So the interwebz are flooded with heartfelt cries from millennial Christians just begging the church to understand them. Well, lest we yet again be accused of not listening to the darling little snowflakes, by all means, let us listen… and respond.
I want to be head-over-heals for church like the unshakable Ned Flanders.
I want to send global, sky-writing airplanes telling the life-change that happens beneath a steeple. I want to install a police microphone on top of my car and cruise the streets screaming to the masses about the magical, utopian community of believers waiting for them just down the street.
Do you? Do you really? Because what you sound like is a cheating husband who is telling us all about how much he loves his family… right before he goes on to explain why his cheating is all his wife’s fault. Also, we’re really off to a bad start here. It appears you don’t know what love is, and you don’t know what church is. Nothing about church is utopian. And love? Love is a verb. Love is a choice. It’s an action. You choose to do it, or you choose not to do it. It’s not a feeling.
I desperately want to feel this way about church, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, like much of my generation, I feel the complete opposite.
Turns out I identify more with Maria from The Sound of Music staring out the abbey window, longing to be free.
It seems all-too-often our churches are actually causing more damage than good, and the statistics are showing a staggering number of millennials have taken note.
According to this study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history, and most drastic among millennials described as 22- to 35-year-olds.
Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
59 percent percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
As I sat in our large church’s annual meeting last month, I looked around for anyone in my age bracket. It was a little like a Titanic search party…
See what I mean? Oh, I know, I know, you really want to love your family but your wife just doesn’t look as good as she used to, and she doesn’t give you the attention you want, and she doesn’t listen to you. And that girl at the office is so cute, and so nice. It’s really your wife’s fault. Right?
Seriously, we’re supposed to care? Really? I know you people suck at history… but you’re not actually the first generation to do this. Kids falling away from church in their late teens isn’t new. The Baby Boomers did it. Gen X did it more. And now you’ve done it. Catch that? What I just said is, you’re not special. You’re not new. You’re not doing anything unexpected. These articles you’re reading? The same thing was said about Gen X 20 years ago. They were written about the Baby Boomers. Also, speaking of sucking at history, hundreds of people survived the sinking of the Titanic. Can you at least get your snark lines right?
IS ANYONE ALIVE OUT THERE? CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?
Yes. We’re here, and we hear you. We just think you’re wasting our time.
Tuning in and out of the 90-minute state-of-the-church address, I kept wondering to myself, where are my people? And then the scarier question, why I am still here?
That’s a great question. Why are you?
A deep-seated dissatisfaction has been growing in me and, despite my greatest attempts to whack-a-mole it back down, no matter what I do it continues to rise out of my wiry frame.
Ah. You’re unsatisfied with church. Fascinating. Tell me, why exactly is the church accountable to you? Should it be accountable to you? Or should it be accountable to God? And who exactly named you qualified to be the judge of such things?
Despite the steep drop-off in millennials, most churches seem to be continuing on with business as usual. Sure, maybe they add a food truck here or a bowling night there, but no one seems to be reacting with any level of concern that matches these STAGGERING statistics.
That’s because pleasing God is our job, not pleasing flighty 20-somethings who are far more interested in being able to get their do-gooder buzz on while not actually getting their hands dirty, than they are in church.
Where is the task-force searching for the lost generation? Where is the introspective reflection necessary when 1/3 of a generation is ANTI-CHURCH?
How did the father react when his son left him in the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Did he change? Did he chase his son? Or did he simply wait for his son to find himself… and return to him?
The truth is no one has asked me why millennials don’t like church. Luckily, as a public school teacher, I am highly skilled at answering questions before they’re asked. It’s a gift really.
So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.
Oh, this is going to be good. I cannot wait to hear a wet-behind-ears 20-something tell all of us down here in the trenches that we’re totally doing it wrong. That has literally never happened before.
1. Nobody’s Listening to Us
Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
Well, yeah. That’s because the church is the Bride of Christ, not the Bride of random millennial on the internet. I think you say “no one cares what we think!” as a cry for help. Like you want to be reassured. Well, sorry. We really don’t care what you think. And what solution do you offer? Did you seriously just call for more meetings? You want more church meetings? This is why no one listens to you. Because all you’re really interested in is hearing yourself talk.
2. We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements
Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.
Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.
Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?
Wait, your number 2 complaint is… mission statements? Do most churches even have mission statements? Most churchgoing people don’t even know their church’s mission statement, if their church even has one. What the hell are you even babbling about? You’re upset because 10 people took a couple hours in a meeting and wrote out a values statement? And you wonder why we aren’t listening to you? Oh, and while we’re at it, you’re wrong about the Universal Church’s mission. There is this scripture called The Great Commission. You can find it in your Bible. Matthew Chapter 28. That is the mission of the church. And the fact that you don’t know that is one more reason why we don’t listen to you. That and the fact that we’d rather be out making disciples instead of listening to you talk about yourself in some meeting.
3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority
My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.
Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…
Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.
If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).
