If you are part of a local church and especially if you follow any of the Christian blogosphere, then you know there is a lot of angst about the absence of young people. This year the big statistic that is making the rounds is that 59% of millennials who were raised in the church drop out of it in their twenties. There is a lot of fear over this. There is also a lot of finger pointing of who is at fault and a lot of people flinging their hands up in the air in defeat. In the local church that I serve we decided to address this issue. For the past several months we have been doing an experiment of sorts to reach millennials in our community. This is still a work in progress, we do not have it all figured out, but so far we have been really pleased with what is happening. Here is what is happening at The Table.
Like many churches we desired to reach the millennials who had dropped out of church life. In order to do this we had to start with some honest realizations. One of the reasons why they dropped out is because they did not like how we did church. For most people much of the church experience comes through the worship service, and much of the worship service involves music. One of the things we realized is that a lot of these young people did not care for worship in that way. It was not just the songs. We could have replaced our organ with a professional band and state of the art lights, it would not have mattered. In the end of the day, they did not want to gather in rows to sings songs they did not know or particularly care for. We realized we would need to offer something that was radically different.
The book of Acts contains scriptures that describes the fellowship of believers. Acts 2:42 states, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’ teaching and to fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” This scripture became the guiding verse for what we were trying to do. In talking with these young people about church, we got the sense that one of the reasons for the dropout is they had no sense of connection, no sense of fellowship, and no sense of community. Church is, after all, the gathering of God’s people. We knew our something new had to be focused on this. In thinking what this meant, the table came to the forefront. The act of sitting down at a table together is an act of fellowship. Sharing tablespace together naturally creates a feeling of community. In a liturgical sense, the table is also a powerful symbol of worship. As the United Methodist communion liturgy states: “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him.”
We traded out the pews for tables, and we decided that the major emphasis of this gathering would be the fellowship of believers. As a self-professed geek and avid gamer, the number one thing that I do at tables is not eat, but it is play board games. This found space at The Table as well. In essence playing a game together serves as the call to worship. Since the emphasis is on the fellowship of believers this works incredibly well. The modern golden era of board games has given us plenty of games that play quickly, allow the people to engage with one another, and help build that sense of community. Games like Codenames, One Night Ultimate werewolf, Monikers, and Wits & Wagers have become staples at The Table.
When we gather for The Table here is what the “order of worship” looks like. First, because we are gathering around the table there is always food. Things begin informally with playing a game together, which truly does draw the group together. From, there we follow the model found in Acts. There is prayer, where the people gathered lift up prayer concerns. There might also be a specific prayer focus that is shared with all.
After praying, scripture is read and taught upon. Thus far all of those who gather are in their early twenties so the messages have tended to use cultural analogies (much like the ones found on this blog) that are relevant to that age group. This all leads up to the communion liturgy and partaking the sacrament of communion. From there it is an open schedule, but those who gather tend to hang out together, playing more games, and enjoying the fellowship of one another. Often this lasts for hours.
As I mentioned the results thus far have been promising. We started with a very small core group of young people, and they have invited people they knew. These people have found this fellowship based model resonates with them. Also as I mentioned, this is a work in progress we are still trying to figure out how to do it right. This is an ongoing experiment, but for the past several months it has been encouraging to see young people in their twenties devote themselves to the apostles’ teachings, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer like they never have before.