Recent discussions of youth groups and various other social groups in the church bring to mind the question, “Why?” What is the purpose or goal of today’s youth groups, junior youth groups, Dorcas societies, Ladies’ Aids, LWML, LWMS, LLL, Men’s Clubs, pastors’ wives groups, and so on? The social groups in congregations did have a useful purpose in the past. When children did not regularly attend high school, the church provided good social networking for teenagers. When more women were not working outside their homes, Dorcas, Ladies’ Aid, and the women’s missionary groups provided women who may have been isolated from their fellow women a chance to get together and serve other Christians and the community.
Today, some of these groups seem to exist only for their own proliferation or as a way for everyone to look busy. When someone says that a congregation should have, for example, a junior youth group in addition to a senior youth group or a young women’s group in addition to the traditional Dorcas/Ladies’ Aid, it leads some to ask, again, “Why?” It is also interesting to note who is usually suggesting these groups. It is not those who would participate themselves or, in the case of the youth, their parents. In our experience, it has been those who would have no connection to the group at all.
In a congregation with a Lutheran school, the 5-8th graders most likely to show up for junior youth group are the same group who attend school together during the week. Even in a congregation without a school, the children still likely attend school together and see each other plenty already. Since most congregations have Sunday School programs for this age group and catechism classes, they are already receiving instruction in the Christian faith, and with today’s tendency toward overscheduling this age group’s activities, another meeting during the week or month seems difficult to justify. Yes, of course, we’re in favor of studying God’s Word, but with so many opportunities to do that in the congregation already, maybe it would be better to allow some free time for parents to teach the faith at home.
High school youth groups have more opportunity for service to their congregations and communities because they are slightly older and, at least in theory, more able and responsible than their junior youth counterparts. There are some very good high school youth groups who have done wonderful Christian service for those less fortunate. However, if the youth group exists to go to CCM concerts as an alternative to actual concerts, or for game nights and pizza parties because we don’t trust our youth to keep out of trouble if left with any free time, then we’re not sure they can justify their existence. These groups can turn into pietistic conventicles and participation seen as another level of sanctification, confusing where and when we receive the Means of God’s grace, especially when taught by well-intentioned but theologically illiterate pastors or laypersons.
Something of the same can be said for the women’s groups in a congregation. When a meeting of one of these groups devolves into the same discussion every month (e.g. “Why don’t the young women come and join this organization?”), there is a problem. We are not against the LWML, LWMS, Dorcas society, Ladies’ Aid, etc. We respect and admire those who help the poor and elderly in their communities and help to spread the Gospel and provide Christian charity around the world. Women of the church have always done these things, usually without fanfare or thanks they have carried out their Christian vocations and they should and will continue to do so. However, the Americanized organizations are not a part of the church catholic and that seems to be where the wheels have come off. Preserving an arbitrary organization is not a part of Christian vocation. As for the younger generation of women, we’ve been able to track down and talk to a few of them, so we’ll presume to answer why many don’t attend. First, many more are working outside the home than even in their mothers’ generation. Yes, some of them may be working for less than compelling reasons, but that is still the situation. Second, maybe they just don’t have the desire to attend meetings where they count the organization’s money and eat desserts full of calories they don’t need and complain that more women didn’t come to do the same. Third, church is no longer where they look primarily for entertainment and socialization, and this may be a good thing. Many congregations had previously become little more than social clubs. Perhaps by the more social aspects of the church dying out, the church can be what it actually is: the Church.