This article is a response to “59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why” written by Sam Eaton on Faithit.com.
I’m going to respond to the issues raised by this article point by point; some of which have validity, others demonstrate the reasons why Millennials are often condescended to by earlier generations, and a few are simply asking the wrong questions completely. So, here we go...
1. Nobody is listening to us.
Inclusivity, listening, caring about people for their intrinsic, God-given worth, and passing the baton to future generations are all part of God’s intent for His Church—and it is not happening enough. A culture of top-heavy, ‘expert’-run congregations has increasingly left EVERYONE out in the cold—not just Millennials; and believe me, those congregations who do not allow ‘the laity’ to bring to the table what God is doing in them will eventually die. Singles under 25 should not be relegated to chair-folding duty with an option for youth group leadership upon exceptional service. Having said this, marching down the street with signs in one’s hand while yelling loudly, demanding to be heard is not the way to win friends and influence people. A life exhibited by leadership in love, service, an understanding of the truth of God’s Word, and dedication to the advancement of the kingdom of God does.
On the hard side of this, not everyone will recognize or care about what God is doing in and through you—and so you have to make a choice. Who says you have to be accepted into a congregation that doesn’t want you? Sometimes, we need to take a bold step of faith and go out on the limb whether others hold our hand or not. When I presented clear Scriptural evidence to the National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches (not the current director) about the need for an outreach to and kinship with the Jewish people (where they already had an Islamic ministry of a similar nature), he essentially asked me to leave the Vineyard and align myself with those who shared my beliefs. So I did. A warning, here, however: make sure it isn’t you. Make certain that you are standing on the ground of Biblical faith, and ask others who are truly investing in you to validate what it is you’re seeing and saying. Anybody can go off half-cocked; make sure you’re motivated by the message of God—and you can prove alignment of that message with His Word. Otherwise, you may need to spend some time searching the Scriptures, in prayer, and in fellowship with some seasoned believers in order to allow the LORD to bring you to a Biblical perspective.
2. We’re sick of hearing about values and mission statements.
Now, here’s where I have to put it to you no holds barred: The Jewish and Christian faiths are built on a canon of absolute truths God Himself defined in the Bible as the central foundation for relationship with Him. Those values and mission statements should be a congregation’s way of saying how they interpret those central points, which should give you an idea about what’s important to that congregation. In fact, these statements—which in the early years were called creeds, were the very thing that held the Christian family together through the ages, despite our many differences between groups. So, rather than criticize those who have labored to put into written codification what they believe, you should study these documents as well and perform a self-diagnostic to see how you line up—or how well a particular document lines up with Biblical faith—just be sure you understand Biblical faith enough to even begin an analysis; otherwise, you have no room to question or complain in the first place.
Now, there is a difference between a well-crafted Statement of Faith and an American corporate-style mission statement; and this is where the contemporary Western/American Church has gotten into trouble—when they try to be trendy and ‘relevant’ (and maybe the latter was what the author was disparaging—but it didn’t sound that way to me). They’re often trying to get rid of that ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’ (‘mambo-jambo’...?) that the author talked about in his article, ending up with some weak message that completely lacks definition and is therefore useless. The author is absolutely correct that the central core of both Judaism and Christianity is “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone (or, is One); love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength”, and “love your neighbor as yourself.” But what does that mean? No word in the English language today is more loosely defined than love. Now more than ever in any time of history, we need to further define ourselves Biblically.
3. Helping the poor isn’t a priority.
Our secularist, Marxist school teachers have conditioned us to believe that every state of malaise is a humanitarian crisis that can only be solved through student activism; and since the 1960’s, the local congregation has been raked over the coals if it does not have a full-on homeless ministry (or at least a food pantry). The facts are that in the United States, Mormons and rich, conservative, white Protestant Evangelical Christians give more to the poor than anyone (in Britain, Muslims have only recently surpassed Christian giving within the last few years). Christians as a worldwide whole far outgive every other religion per capita, followed by Jews. (BTW: the author said our [church?] system is ‘utterly American’. I’m an American; what’s wrong with being an American?)
Yet the Shabbat service was not designed primarily as a social outreach project; instead, it is supposed to be the crowning moment of a day of rest designed to remember our Creator—a family get together where we communally experience the active, living presence of God, study the Bible, and put our arms around each other in fellowship.
