I’ve read a lot of articles lately on why my generation, the millennials, are leaving the Church in droves. Some of the articles are good and some leave me saying, “Clearly you are not a millennial, sir.” They say similar things such as millennials are more interested in social justice and less in spending money on church programs, millennials don’t respect structure, millennials think that having coffee shops in churches are pointless, the church is not the center of the American social system anymore, and we want to be known for what we are for instead of what we are against (what does that even mean?).
I’m a millennial and Seth, being 3.5 years older than me, limped into the millennial generation with one foot still in Generation X. We both grew up in pretty traditional Christian families and our upbringing has had a profound impact on who we are today. So, when it comes to the Church, we both respect the traditions that we grew up with while recognizing that there is a need for change.
Fifteen years ago the American Church saw the same thing. Their answer was to make it acceptable for pastors to wear jeans), have contemporary and traditional services, institute missions programs that were focused on social justice, hand us a latte as we walked into services, and do the whole “it’s cool for Christians to swear and say other shocking things” thing. I don’t have a problem with any one of those things (except for the swearing thing. seriously, people, aren’t we called to more?) per se, because I believe that those changes were well-intentioned to reach out to people (or shock people, depending on how you feel).
I believe that the Church in every generation needs to take a serious look at their programs and institutions, and this generation is no different. The Word of God is enduring, truthful, and is as applicable to us today in the 21st century as it was when it was first breathed into existence by God thousands of years ago. God and His Word do not need to change. Our man-made programs and methodology? They need some consideration.
As a millennial I have been advertised to my entire life, so I know when people are trying to be cool and faking their interest in me. And if I know, chances are all my friends know, too. No one likes to go to church and have a specific brand thrust in her face. And yet, I don’t necessarily think that the “hipster Christianity” that so many people my age have turned to is the ultimate answer either. What happens when it’s not cool to be hipster anymore? When the next thing comes along? When what worked so well even a year ago does not work today? Our culture is changing so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to keep up with. By the time a church takes the time to implement a new program, it’s already outdated. How can anyone possibly be expected to keep up with the trends when they change so fast?
This is not an indictment of the church as an institution. Like many of you, I’ve had experiences with churches that are both hurtful and wonderful. It’s an institution made up of imperfect people, but as Christians we are a part of the Church.
This isn’t a “how to” article because I don’t believe there is a simple answer to the semantics aspect of it. I can tell you that we need to focus on Jesus and what He actually called us to do as His bride here on earth, but I think most of us already know that. I would also say that if you want to know why millennials are leaving the Church, you should ask us.
What I think we need to ask, instead, is if change is worth it? Is it worth it to let go of non-Biblical traditions that we’ve been holding on to for so long for the sake of meeting people where they are today? Is it worth it to release our right to be right about what’s important to spend money on at our churches? Is it worth it to take an honest look at what works at our church (there are many beautiful programs at churches that work so well!) and what doesn’t?
I believe it is.
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.” –C. S. Lewis