Millennials in the church… or not

An article titled “Why millennials are leaving the church” was shared with me on Facebook recently, and presented some ideas on why millennials are leaving the church, and how the church may not be asking the right questions to get them coming back.

In the article the author describes how she will give presentations outlining her thinking on why millennials are not in churches, and that the audience seems to respond by thinking that a change in music, or worship style will be the key to getting them back in the church. The author describes her frustration with this, and I agree.

While you could identify differences in worship style preference and music taste across a whole range of identifiers beyond just age, thinking this “top level” need is the problem, is a problem itself. I have a few thoughts in two main areas:

ACTION

In my opinion, the problem is not that “kids these days” don’t have the attention span to sit through an hour of worship, or that they don’t have the feelings of social responsibility of their elders, or aren’t spiritual enough. In fact, millennials as a group are volunteering and taking part in social action causes in ever increasing rates. The millennial generation cares, and cares deeply. In fact, this generation cares so deeply, they want to take part in actions that help respond to the needs they see, and not merely sit and talk about it.

The problem isn’t that the generation isn’t willing to sit and listen to a 10 minute sermon about what it takes to be a sheep vs. a goat, or hearing Jesus’ call for us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” . Rather, the fact that they are not in church is a response that they have heard it, and are sick of sitting around talking about it.

How is the church looking to engage millennials in leadership? How are churches looking to adapt and expand their ministry to meet the changing circumstances within and outside their walls?

Millennials have shown they want to be involved in meaningful things. If this group of actively searching individuals aren’t packing your place of worship, could this be motivation to see what ways the church could adapt to be the kind of place that equips people for meaningful jobs within the ministry of the church to the community?

QUESTIONS

The second point I think the author did a good job of describing is the fact that the (sometimes perceived) rigidity of the church drives away millennials. Millennials are a generation that has been taught and encouraged to questions, to gather information, to make right choices by thinking for themselves. Too often the church feels that because “Jesus is the answer” that there is no need to ask any further questions. I never sat through a Math class, a subject with fairly concrete subject matter, without asking how all of this “adds up”. I wanted to understand the how and why some formula worked, not just that it does. Students can do very well on tests by memorizing a formula and regurgitating it for test answer, but would then have a very hard time applying it in real life if they don’t have an understanding of the circumstances it is applicable to outside of class.

In the church, it is the same way at times. You can be considered a solid member without ever having to go beyond a “sunday school level of knowledge” about your faith. Someone could tell you that Jonah was swallowed by a whale for three days, but they may not be able to tell you that the point of the story was that you may need to be willing to help even those you would rather see get their “just desserts”. They may know that David killed Goliath, but may not have been challenged to think what we can learn from that story in terms of being flexible and creative as a people of faith to overcome challenges, rather than responding as the world would expect.

Think about your church. On a given Sunday, is there a chance for people to come in and ask questions? To doubt what is being shared? To be asked to critically think about and need to be able to articulate what they themselves believe?

As a Moravian, I am continually struck by the powerful spiritual connection I feel in Moravian worship services, and the theology of our liturgies. Still, I find myself at times bored and spacing out in worship services where my only job is to sit, and mindlessly read the words in bold. I can miss the whole point in those moments where everything about worship is prescribed for me. Words put into my mouth.

How is church going to try and compete with a world where the thoughts, opinions and questions of  young adult matter and are valued. Our church values and lifts up as examples some historical figures who had lots of questions about the church and its status quo at the time.

Why is it such a scandal to make room for doubt and questions, and to allow for an invitation to the church beyond a blind approval of everything all at once?

Concluding thoughts

My thought is, make church a place of deep faith, allowing for growth through questions and response, and give meaningful roles to use gifts and talents in service of the Lord, and you will start to see a church that is engaging its community in a new way.

These are my thoughts, what are yours? Please click here to join the Moravian Church Without Walls Discussion board, and get in on the conversation!

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2 thoughts on “Millennials in the church… or not

  1. I have always thought that putting faith into action adds meaning and substance to faith. We all care about something and when we do, we tend to “see” the world through those eyes. We pick up on the clues that present themselves to us just like a baseball fan knows the ins and outs of baseball. Tapping into that in a faith journey is no different. Being encouraged to do so helps put faith into action and gives one a feeling of meaning in their life. Christianity can be very simple when one looks at their life from the perspective of “I want to be like Jesus” and then let the Holy Spirit point us to what we may do, whether it be a social cause or as simple as taking a moment to help a small child tie their shoe. There was a movement in the past where the question was asked; “What would Jesus do?” but striving to be like Jesus as a lifestyle makes it possible to know and act as Jesus would do without asking what He would do. Complicating the issue by always having to get church approval through the pastor or the board seems to make these daily opportunities vanish without a trace. Jesus himself never had a “To do list” for his daily affairs that had to do with meeting needs, His method was always to deal with need as it presented itself.

  2. I am SO glad that I asked for your thoughts and even “gladder” that you shared them. So now I guess the challenge for us is to move beyond talking about it and allow God to help us to BE a church where these thoughts can “become flesh.”

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