Of course it is inarguable that charity is a core value of both Judaism and Christianity; this is demonstrated throughout the Bible, and God Himself has given us direct orders take care of the poor, widows, and orphans of our community. No doubt about it. The original Sunday ‘love feast’ was a time where the Church could meet the needs of the poor among them and pray for the sick, with the central feature being a meal that all would share.
I’m glad that you are burdened by this issue; here is an opportunity for leadership by Millennials in the Church. You be the one who creates the next Compassion International or Samaritan’s Purse. You be the one who runs the food pantry ministry, who opens the homeless shelter, and who tirelessly garners the donations necessary to keep these things running. I’m not being snarky here; this is not a criticism—it’s a call. You have just as much potential as anyone else to be used by God. Don’t wait for the Church to sanction your idea, or criticize those who aren’t where you are on this issue—simply forge ahead. My friend Shelley Makohon stepped out and boldly became a mentor at Love Life Charlotte, a pro-life ministry that is dedicated not just to stopping abortion but to invest in the lives of those poor young girls who are faced with that choice. Shelley is making a difference in lives every day. She didn’t wait for everyone to be on board with her decision, and she does not look down on others who don’t do the incredible things she does. Another friend, Case Warnemunde (a Millennial, BTW), created an organization that mixes the arts with charity work, providing publicity for burgeoning musicians and artists while using the money generated for charitable causes. His motto is “Live Love Loud”. Follow his example—be creative.
4. We’re tired of you blaming the culture.
Part of the reason for the American Church’s obsession with eschatology is that we have seen our society steadily reject the Judeo-Christian values our country was founded on, exponentially increasing with the countercultural revolution of the 60’s to a place where we don’t even recognize the America we live in today. We are seeing alignment between the geo-/sociopolitical state of the world and eschatological prophecy in an unprecedented fashion, along with a sharp rise in both antisemitism and hatred toward Christianity. So, it is absolutely natural for believers to explore the possibility that we could be in the final years of premillennial history. Regardless of whether this decline is simply a fulfillment of prophecy, a lot of blame for losing the culture unfortunately lies with Western Christians ourselves because we have failed to be an influence in the lives of our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Despite our declaration of religious freedom in America, we never dreamt that the culture would actually choose against God to create a post-Christian society. We have followed the Constantinian societal mindset where it was assumed that the vast majority of people were Christian and would attend church as a matter of course. The professional clergy model that we borrowed from the pagans led us to use the church service and the ‘pastor’ to impress the Good News into the souls of the wayward minority rather than shouldering the burden that should be ours in the first place.
Even though the forces of secular humanism have stolen our voice and continue to indoctrinate our children toward atheism and socialism to this very day, we STILL act as though ‘all I have to do is get them to church’. Even the very nature of the article I’m responding to was written from the perspective of how to get Millennials ‘back to church’ rather than how it is that we can ensure that Millennials—and the rest of our society—have a firm understanding of what it means to follow Christ with their lives. As the popular phrase goes, “better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.
Rather than simply blaming the culture, I agree with the author’s statement that we should explicitly teach people how our lives should differ from the rest of the world; I vehemently disagree that the way to do this is to forget about eschatology, apologetics, Biblical authority, and traditional values as the author suggests. The solution here is to increase our understanding of how these topics intersect with our world: we need to put hands and feet to the truths of our faith and show where the rubber meets the road.
5-10. The “You Can’t Sit with Us” effect; Distrust and misallocation of resources; We want to be mentored, not preached at; We want to feel valued; We want you to talk to us about controversial issues (because no one is); The public perception
These six points are all related and can be addressed with one subject: as the Western Church became more and more Gentile-oriented, we adopted the pagan framework for religious structure: instead of a family-nation, organic, grassroots, multi-faceted, holistic, multi-generational, apprenticeship-style model of the New Testament, by the fourth century the Church became a scholastic, philosophical, professional, homogenized, institutional, traditional, distant, and authoritarian entity that separated professional clergy from laity, who were completely outside and disconnected from the real, active, living presence of the Father in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The clergy became the spiritual ‘producers’, and the laity became ‘consumers’.
