I believe today’s young adults (especially the Millenials, those of us born in the 80’s and after) have an emerging, powerful new sense of community spirit. I’m proud of that!
Older generations in the past have also held a devotion to community, but they understood it in a different way. Often that was lived out by connecting deeply with a national identity, an organization, a cultural identity, and so on. Faithfulness to the community was about perpetuating the life and purpose of the group.
Think about your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ admirable devotion to attend church each Sunday. Community of Christ has transformed tremendously from the RLDS church they committed to as children, but come what may, they’re sticking to it! I can think of a few stalwarts of my congregation who have weathered many changes in our faith community – from a loosening of the “one true church” mentality to welcoming women into priesthood. They don’t necessarily care for the changes, but they still continue to contribute as some of our most dedicated servants. I deeply admire that kind of fidelity to the faith community.
That kind of community spirit isn’t really the strong suit of today’s young adults. In a current survey of Mission Center Presidents and young adult leaders, I asked what they found to be the biggest challenge in their ministry with young adults. The most common response is – you guessed it! – they have trouble getting young adults to commit to groups and activities. We might participate in ministries here or there; maybe RSVP, maybe not. We just don’t latch on to the community in that way. But I still believe today’s young adults will prove to be a generation that is remembered for its inspiring community spirit.
How’s that? Because we must. Young adults today recognize with a unique clarity that the world must change – and fast. The havoc of global warming will come to pass during our lifetimes and that of our children. The consequences of systemic poverty, cultural oppression, and the resulting widening wealth gap are already starting to unfold and will continue to deepen as we move into middle adulthood. Heightening military might continues to spur the cycle of international and cultural violence. We are increasingly aware that WE must be the solution. We can see that political leaders are not the solution.
Rampant hyper-individualism got us here. The drive for personal gain (with as little cost as possible) has driven us to the point. Young adults today are more exposed to the world’s diversity and information than any previous generation. We are confronted more directly with the people (or environmental systems) who pay the price for our individual gain. The internet and global media bring us images of receding rainforests and far away communities poisoned by industrial waste deposited by corporations of wealthy nations. We know our individual choices have a real impact on real people – our generation cannot claim ignorance about that.
What does this have to do with community spirit and loyalty? Because of our sensitivity to the global impact of our personal choices and the urgency of our global problems, young adults have a deepening fidelity to the global community, rather than institutions or organizations. We feel an accountability to care for the wholeness of people and Creation beyond the human-made boundaries of nation, institution, and ethnicity, not simply take care of “me and my own.” Other generations carry this sentiment too, of course. But I believe that young adult generations today will own it and express it even more powerfully than those older than us. There is so much Hope in that!
There is much more to be explored in this topic, but there isn’t space in this post. So here are some questions that we ask from here: If this “new community spirit” in young adults continues to unfold, what will it mean for the role of Christianity? What will happen to congregations? What does it call this prophetic “Community of Christ” to do and become? How does this “new community spirit” reflect Jesus’ teachings, ministry, death, and resurrection? Other biblical foundations? And what must become of hyper-individualism among our generation? These are questions our generation will have to unpack as we take leadership of Community of Christ in the coming years. What a promising and intimidating responsibility! I know we are up to the task. In fact, we are called to it.