According to research by the Pew Forum, young people are becoming less religious and many churches are shrinking as a result, but Idlewild Presbyterian Church isn’t one of them. A recent survey found that Idlewild is among the fastest growing congregations within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Idlewild Reverend Anne Apple attributes that growth to a surprising influx of young adults. Apple says their Midtown location and searchable website helps bring young people in the door, but beyond that, “I think it is God’s work, quite frankly, which is not a cop-out answer. I really do believe that God is at work in that growing faith that is happening here.”
There probably isn’t a single answer to what draws young adults to Idlewild. In fact, there are probably 348 — the number of people between the ages of 21 and 40 who attend the church.
Brittany Barbee is one of them. She’s in her 20s, she’s a graduate student studying psychology at the University of Memphis, and she works at Fleet Feet Sports.
Barbee grew up in Hernando, Mississippi, where she often felt at odds with her small church, which preached that homosexuality was an abomination. Barbee played basketball in elementary and high school, “Some of the girls that I had the chance to play with were actually homosexuals … absolutely phenomenal people,” said Barbee. “They love to live, love to play, they work hard, and I just found that there is no reason to treat someone like that differently.”
Barbee continued to play basketball in college, but stopped attending church. “I did not understand how you could be in charge,” Barbee laughed, “of telling someone who they can and cannot love.” Her parents introduced her to Idlewild by saying it was inclusive.
Now, Barbee attends service regularly, prays every day, and even plays basketball in the church gym. “I’ve got a pep in my step, and I haven’t had a pep in my step in a very long time,” Barbee said. “We, as human beings, have a need and a want for connection with other people, and the church has allowed me to have that connection … pretty cool stuff.”
Idlewild Reverend Steve Montgomery thinks the church’s inclusive take on theology is what draws young people in. “There are a lot of young people who do not want a church that fights over issues, fights over sexuality, fights over the color of the rug,” says Montgomery. “They want a place where they can find community.”