by Austin Maxheimer
“Contrary to popular belief, we (millennials) can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans.” – Rachel Held Evans
In the world of organized Christianity, few topics are more hot button than the Millennial generation.
Who are they? How do you reach them? Why are they exiting the church in record numbers?
If the Church is going to find meaningful engagement with the Millennial generation that is leaving, we are going to have to accept some hard truths:
Millennials are finding meaningful community outside of church.
There’s a sentiment within the Church that Christianity has the market cornered in meaningful community. While I would certainly argue tooth and nail that Christ-centered love is the basis for the most profound and revolutionary community experience, to assume people can’t find love and belonging outside of the Church is simply ridiculous.
Millennials know it, because they are out building their own communities of specialized groups around their own interests and doing just fine. Just look at the vibrant communities centering around local craft beer or cycling. More and more people are gravitating to communities that tap into what they are already involved in and excited about. Plus, it is easier than ever to communicate and gather thanks to the mobile devices and the social networks. Millennials simply do not have to come to church to experience meaningful community.
While I understand that Christians need fellowship with one another (I am a small group pastor after all). The fact of the matter is that Millennials are able to have fellowship, without the church. Perhaps it’s because technology is connecting them more easily, but what once brought people together in community, is quite simply becoming irrelevant.
The Church is lame in areas of art, music and technology.
Over fifty years ago when we were going through the social revolution in America, the more conservative minded went after politics to effect change, and the more liberally minded went after the arts. Today the fruit of those decisions are plain for all to see. Politics seem to be helpless to do much of anything, while Hollywood and New York (centers of art and influence) have served as bookends that have shifted our national worldview. What does this have to with the Church? Well, as a whole, Christians and churches have been lumped in with the conservatives while secular worldviews have been lumped in with the liberals. The result—both perception and reality—is that the Church in America has vacated the arts, and it is acutely perceived by the Millennials. Currently, the Church simply does not produce the same level of quality and excellence in the areas that create the biggest influence in our country.
Millennials are Seeking Deeper Truths.
Millennials are still seeking ‘transcendence’. Because they are building meaningful communities and experiencing beauty outside of a traditional framework that provides deeper answers to life—Millennials are still seeking foundational truths and longing for transcendence. The Church should be ecstatic about this, having been established by the Transcendent One! Unfortunately, the perception of the Church is that it is anti-intellectual, anti-science, and a place that suppresses questions and doubts. The hard truth is, we know they will be seeking transcendence…that search just probably won’t happen in our churches.
Millennials are going to start something.
The Millennial generation has an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit. They’ve been told that they can do anything—and they believe it! What’s more, they see the endless possibilities and opportunities to a greater degree than any other generation before them. And they want to make a genuine difference! This post isn’t the place to comment on wisdom, respect and earning the right (all valid points), I’m simply stating the truth that 16-29 year olds are going to start something. They feel the need to create. What the Church should be doing is empowering them to do just that. Unfortunately the typical experience is the opposite. What Millennials feel within the church is a lid. Clear space and let them lead!
They also have confidence, when asked if they thought their age held them back in their job or speaking up to elders at work they said a resounding no. So why hold them back?
The Church is still being perceived as judgmental and hypocritical.
Like a broken record, I hear stories of leaving the church because of feeling judged. There is a repulsion of this idea of “Sunday Christians” that Millennials are still seeing. It’s been ten years since Unchristian released and gave us a clear picture of how people outside the Church viewed Christians. It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus told us to remove the plank from our own eye and died on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to judge others salvation based on performance. It’s high time we eliminate this perception.
There are many more truths we need to accept as the Church, but these are the ones that jump out at me as I sat and listened to the Millennial panels at the Future of the Church Summit. What are some other hard truths you’ve observed?