Where are the young people? How do we pass down the faith to young people who may or may not be inclined to receive it?
Two researchers from City Seminary of New York went to immigrant congregations in New York City to answer this question. In a program called the Next Generation Project, they conducted research into 2,000 faith communities from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the West Indies. Their study was driven by this question: If these immigrant groups had survived the journey to America, how were they facing the challenge of passing the faith down the next generation?
The researchers, Mark Gornik and Geomon George, learned four key lessons from these urban, immigrant congregations. What they discovered may have wider applicability to predominantly native-born congregations of whatever size or locale.
- Stay Intergenerational To Your Bones. Because many immigrant congregations cherish and respect their elders—not only parents, but grandparents—they see the extended family has vital to the nourishment of youth. Don’t segregate children and youth, these churches seem to be saying, but let them flourish in the safe space provided by the older generation of adults. For example, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Bronx, which serves a predominantly West Indian and Jamaican community, keeps the generations together for entire worship service.
- Recognize the Role Parents—and Much Else—Have to Play. Oversea Chinese Mission (OCM) in Manhattan, one of New York City’s oldest and largest Chinese churches, has had a phenomenal record of young people who enter the ministry. Parents have modeled their faith for youth, but other aspects of church life had a role to play—mission trips, Bible study and music groups, to name a few.
- See Young People As The Present, Not Just the Future. Effective youth ministry draws children and youth into every aspect of church life. For instance, at Damascus Christian Church, a Latino Pentecostal church in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx, youth lead worship, play music, engage in drama and liturgical dance, and pray for the sick. Their participation is woven into the church’s life.
- Honor History, Yet Adapt to Change. The Redeemed Christian Church of God, a global Nigerian Pentecostal ministry in Brooklyn, sent a group of young adults to start a new parish called Desire of Nations. Selecting a young professional to be pastor, they rented space in a college auditorium, recruited a multicultural worship team and deliberately invited visitors from beyond the Nigerian immigrant community.
For the researchers, creative change can take place within congregations without tearing down community life. As they explained it, “the transmission of faith continues to happen in the faithful continuation of the rhythms and life of the church and parish.”
Immigrants, more than anyone, should know about continuity and change. Their journey as new Americans has stirred their old world’s culture directly into the mix of contemporary American life. How creative!
Photo: David Woo, IMG_2835. Taken 5.16.2009. Flickr Creative Commons.