Even after the Protestant Reformation, the vast majority of congregations are designed with a single man in charge who is called a ‘pastor’ or a small group of politically motivated ‘elders’ who have often treated their congregations as personal duchies to be managed rather than as families to be nurtured. Rather than encouraging congregational participation, our current model promotes spectatorship where the laity (the audience) sits in attendance while the ‘experts’ (the worship team and the ‘pastor’) dispense spiritual experience.
So the lion’s share of the congregation’s activities and ideas are tightly controlled by the leadership, and the laity is expected to fit nicely within that paradigm or be marginalized. Lest we believe this the Biblical way to provide leadership, consider Jesus’ words on the night of His arrest, as His disciples continued to squabble over which of them would be the greatest:
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
—Luke 22:25-27 (parallels in Matthew 20:25-28 and Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus was not comparing preaching to service here—it’s about having deference for one another—to look out for others’ interests above our own.
Solution: the Church needs a radical reformation to return to Biblical faith. Though I believe Biblically-defined love is at the heart of the issue, smaller groups like house churches help to curb some of the sinful tendencies we gravitate toward in larger groups:
- House churches are more familial; they are centered around fellowship and inclusion rather than a defined program. The central worship gathering is not segregated by ‘age-appropriate’ activity; all ages and genders participate in a common focus.
- Everyone has value—there is an opportunity for every person to share their gifts, to participate in discussion, and to be known by everyone else in the group in a far more intimate way than in watching the back of someone’s head during rock concert worship.
- Rather than a prepared, canned sermon, Biblical discussion can take place at a participatory level, where every person can be part of the dialogue.
- If the group gives money to a central fund, it is far more transparent, and the group can collectively decide where to give the money rather than it being swallowed in overhead.
- Outreach ministries can be of a para-church form, and members can give to, volunteer for, or start their own ministries at their discretion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; if several house churches in a locality are networked, relational connections can be made so that the para-church ministry is ‘shared’, and interested members can cooperate with that ministry collectively rather than each congregation re-inventing the wheel.
Part of the answer involves a paradigm shift back to the understanding that we are the Church, not the building. The Constantinian model allowed for big, in-house welfare programs, because the Church was joined at the hip with the state, so much of the tax money was drizzled out to the poor. We no longer have that luxury; and let’s face it—most large congregations are using their money trying to pay for the mortgage on their building or for future expansion rather than on ministries that change people’s lives and minister to real needs in the community. If you start a para-church ministry, it is the Church who is doing it, because you are the Church.
Again, here is an opportunity for Millennials to show some real leadership—rather than rejecting the Church outrightly, be the agent that works for the new Reformation; go down in history as one of the folks that helped the Western Church return to Biblical faith!
Conclusion (includes 11-12): Stop talking about us (unless you’re actually going to do something); You’re failing to adapt; It’s your move
There’s not a whole lot that anyone can do to change the current climate of ‘church’, but I can tell you this: Biblical faith, love, true leadership, energy, and success are all contagious—and if you put all those together, it’s like a freight train. When God begins to move through your obedience, people will notice and be attracted to what He’s doing and join in the effort. I would have this advice:
- Learn to see the Gospel as a conflict between God-worship and self-worship: Biblical selfless love vs. self-orientation (self-gratification, self-glorification, self-preference, self-reliance, and the like). The entire Bible is illuminated when you see it from this perspective—and this concept is the key to understanding Biblical faith.
- De-polarize: stop looking at everything from an us vs. them vantage point. It’s not the Millennials vs. the Church, Democrats vs. Republicans, etc. Even though the Church has been lost for centuries in many ways, there is a lot to learn from traditional Christianity—don’t immediately discount what has been handed to us from our forebears.
- Become prayerful. Do you live every day in God’s presence? Are you hungry to hear His voice and live in His truth? If the answer to these questions is no, you may not be on the road to Biblical faith. My book, The Upside-Down Kingdom, can help you get started on this journey. If you are on this path, diligently seek to hear God’s direction for you as to where you should serve. Perhaps He’s not asking you to join a traditional church at all, but join in something new.
- Be a leader—forget about criticizing others and don’t worry when others criticize you. Follow God instead and let Him determine what you’re supposed to be. It’s your move!