Could Young People Renew Our Churches?

What could be driving the exodus of young people from the church when they could be a force of renewal instead?

Excerpted From
Reciprocal Church
By Sharon Galgay Ketcham

What is the reciprocal church? The word reciprocal provides us with multiple images. You might think of a reciprocal trade agreement between two or more countries. These intend to increase trade flow for mutual, economic benefit. The design of a mechanical device such as a reciprocal engine takes advantage of opposing motions such as up and down or back and forth. Reciprocation involves a type of motion. Unlike linear motion that follows a straight line or rotary motion that moves in a circle, a reciprocal church’s motion is a push and pull or back and forth between persons. Much like a number (3) multiplied by its reciprocal (1/3) equals one, the reciprocal church benefits from the body of Christ’s multiplying effect, which also makes us one. Take a peek at this book’s cover art. Notice the reciprocal motion amid the layers of color intersecting with steeples and young faces. A reciprocal church trusts that the push and pull motion among people is to our advantage as the Spirit’s multiplying effect makes us Christ’s church. An inspiring vision, and a challenging path.

I am thirteen and sitting in a church parking lot with my mom. My heels dig in as do hers. I am kid number three, so Mom is pretty adept at knowing when to push and when to release control. So when she pushes hard, I know my resistance is futile. My family is in the middle of a tumultuous time following our move from Texas to Germany. My brother starts a new school as a senior in high school, my sister remains in college in Texas, my dad faces tremendous responsibility in his new position and my mom gets up every day to help each of us gain our footing. We must adapt to a new culture, a new language, new road signs and new friends. Needless to say, the challenges my family face are taking a toll. And me? I have a freshly molded piece of plastic strapped around my body that I get to wear 24/7 to prevent my scoliosis from progressing. This final blow crushes what remains of my childhood confidence.

We are sitting in front of this church because my mom is forcing me to go inside and join a youth choir. She knows what I need before I know what questions to ask. And she is right. I encounter Jesus with this community and confirm the faith my parents taught me.

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My faith experience sets the stage for a lifelong conviction: God gifts and empowers young people to renew the church. After graduating from college with a ministry degree, I spend a decade serving in the local church until I come to the end of what I know. Certainly, I can attest to God’s transforming movement in the lives of young people during these years, but something is not quite right. I see the early signs long before news headlines sound the alarm that rising generations are leaving the church in unprecedented numbers. Amid what many would call a successful youth ministry, faith roots do not appear deep enough. How then could it be true that God wants young people to renew the church?

These experiences inaugurate my search for an answer to the reality that continues to unfold before us. Reciprocal Church captures years of researching, listening, experimenting and clarifying. One thing is abundantly clear. My earlier vision of God using young people to renew the church took an unexpected turn. I envisioned young people as the heroes of this story whose passion would break in and spur us, the church, toward renewal. I did not anticipate that young people would be lead characters in a dramatic tragedy. Losing young people from our churches is what is finally capturing our attention.

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Excerpted from Reciprocal Church by Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Copyright (c) 2018 by Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.