Young people at the opening mass of the youth synod in the Vatican © Paul Haring (KNA)
What will Germany look like in ten years?? And how will the church in particular have changed by then?? Bjorn Szymanowski deals with this question. He is thinking about how the church can involve young people.
Interviewer: How do you know what young people will think in ten years' time??
Bjorn Szymanowski (theologian at the Center for Applied Pastoral Research): There is a still quite young discipline, the so-called future research or also Futurology. In the meantime, this is a very solid scientific craft at universities in Germany. That can be taught, that is practiced there. They work with data from history, from the past, observe which technological, which social innovations are currently in the pipeline. The futurologists then ask themselves which futures are more probable than others. And on this basis, one can then very well assess the direction in which all this could develop.
Interviewer: How likely is it that young people will live in a post-Christian society? And what does that mean?
Szymanowski: Post-Christian society is first of all a very sober, sociological finding. In 2019, just over 52 percent of Germans were members of one of Germany's two major churches. And that will change.
Some studies expect about ten million people to leave churches in the next ten to 15 years. Faith and church membership are not one and the same, that's clear to me. But you don't have to be clairvoyant to say that Christianity will no longer be taken for granted culturally in the future and that Christianity will then be moved to a post-position. We are already experiencing this in many places, even in the East, but in the future it will also develop into a phenomenon for society as a whole.
Interviewer: And if this is a phenomenon that affects society as a whole, what does the world of young people look like??
Szymanowski: I can only outline that very briefly here, there could be a lot to say about it. But as a very central highlight, I would say: On the one hand, family forms are changing, partnerships are changing, they are becoming more pluralistic, the classic nuclear family of father-mother-child is becoming increasingly rare. Instead, there are alternative, more complex forms: Single parents, same-sex partnerships with children are becoming more common.
Forms of relationships will also change in the future. They will still be monogamous in the future, that can be said quite well, but monogamous will not mean "forever". And "relationship" will then not mean "between man and woman" either. That's when you talk about serial monogamy between different genders. And this then of course also totally challenges the church's teaching on marriage, for example.
Interviewer: So on the one hand, there could be post-Christian youth in 2030. But we still have a Christian church, a Catholic church, so that's probably the amption. What is the relationship then between the two?
Szymanowski: Let's take 2030 as a cipher for the future. Then many, many thoughts of the Christian faith will be strange to young people. This is what post-Christian society means. And that also expresses the fact that religious socialization will continue to decline in every generation. We can already observe that now. And in the future it is then just no longer plausible out of itself that there is such a thing as a God or why this God should actually be important for my life. This makes access to the religious, to the church, much more pragmatic.
So in the future, it will no longer be culture that decides that religion is important, but perhaps the suitability for life, the aesthetics, the emotionality. Religion must then fit or not.
Interviewer: And that means that the church would have to get involved a bit more. Or what do you say??
Szymanowski: Yes, but the question is how to do it. And this is what we have seen at least in the last two days (at the Youth Pastoral Forum of the Youth Pastoral Office of the German Bishops' Conference on 4 and 6 September). to 5. November, anm. d. Red.) learned. There are no patent remedies, but if you have to break it down to principles, I would strongly emphasize two core messages here.
For one thing, youth pastoral ministry in the future must be willing to learn much more from younger people. It needs the creativity and the competencies of young people in order to remain fit itself. Given the speed of change in our society, there is no other way.
It is also not enough to simply listen and perceive, but it needs formats of real participation, in which young people can co-decide about the youth ministry of tomorrow. And not just once, but permanently. And that is why the Youth Synod of 2018 was a very important event, but precisely not the end, but the beginning of this more participatory youth ministry.
The interview was conducted by Gerald Mayer.