Rabbi Sidney Schwarz has thought seriously about religious institutions, particularly Jewish religious institutions. But his insights cross the divide of all faith traditions.

Rabbi Schwarz believes that a major challenge for religious institutions is that we

have guided the community for the better part of 100 years are too much in touch with their base. They’re committed to serving the people they consider loyalists, and they assume the next generation will fall into line.


Those of us who have been in leadership in the church over the past few decades must preserve the base who have faithfully supported God’s work in the church. These are the people Schwarz calls “the loyalists.” They have paid the bills, served on committees, made the coffee, cooked for our potlucks, and have showed up Sunday after Sunday with a regularity that cannot be relied on from a younger generation. These are the ones who have stuck around even when things have been tough.

But, the church may be reaching a tipping point at which serving the “base” may make it impossible to attract “the next generation.”

The next generation is not going to “fall into line.” Young people are not for the most part going to buy into the existing way of doing things that are so familiar for those of us who have spent our lives in church.

A younger generation is emerging who do not care about our cherished traditions. They question our language, find our music distasteful and dull, are not attracted by our passive worship, and find our style of leadership and many of our moral and ethical stances completely out of touch with reality. For the generation now emerging into adulthood, church is no longer relevant; it barely registers on their radar and when it does usually carries a heavy weight of negative baggage.

The beginning of the way forward is to at least acknowledge the problem and ask the proper questions.

How can we continue to love and serve our “base” while opening to those who do not relate to the practices and convictions cherished by that “base”?

Are we willing to do the hard work of trying to discern the line between rigidity and a flexibility that sacrifices every source of identity in our tradition? How can we preserve the ancient unchanging truth of our tradition while finding new ways of embodying and expressing that truth so it may speak to a new generation?

How much can we let go without giving up the essence of that faith we are attempting to pass on?

Rabbi Schwarz has some wise words that may help to point the way forward when he suggests,

What next-generation Jews want is something that’s authentic.

Are we willing to be authentic? Are we willing to acknowledge that we do not know the way forward and that we need the help and wisdom of the next generation to guide us?

Can we admit our confusion, doubt and fear? Are we willing to see our own sense of vulnerability and stop attacking those who suggest that we need to find new ways of being together in community as people of faith?

Will we support and serve those on the edges of our community who are launching out in bold new ventures of faith, even though we may not be able to see how their vision will benefit us?

Can we sit more lightly to some of our cherished traditions and approach a new generation with grace and gentleness, even when their presence feels threatening?