A few weeks ago, I served as a counselor for our churches trip to M-Fuge, a summer camp designed around doing local mission projects. I have gone the past few years to help our Seniors make a better transition to college life at the request of our youth pastor. The camp was held at one of our Baptist colleges, in fact at the place where I did my undergraduate work. I surely don't remember chapel services being as lively as the worship times were with the youth gathered from all over the southern states.
At the same time, there was a pastor's conference happening on the other side of campus. During one of our breaks, I walked over to the pastor's conference just to see what was happening and because I hadn't seen the new chapel that had been built. When I opened the back door and peeked inside I was struck by the beauty of the chapel itself and something else about what was happening during a worship time in the conference.
At the podium was a man in a pressed suit leading music in classic style. The pipe organ was fantastic. The old hymn had the feel of a very somber moment. Looking around, it was hard to tell if I had walked into a worship time or a funeral. I came in at the end of the hymn which was followed by a special music selection performed by a couple accompanied by what sounded like a violin and the organ, although it might have been just the organ. I had walked outside by this time into the foyer. All of the music was extremely well performed. Every note seemed to be right on pitch. And yet, as I looked into the faces of those in the room, none of them seemed to be really engaged with the message or mood of the songs.
As I was walking back across campus it hit me that this dichotomy is one of the reasons we are losing students in our SBC churches. Here we have a pastor's conference and the music is reinforcing the style that might have reached our parents and some of us and right across the courtyard is a worship setting that is moving 500 teens to give up a week of their lives and go serve people in a city that they will never see again. If only we could somehow meet in the middle of the quad, we might have a better chance at engaging our students in meaningful and relevant worship. Perhaps we should have let the Fuge band inject some life in the Pastor's conference and the PC worship leader teach some of the deeper doctrine in the hymns to our teens. I think we need a little of both in our churches to reach both the generation before mine, the mixer generation that I am a part of, and the generation of students that are now coming of age in our churches.
We must do something different or we risk losing our voice with this generation of college students. Change is coming, either we change or our students will find the non-denominational churches or other denominations that will change to address the worship style needs of college students and teenagers. It's really not that bad, just bring your ear plugs if the volume is a problem for us old folks!