St. Joseph church targets youths, disconnected members

Sunday, October 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — Ken Ham can see a probable future for America in Europe's churches, standing grand but vacant.

The Christian speaker and author, in his book "Already Gone," compares the "spiritual black plague" that has wiped out much of the Christian Church in Europe to a phenomenon he sees playing out in American churches, as well as one that's resulted in nearly two-thirds of young adults who have grown up in a church leaving it by the time they reach college, according to Barna Research Group.

Statistics like these aren't lost on Danny Gach, a member of Central Christian Church in St. Joseph. About 10 years ago, Gach began hearing about the vast number of young adults who disconnect from church after graduating from youth group. While some come back when they're beyond the single, 20-something phase of life, many don't.

"It just broke my heart, that those kids have come that far, and then we lose them," he said. "I began praying, 'God, use me.' "

A decade later, Gach believes he's about to see an answer to that prayer.

This month, Central Christian Church is beginning The Crossing, a ministry designed to "bridge the gap, facilitate a crossing," Gach said, for young adults who lost connection with church after high school and for people young or old who just don't feel comfortable in a more traditional church setting.

The Crossing will take place the first and third Sundays of each month.

"We've thought about it being unique, different from the typical church experience," Central Christian's lead pastor, the Rev. Jason Whyte, saidy of The Crossing. "We keep hearing the word 'churchy' (from people who don't go to church), meaning pomp and circumstance, traditions that sometimes get in the way. I didn't grow up in church, so for me, the 'churchy' thing makes sense."

Gach, Whyte and others behind The Crossing kept this in mind in determining exactly what The Crossing would be and how to make it different from the "churchy" experience.

They also referred to Ham's book and, specifically, to a list of the top reasons young adults who have grown up in church stop going. No. 1 on the list: boring services.

In turn, The Crossing will be defined by vibrant, contemporary worship, a more relaxed service that will allow for questions and dialogue, and teaching that is relevant to everyday life, such as a sermon series the Rev. Whyte plans to do on questions such as "Is the Bible true?" and "Why does God allow suffering?" and "Do all roads lead to heaven?"

Also among the reasons in Ham's book for young adults abandoning church are "legalism," ''hypocrisy of leaders," ''too political" and "self-righteous people." The Rev. Whyte hopes The Crossing breaks these perceptions of church by showing that these qualities aren't always the case and by offering a place where people can feel comfortable coming as they are.

"A lot is about connection," he said. "There is a reason people can connect at bars and not at churches: They want to be 'where everybody knows your name.' They want to feel like they belong; they want someone to listen."

He added that he hopes people can come to The Crossing and experience the sense of ease and belonging they might in a bar, minus the alcohol, of course.

But maybe there will be coffee, even if this means risking spills.

"Sometimes people see us church people as being better and having it all together, but that's not the case," Gach said. "Jesus loves everyone, churched and unchurched, young and old. And we will look for the lost until we find them, whatever it takes."

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