how mainline denominations can avoid despair in an emerging world. He currently edits a blog on emergence Christianity, [D]mergent.org, and blogs at his own site. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. As a young person and as someone who once worked in a church, this post really rings true for me. I felt like the older generations were very concerned with the church as a place, whereas younger people like myself tend to be more focused on church as an activity.

    I think the most salient question for many churches going forward may be, “Is our church primarily a place that we go or a thing that we do?”

  2. And how can we blame them, really? We raised them to think of things as disposable

    Wasn’t it rather out generation who was raised to be overly attached to things we own, to the extent that we spend far more time messing about with that, and not enough time on what we really want to do with our lives?

    I don’t know. Seems to me that (where I live), people who are into organized religion are, by and large, a dying breed.

  3. Faith is something that can be modeled, it can be required. You can bring your kids to church with you, but if they stop wanting to go, forcing them is about the worst thing you can do. If they are meant to return, they will, in good time. If not, you are only pulling the rubber band farther and farther back, so they release will be that much stronger.

  4. when I was in grad school, my grandmother died and I inherited a set of china. I toted it around in boxes for 20 years. I never lived anywhere with room for china. My mother was angry that I kept it in boxes, and mentioned it at least once a year. Finally, in my 40′s, I had a house with enough room and money for a china cabinet. I unpacked the china and discovered that I hated it. It wasn’t my taste at all. I actually loathed it. I didn’t want to waste a whole side of a room displaying it. I didn’t want to use it. If I wanted china, I’d get something completely different.

    It’s still in the boxes.

  5. D.R. Bartlette says:

    No offense to Christians, but I don’t think the reason younger people are leaving organized religion in droves is because they don’t want a lot of “stuff.” Too many (not all, I know) churches are too focused on judgmentalism and exclusion, such as preaching against gays and single moms. The younger generation’s focus on experience lines up with the values this article points to: that God (or whatever spiritual force you believe in) isn’t found in an old book or a new building; it’s found within our own hearts, and within the hearts of all living things. This is a good, and hopeful, indicator of humanity’s evolution. It should be encouraged and emulated, not mourned.
    BTW – I’m from the South, so I know the experience of religion might not be the same here as it is in other parts of the country. For one, there’s a hell of a lot more of it, and it wields far too much power.


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