I am a millennial. I am 32 years old and have been in church some sort of capacity for my entire life, not counting the 4 years in college where I made-out with literally everybody. And I, a millennial, do not go to a trendy church.
There’s no backward or upside down letters in my church’s logo. There are not 3 lines where an E used to be, and there isn’t any reclaimed wood in the lobby. We have people who are in their 60’s and 70’s running our information desks, and the bagels in our cafe are not non GMO. Our pastor doesn’t have a beard that also houses a microbrewery, and we are stationed next to a Walmart.
Don’t get me wrong, my church is beautiful and well maintained. But there is nothing about my church that should make me, a millennial, drawn in from the streets.
Yet, there is: the leadership.
I’ve seen a lot of passing discussion and blogs and pop-up-workshops about why millennials are leaving the church, and honestly, I agree with a lot of them. But it should be stated that I’m not your average millennial, so when some blogs state that we need to be valued it kind of makes me roll my eyes. Everybody needs to be valued. That’s not an age specific thing, like, “Welp, I’m 53. I don’t need value anymore!”
Also, I am not a product nor a supporter of the prize-for-participation camp, partly because I am entirely too competitive and don’t think that non-winners (losers, but I don’t want to offend you) deserve a reward for being simply average, but mainly because I have worked my tushy off for every single thing that I currently have.
So, while the state of the church as a whole, in my opinion, is failing to reach young people, I also think that young people are failing to see the bigger picture. We’re lazy. We want the church to adapt to us. We were never taught that we are not the center of the spiritual solar system, so when the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit don’t align with our need for more plaid and less Point of Grace, we pack our bags and leave. We are the generation of church hoppers, uncommitted opinion givers, make-me-feel-good-ers.
The church is imperfect. The church needs to adapt. The church needs to be relevant. The church needs to keep up.
So do we.
My dad loves when my church dips into the 90’s for a worship song. I cringe when I hear the chords for Open the Eyes of My Heart, and he does his little pentecostal sway-and-step that every Assemblies of God dad did in 1993. He feels alienated when he walked into a church that is the 19,967th Bethel replica. “Why the heck would heaven meet earth with a sloppy wet kiss? What is that?”
What we are asking, fellow millennials, is for churches in every corner of America to rewrite its bylaws to cater to us. “We are alientated,” we scream from our dimly lit patios in with our pour-over coffees and vegan pistachio bread, yet we are willing to alienate millions of others from different generations so that we feel good. Valued. Important. Heard. Advancement, at any cost.
I am so guilty of this. And here’s my greatest confession of all: This non-trendy, family centered, does-not-serve-coke-from-Mexico church that I go to, I also work at. I am the Creative Director at Grace Christian Church. And it is, by far, the best place and most inspiring place that I have ever worked at.
Jesus talked a lot about the church reaching outside of its 4 walls and reaching a generation that was alienated. Jesus hung out with the people that nobody wanted to hang out with. Jesus befriended the outcast and sinner and the lonely. But Jesus had a system. He had a board. He had a group of people who traveled with him, kept track of expenses, and helped him plan his next trip. Jesus was not trendy. He did not have vintage Birkenstocks. He did not have a handlebar mustache. If he were trendy, the idea to act like Jesus would have faded a long time ago. Jesus set an example for us to change the thinking of the modern church- something that we are all dying to do- and it was founded in one thing and one thing alone:
The kind of inside look that I get with working at a church is how hard my bosses are actively working to reach the millennial generation. This is a daily conversation. Emails are sent. Webinars are logged into. Meetings are had. This is at the top of the to-do list on their desk. And there is one simple problem: According to us, they are not doing it fast enough.
Does the issue of the church being and staying relevant bother me? Is it something that I actively think about? HECKKKKK YES, 10000000000000%, absolutely. But something else that bothers me is the freedom that we think we have to bash or church, organization, job, friend, or relationship that doesn’t meet our every need. It bothers me when I read narratives that openly come down on people who have poured into my life in a way that has allowed me to THRIVE.
My experience might not be the same as yours, and I get that. But at the end of the day, are our experiences actual, true, this-really-happened moments, or are they misplaced feelings where somebody hurt our feelings, and “we’ve just had enough of church.” That’s something to think about. That’s something to consider.
Every time we tell a Pastor that he isn’t enough, isn’t doing enough, or isn’t moving quickly enough, we are illegitimatizing the need for God’s grace to fill in the gaps. We have acted on our feelings more than we have acted on the need to ground ourselves, get plugged in, and help build.
If the church isn’t reaching millennials, which it’s not, I want to ask you one thing: What are you doing to change that?
If you are a millennial who feels alienated, are you meeting with your pastor or leader and telling them your feelings? Are you getting involved? Are you making the face of the church younger and more relevant simply by planting yourself? Or are you moving on to something else that is better for the moment and that looks so great on your Instagram feed?
If we aren’t actively producing ways for the church to reach our peers, then we are a massive part of the problem. Without the desire to restore the broken bonds of the church of America to it’s younger, more relevant generation, we forfeit the right to complain. Plain and simple.
I don’t want a gold star for participation. When the younger generation starts returning to my church in droves- because it will- I want to know that I was right there, fighting an above-average fight, working hard to make that possible. And I will proudly stand next to the people who are my parents’ age and older, who fought with me, who wear clothes that I think are dorky, and who think my septum piercing is “abhorrent.”
Because they are the people who allowed me to fight for my generation.
But not just that. They are the people who showed me how.