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“Millennials Leaving Church in Droves” proclaimed a recent CNN headline, referencing the findings of a Pew Research study released in 2015. The report says that while the number of Americans claiming a religious affiliation is dropping across the board, the most profound decline is among those in their twenties and thirties.
All of the young adults who attend the Thursday-night meetings of The Table have their own reasons for making the weekly gatherings a part of their regular routine, but talk with some of these twenty- and thirtysomethings, and common threads emerge—including the life-changing importance of finding community with other like-minded young singles.
Tracy, a senior account executive at a small advertising agency says, “For me, community is huge. I went through several years of being pretty much by myself—not having a community of other people my age and in my same life stage, and I can tell you that living without that kind of community is disastrous.
“I need people who will support me—and push me—and also people who will do crazy stuff with me, like running lots of miles or sitting on a couch.
“Christ calls us to live in community with others, and The Table fulfills that community call for me.”
“Once they find out I’m not married, they say, ‘You ought to check out The Table,’” Joe said. “And they are always quick to add that it’s not some kind of dating thing. So I thought, I need to give that a look.
“The Table has been integral to me experiencing community within the church,“ he said.
Joe also appreciates the fact that many of those from The Table sit together on Sunday mornings and then meet afterward to talk about that day’s message.
“One week, I didn’t make it up in time for the 9:45 service and came at 11:15. I’m sitting there alone, knowing that everybody I know has gone into the young adult Bible study, and I thought, If this was my first time here, this would be a little intimidating.
“The connections I’ve made at The Table are what make me feel I’m part of something.”
Topaz, an art director with a global marketing agency, loves the diversity of the group.
“Even though we’re all in the same general life stage,” she says, “the stories, the kinds of careers and families and faith backgrounds—all represented in one room on any one evening—are truly astounding.”
It was a great moment for Topaz and the others on the start-up team when, hoping for maybe fifty people to show up, they saw more than seventy singles in their twenties and thirties walk in the door that first night.
“It made me realize,“ she said, “that there is an epidemic of isolation happening for our demographic inside the church. That’s what I love about The Table—that the isolation is being eliminated and we are able to tangibly demonstrate, in a very small way, the life-changing act of inclusion that Christ demonstrated toward us.
Joy, a digital marketing specialist for a local book publisher, started attending Wheaton Bible Church right after graduating from college. She quickly found places to connect as a volunteer—first in Sunday morning children’s ministry, and then as a leader with high school students. But finding a place to make friends and develop deeper relationships was a challenge.“For a young single woman, it can be hard to find community,” she said. “But at The Table I’ve developed a core group of good friends—guys and girls.
“On Thursdays I can hardly wait to go to The Table—and I come home encouraged.” She adds, “I’m better for it.
“At The Table, we’re not seen first as singles but as brothers and sisters in Christ who have the potential to advance the Kingdom of God,” Joy said. ”So the things we learn together and talk about start with our role as Christ followers and then trickle down into our social status. This is not the support group for singles.”
Kyle, a member of the Wheaton Bible Church staff, says that the social times that begin and end the evenings are some of his favorite parts of the Thursday-night gatherings. “We say we start at seven, but you know nothing is really going to happen until seven-thirty or so, because as people are coming in, we’re having a really good social time.
“At this stage of life, it can be too easy to go home and plop down with a book—or whatever it is for you” Kyle said. “But what The Table does is very, very healthy and very good for us, as it gives us a way to expand our friend groups—meeting people who are different from me and share different passions, different kinds of jobs, and different backgrounds.
“So, yes, you see the people you know and get a chance to catch up for the week, but you are also grabbing some food and finding out that maybe you share an interest with some others.
An avid runner, Kyle relates the story of a recent weekend running trip. “Before The Table, I would’ve had maybe four people on a list to call and see if they were interested. Now, all of a sudden, we’re reserving a campsite for twenty people who will go and do this together, some running a 5K for the first time and somebody else like me running an ultramarathon.
“I also love the worship with friends. And [Young Adult Pastor] Scott Murray’s teaching,” he adds. “It’s a great and fun night.”
Kelsey, who works at the headquarters of a local mission agency, grew up just about an hour away and went to school in Chicago, says she had found places to connect with others, a little here and a little there. “I sort of had connections, but it was more hit and miss—a hodgepodge.” Finding The Table, she says, was a happy discovery.
