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Jason Turner

Jason Turner is senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.

Bring millennials to the big table

By Published: May 20, 2019 5:47 PM CT

The kids’ table at family gatherings can be a lot of fun when you’re a child. Not so much when you’re older – and the adults continue to insist that’s where you belong.  

This is what it can be like for millennials in all aspects of today’s world – most particularly within the church. Unfortunately, many are choosing to walk away from the gathering rather than continue to be isolated from the conversation, fellowship, and decision-making that happens at “the big table.”

<strong>Jason Turner</strong>

Jason Turner

Research bears this out. An April 2019 article for Gallup by Jeffrey M. Jones reports that only 42% of millennials are members of churches, and that Generation Z is even less religious.

Personally, I know the feeling on both sides of the equation. I’m a millennial myself – the 37-year-old senior pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, a historic Memphis house of worship otherwise known as The BLVD. I’m also one who has wrestled with and overcome the kid table/big table issue many millennials and churches face.

And I can tell you that I have hope millennials will keep the faith – both here in Memphis and around the world – and energize faith communities for years to come if we who lead our churches become more intentional, strategic and open in approaching this dynamic and independent-minded generation.

First of all, we need to avoid the miscalculation that I made at The BLVD when I arrived six years ago and began considering how to bring more millennials into our church family. I created the equivalent of a kids’ table – special services just for them. It wasn’t the success I hoped it would be, and I quickly realized The BLVD needed to more fully welcome younger generations into our complete vision of The BLVD’s “Four L’s” – Leading, Living, Learning, and Loving Without Limits, as does Jesus Christ.

Here’s what that has come to look like on the ground:

Leading: We created a permanent position on our church council for someone 35 or younger. Currently, it’s filled by Colleen Jackson, who not only sits on our administration and finance commission, but who also chairs Leading Ladies, our outreach ministry to at-risk young girls.

Living: We’ve brought millennials and Generation Z members more intentionally into our Life Groups, the heartbeat of our discipleship during which small groups of people meet regularly to do life together and for others. We’re now holding some of our Life Group meetings in places millennials enjoy congregating, such as Panera on Union Avenue or Crosstown Concourse.

Learning: I’ve made a point to focus my preaching on topics our younger members are hungry to discuss and eager for us to address head-on, such as sexuality and divorce, the problem of race in America, and issues of restorative justice. Together, we are learning the meaning of relevance and responsibility in our complex world.

Loving: We are making room for the next generation of faithful disciples to get out into the community and embrace it. I think of Dr. Oneka Richardson, an ER physician and member of The BLVD, who has been so instrumental in putting in place our thriving Room In The Inn program, during which we shelter homeless people at the church every Friday night. Crucial to Dr. Richardson’s fresh focus is her emphasis on treating our homeless guests to little luxuries in advance of attending a concert with church members. These include appointments with hairstylists and makeup artists, and the opportunity to choose new clothes.

These are just a few of the ways The BLVD continues to be the same family we have always been while pulling up chairs at our big table for new family members who are not only eager to break bread with us, but to share their own special dishes and know others appreciate what they have to offer.

This is, I believe, where hope for the future lies – in Memphis and beyond: not in decrying the church-going habits of a younger generation, but in embracing this generation on its own terms.

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Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Jason Turner

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