Last week, Jen and I attended a parent mixer for our boys’ Cross Country team. Because I’ve somehow become the team photo/video guy, I was asked to bring Cross Country videos that could be shown on a big screen TV, creating some background ambience for the event.
As I scoured my hard drives to look for videos I could show, I found a few videos that were shown at the last two Cross Country banquets. These were almost entirely photos of runners who ran during the course of the season with pictures zooming and and out to popular music.
I was particularly interested in the video from 2 years ago (see video below), when Jacob and Joshua were freshmen. I was surprised at how many kids in the video I didn’t recognize at all. I wondered who these kids were.
There must have been 50 freshman boys who were on the Cross Country team that year and most of them are no longer around.
Even this summer, it was almost a daily occurrence for Jacob and Joshua to come home from running and announce another kid from their class who had decided to quit the team.
This year’s team has a total of 6 seniors and only about 16 juniors.
Several of the kids who have recently hung up their running shoes were quite good as freshmen, and yet, for some reason, they did not have the desire or the determination to stick with it.
It’s hard to blame them, really. It’s a grueling sport that requires discipline, determination and mental toughness. There is no academic benefit to continuing beyond your second year as the graduation requirements only demand that students fulfill 2 years of Physical Education.
I realized how similar the Christian life is to distance running. Paul likens the Christian life to a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
The author of Hebrews also compares the Christian life to a race, but he qualifies it as a race of endurance, rather than a sprint. The author encourages us to, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
When I think about my twins’ Cross Country team, I wondered why some kids decide to stick with the sport while others quit.
You may have heard the statistic that Millennials make up the largest segment of our culture and yet they are the least churched. What is fascinating to me is to see the number of Millennials who were once really active in church and yet are now not involved.
Part of our task as we reach out to Young Professionals is to figure out why so many who once were quite active are now totally uninvolved.
I think the reasons Young Professionals give up on church may be similar to the reasons kids give up on sports like Cross Country. Some kids give up because of discouragement. Others are dealing with injuries and get weary of dealing with setbacks. Others don’t see themselves as really contributing. Still others leave because they don’t have close friends on the team. Finally, I think some kids quit because their interests and focus is somewhere else, whether on academics, another sport, or something else entirely different.
I think the reasons Millennials are leaving the church are likely the same. Our focus is on trying to create some systems and structures that will make it easier for Millennials to stay engaged in the race without giving up.
We want to help create community so they feel like they belong. We also want to help them figure out their unique contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes. We don’t want to see anyone exiting the race because they don’t see themselves as being essential to the team.
Finally, we want to help Millennials develop a game plan that will help them stay engaged and make an impact. When you lose focus on what’s important, it’s very hard to stay in the race for a lifetime.
Thanks for your role in helping us stay engaged in the race and helping Millennials do the same!