As a 30-year-old Croatian Canadian, I’ve been with Christian churches for most of my life. I professed Catholicism until the age of 18, became an avowed agnostic, then spent the first half of my 20s in conservative evangelicalism. After the U.S. presidential election in 2016, however, I came to dislike the neoliberal capitalist world view of my peers and decided to join The United Church of Canada.
The move has empowered me: I feel connected to like minds, and my participation in the church has led me to become a more compassionate and happier person.
But very often, I’m also one of the youngest people in attendance. In fact, of the 14 churches I’ve attended in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, I’ve rarely met anyone my age. Where are all the other millennial Christians? I think to myself time and again. Much has been discussed about the United Church’s future, from its declining membership to the vulnerability of its rural congregations. We must not, however, overlook its youth.
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In 1931, the denomination created the Young Peoples Union (YPU). Its purpose: to empower young church members to partake in intellectually stimulating Christian education and fun extracurricular activities. Adults under 30 — students and those with careers alike — finally had a group that represented them and enabled them to network, grow and learn. Nevertheless, the YPU was reorganized into KAIROS in 1965.
Although the church does currently offer youth-oriented programs like the GO Project, Youth Forum and Rendez-vous, and supports more than a dozen campus ministries, I worry these may not be enough. None of the 14 United churches in growing cities I’ve attended, for instance, had groups for younger adults. Nationwide, more than 85 percent of self-identified affiliates are older than the age of 25.
We must face the truth: the United Church needs to do a better job of attracting young adults. Understandably, progressive Christians are uncomfortable with the term “evangelism” and its connection to colonialism. But it is possible to evangelize without offending anyone. Ultimately, there’s an urgent need to differentiate what the United Church has to offer this generation that other youth-led movements, from climate activism to Black Lives Matter and beyond, do not.
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That, of course, is life-changing spiritual nourishment.
In a perfect world, the YPU would not be a thing of the past, but other actions can still be taken. Churches that place a greater emphasis on diversity can designate a board member position for young adults, while churches that have greater financial resources can hire part- and full-time young adult co-ordinators. Young Canadian Christians, after all, need support and strong community bonds. Though none of this changes the fact that the United Church still skews older, it’s a worthwhile start.
I would love for there to be a time when I can meet fellow millennials at worship, and I hope the United Church experiences a resurgence. If young people are the future of Canada, then we may also be the future of the United Church. It’s time to give my generation the attention, resources and care we deserve.
Ivan Simic is a member of Metropolitan United Church in Toronto.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s March 2023 issue with the title “Youthful belief.”
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