Letters to the Family: Beth

I am telling you guys, this For The Love launch team is just amazing. There are so many stories being shared. So many valuable conversations happening among that community. I love that you get to be a part of it in a small way through some of these letters. Today’s letter is from Beth. She is passionate about college students, as you will see. She cares that young people know Jesus and find their place in the Family. And speaking of families, isn’t Beth’s family just beautiful?!

Barn Walker Family 2015In her own words: Beth Walker is a coach’s wife and mom of 2 energetic boys.  Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago the adventure of being married to a college football coach has allowed Beth to live in different areas of the country including the middle of a cornfield in Southern IL and most recently the amazing mountains of Southwest Virginia.  Beth has been blogging over at http://lessonsfromthesidelines.wordpress.comwhere she has been striving to finding her own voice both through personal life reflection and her ministry of serving the women of Bluefield College as the leader of Women’s Ministries called Pursuit.  Her husband Ordell is currently the head coach of the Bluefield Rams. 

Dear Church,

I’m curious, when you look at the people who sit around you in the pews, do you see a group that is largely in the same stage of life as you?  Do you see multiple generations worshiping together? In my corner of the world (Appalachia WV/VA) many congregations with bi-vocational pastors have dwindled down to less then 50 members.

As college aged Millennials begin making choices for themselves for the first time the Barna Research Group has presented some alarming information:

“Barna research shows nearly six in ten (59%) of these young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away from either their faith or from the institutional church at some point in their first decade of adult life. Second, the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade, from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing among the nation’s population.” (http://bit.ly/1ISY8ih)

Is it any surprise that many churches are facing closing their doors?  If you focus solely on these statistics church growth could seem in danger, but there is hope!  When exploring what keeps the Millennial generation attending church Barna discovered that “59% of Millennials stayed because they had a close personal friend who attended the church who was an adult..” Even more exciting…”28% had a personal mentor OTHER than a pastor or church staff member!”  Do you know what that means?  College students want to keep attending church in a place where they are have friendships with you.

Over the last 18 years my husband and I have had the privilege of ministering to college students. Our ministry time has been tied to the campuses my husband has coached at.  I’m not sure when it became a conscious choice to find a church that not only was welcoming to our family, but also the students we love so deeply, but at some point it became a non-negotiable along with solid kids programming, biblical preaching and a few other things.

Due to my husband’s job as a college football coach we have moved a few times. Each move has included a season of searching for a new church family.  In our searches I’ve had numerous conversations with parishioners regarding our “extra” kids in the church pews.  Most comments have been absolutely wonderful.  I’ve watched older gentlemen seek out a football player to celebrate athletic success.  I’ve seen sweet women seek out college women inviting them to bible studies, quilting guilds and out for lunch.

Unfortunately I have also been on the receiving end of some less then welcoming statements.  There have been those who have said that college students are a “drain” on the church because they do not tithe.  Comments regarding how students have dressed or the fact that they have worn a hat remind me it is overlooked these students may not have grown up in a church. In some church communities there seems to be a standard to students as visitors, regardless of how consistently they attend.

Once a week I meet on our campus with a group of the most amazing college women.  My husband does the same with men.  Our format is more casual then a church service, but no one denies Jesus’ presence.  Can I tell you a secret?  These evenings are highlights for me each week, also, at times. overwhelming.  Part of the night involves catching up with everyone, listening to the burdens of their heart and the successes of the week.  It’s awesome, yet sometimes I’m on campus as late as midnight!  Still, I know this time spent has made an impact because those same students join us at church on Sunday mornings.

Church, I ache for you to see how amazing the Millennials are.  I ache for you to also hear their hearts each week.  The thing is, relationship is a two-way street, and there needs to be a listening ear for these students to speak to. More then that though, church, I want to see you flourish, to live beyond your founders for generations.  Mostly, I ache for Millennials to hunger for Jesus and to realize being a part of a church body is a part of sustained faith.  So I’m curios, when you look in the pews, who do you see?

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