“I had seen how the churches in the area do amazing work with families and kids, but I hadn’t found a community that fit my place in life. Finding these other twenties and thirties at The Table was so refreshing—people like me coming together who had an interest in growing their faith together.
“I love the conversations that can even transition outside the meetings,” Kelsey said. “Talking about the topics of that week’s teaching in our discussion time and then maybe grabbing a coffee with them the next week and saying, ‘Hey, I really appreciated the point you made. I think you had good insight there.’ And sometimes thinking, This is somebody that I’d like to hang out with and build a friendship with.
“There are people I’ve gotten to know through The Table who are now the friends who check in with me just about every day.”
Tracy, who started coming to The Table when a friend invited her a little over a year ago, has seen a lot of new faces over the months.
“We see a lot of people who are coming in and who say, ‘I need friends,’ or ‘I just moved here,’ or ‘I just got out of a relationship,’” she said.
Tracy tells the story of another young woman who came to The Table after they met while out walking their dogs.
“I got a puppy back in March. I used to have a mean dog,” Tracy says, “so I never met any of my neighbors. But now I’m out all the time, and I got to know a girl who had just moved here from Florida. One Thursday our dogs were playing together—getting along really well— and I said, ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to get to church.’ She wanted to know what church I went to and had a bunch more questions.
“Then one Thursday she said, ‘I’m coming with you,’ and she’s been coming for the last several weeks. I learned that she became a Christian about a year ago but didn’t have a church background. She even has her own group of friends there now and has built her own little group, but we still hang out with our dogs. ‘This is what I needed,’ she told me recently. ‘This is where I need to be. Thank you.’”
Over the months she’s been part of The Table, Tracy has stepped in to help lead the team that plans and prepares food for the weekly meetings. “In the beginning,” Tracy says, “we were cooking for about sixty people. Now it’s over a hundred and growing.
“A lot of people come straight to church from work—you can tell by the way they are dressed that they haven’t stopped at home to change” she says. “So we want to welcome them with something substantial to eat. And that also fits with our name—The Table. We want everyone to gather around our table and to be like a family.
She also talks about what it meant to her that The Table didn’t take a break for the summer. “A lot of ministries don’t continue over those months, but our meetings were pretty consistent all summer.
“I thought it was cool because it reinforced the idea that the church was willing to really put something behind the young adult’s ministry. A lot of churches will stop for the summer because school’s out. But school’s not out in our lives as young adults. I don’t have kids. I’m not a teacher.
“Nothing really changes for me other than my wardrobe when summer happens,” Tracy said. “So I think it was very cool that Wheaton Bible Church said, ‘You know what? We are going to continue to support this ministry throughout the summer and give you the backing to keep your group going all year.’
“I also love that we have Scott as a dedicated young-adults pastor,” she adds. “That has been huge. It’s one of the reasons why I seriously looked at attending here a little more closely, because young-adult ministry wasn’t an afterthought.”
To a young single who thinks he or she is too busy to add another weekly obligation, Topaz issues this challenge: “I’d ask you, What are you busy with?
“If it is good things,” Topaz said, “that are promoting health in your relationship with God and with others, then, yeah, maybe you don’t have time for The Table. But if you need help reorganizing the priorities of what is keeping you busy, then give The Table a chance. You might find yourself, like me, being encouraged to establish healthier work/life/relationships boundaries because you have found a community worth doing that for.”
Kelsey had a similar response when asked what she’d say to other young adults balancing work and other commitments, who might think they’re too busy to give up Thursday nights to come to The Table.
“Yeah, life’s busy, life’s crazy,” she admits. “I’ve seen that in my own life, but if I give two hours on a Thursday, I find that I’m more filled and more energized because I have a support system and I have people around me to help me manage the craziness of life and the schedules. Throughout the week I’ll get texts from people, like, Hey, great to meet last week. How did that meeting go? I was praying for you. It is so fueling for the rest of the week that it is absolutely worth the time.
“I see The Table as a place of intentional interactions and healthy expectations,” Kelsey said. “We all have to be willing to step out of our comfort zones, saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to be intentional in caring for my community as they care for me. Yeah, it might take investment on the front end to build relationships, to step out of comfort zones, but that can be a culture shift for our generation.”
All singles in their twenties and thirties are invited to The Table, which meets each Thursday evening at seven o’clock.
Young adults are also welcome to join us as we sit together in the front-right section of the West Worship Center during the 9:45 service on Sunday mornings and then move into the Chapel at 11:15 for discussion of the morning’s sermon.