by Rick Chromey
The millennials have left the building. An entire generation of churched kids has gone AWOL. In my last column, I fingered ecclesiastical bribery (the use of incentives to encourage spiritual behaviors) as a reason for this exodus.
I definitely struck a nerve. So it’s time for solutions to draw them back.
Face it, the millennial generation is open to Christianity. What they don’t like is “churchianity”—the byproduct of an industrial-enlightenment-modern-Americanized culture. It’s what happens when the Church models, even parodies, the worlds of business, politics, entertainment, and education. Instead of leading culture, we adopt it.
For example, many church leaders think millennials are attracted to coffee bars, edgy graphics, hip worship, lights and fog, video clips, pastors in skinny jeans, Apple products, gluten-free Communion wafers and other cultural hooks. Not true.
So what do millennials really want? In my numerous conversations, they simply desire a church that breathes Acts 2:42:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
News flash: churched millennials weren’t really taught to think. Rather, they learned to conform and perform. Faith was industrialized through sequenced curricula, age-graded classes and incentivized learning. Millennials memorized the right verses for the wrong reasons. They heard Bible stories but missed his story. They learned Sunday school lessons that didn’t apply or translate.
So millennials love deep, relevant teaching. They like to learn about cultural and historical contexts. They enjoy learning Greek and Hebrew words. Millennials want to learn hermeneutics, apologetics and theology. It’s why they gravitate to biblical speakers who know their stuff.
“Churchianity” converted existential, spiritual gatherings into time-based services, worship orders, song lists, cattle-call assembly lines and momentary “meet and greets.” But millennials—social media first adopters—prefer to converse, collaborate and commune. It’s why most millennials tell me they prefer smaller churches. In my book Sermons Reimagined, I suggest an interactive, experiential, visual preaching model to reach postmodern generations.
Bottom line: churches must gather, connect, interact, share, friend and hug.
The Reformation refocused worship away from the Eucharist to the Scriptures and elevated the homily to an academic exercise. Essentially, Protestantism abandoned a 1500-year tradition regarding the “breaking of bread” (Eucharist/Lord’s Supper).
In many 21st-Century churches the Lord’s Supper—once practiced “as often” as early Christian’s desired but always on Sunday (Acts 20:7, I Corinthians 11:26)—has become a monthly, quarterly or even yearly tradition. Similarly the ancient rite of immediate baptism (Acts 8:36-38; 16:33) has been sidelined out of convenience.
Millennials hunger for traditional, historic Christianity and they struggle with facilities, professional staff, programs and other things unnecessary to the practice of simple Christianity. Originally the church (baptized believers only) met in homes led by lay elders. It’s that simple. Evangelism and service happened everywhere else.
It’s odd how so many churches don’t have a prayer. Sure, a stage pastor might pray a blessing to open or close, but that’s about it. The people certainly don’t pray anymore. When was the last time an entire congregation prayed?
Millennials seek a Christianity that’s rooted in communion with man and God. They hunger for authentic prayer experiences, ancient meditation practices and spiritual disciplines like solitude and silence. Authentic worship doesn’t happen on the clock.
The good news is there’s little cost to these ideas, but rather an intentional, creative, reformatting of the current models back to the original blueprint for church (Acts 2:42). Basically it’s gathering like Jesus did, his apostles demonstrated and the church for most of history revealed.
Millennials aren’t drawn to gimmicks and bribery. They hunger for the Real Thing. They want to be The Church.
Come to think of it, that’s the church that I desire…and I bet you do, too.