“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt
WHOA, WHOA, WHOA, hold tight there, sweetheart. Before we go forward, how about we flip this. Let’s talk about what YOU do to help the poor. I can tell you what my church does. I can tell you where I personally have just come from. Given that most of your generation is enslaved by massive student loan debt and is unemployed, unemployable, and living at home, please pardon my skepticism. I hear you like to be generous. I just wonder, since you’re a public school teacher, I just wonder whose money you’re being so generous with?
And that brings me to my real problem with you and your generation. You have this long list of demands, but you don’t want to do any of the work to accomplish them. Who exactly is stopping you from doing these things at your church? Who is stopping you from organizing a food drive for the local food bank? Who is stopping you? You are. Because you don’t want to do it. You want us to do it for you.
4. We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture
From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from Footloose to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the down-falls of the culture—believe it or not we are actually living in it too.
Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.
This is another reason we don’t listen to you. Because you’re incoherent and you lie. You say you want us to stop blaming culture, but what you really want is for us to embrace it. You want us to tell you it’s fine to dress like slut and twerk. You want that badly. And ultimately that is why you don’t like church. Because we don’t tell you what you want to hear. We tell you the truth.
5. The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect
There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic Mean Girls.
In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”
Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”
The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.
Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.
I’ve been in the mainline Christian church longer than you’ve been alive. I’ve never experienced this. Have you considered something, my dear, sweet, perfect snowflake? Maybe it’s you. Maybe no one wants to be around you because you’re a lazy, entitled whiner. Have you considered that?
6. Distrust & Misallocation of Resources
Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.
We want painstaking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.
Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?
Hey, sweetie… if millennials don’t trust institutions, how did you end up the most indebted generation ever? Maybe, you know, through student loans? How about we stop bragging about our bullshit detector for a bit, okay? Because if you had one, you wouldn’t have thought you could go $150k in debt for a sociology degree. But see, ya did. And now you want to bitch about how the church spends its money. How do you spend your money? Got an iPhone? Couldn’t you get by with a cheaper phone and use that money to serve the poor? How about that iPad? How about those Beats headphones? Couldn’t you go get a 20 dollar set and feed some people with the difference? ***crickets*** No? By the way, by definition church records are easily available. It’s a matter of law. You would know this if you bothered to actually check rather than just mindlessly bitch on the internet.
7. We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At
Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.
For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.
Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.
We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?
Oh, sweet Jesus… you think we go to church for the preaching. Look, I’m going to type this slowly for you. Church is something you are, not a place you go to. We are the church all week long. On Sundays we worship God together at our building. But that is just a building. We are the church. Great sermons are nice but they have nothing to do with why we are the church. We are the church because we are in the business of connecting people to Jesus Christ. Something I notice you haven’t mentioned yet.
8. We Want to Feel Valued
Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”
Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.
We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.
We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.
You know why you don’t feel valued? Because you haven’t contributed anything valuable yet. Here’s a clue. You’re told you aren’t good enough because it’s the truth. You’re lazy, entitled, and largely useless. You’re not the first lazy and useless generation and you won’t be the last. Like so many others before you, you will simply be forgotten as other generations pick up your slack. Or you can grow up and actually do something for once. And as for your crazy big dreams, just remember, the only thing stopping you is you. Get off your butt and do it. Or shut up about it.
9. We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)
People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.
We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.
No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.
This is just a blatant lie. You don’t want that at all. You want people to affirm the beliefs you already hold. Any time we actually talk about these issues, you shut down completely and scream insults at us.
10. The Public Perception
It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.
We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ
Quick question… have you ever read Galatians? Or well… the Gospels at all? If the world hates the church… then that is a sign the Church is doing its job. If the Church is being embraced by the world… that proves the church is failing at its job. And this is one more reason why we don’t listen to you. Because you are selling poison. Your solutions are suicide pills. But you don’t know that because you’re a 20-something. We can take a walk through any major city in the US and I can show you dozens of Churches that are doing exactly what you are calling for… and they are empty. They are dead.
11. Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)
Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).
Say, I don’t know if you noticed, but no one was talking about you before you posted this. We’re only talking about you now because you so desperately need to talk about you. Maybe if you shut up about yourself for a bit, we would as well. And as for what you’re sick of, let us fill you in on what we’re sick of. We’re sick of your entitled bullshit. No one from Gen X demanded the church change for them. No one from the Baby Boom demanded the church change for them. Oh, but you special snowflake millennials… you come along and we all have to bow to your whims and wants. This is why we don’t like you. This right here.
12. You’re Failing to Adapt
Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.
To repeat a theme, the father failed to adapt to the whims of his prodigal son as well.
As for you being anti-church… Well, my prideful little snowflake, that’s your problem. That’s not a church problem. The solution to every complaint you have can be found in one place. The mirror.
I will wrap this up with a bit of personal advice. Shut up and go to Church. Stop asking yourself what the Church offers you. Start asking what you can do for your church. Stop expecting to be entertained or fulfilled by your church. That’s not what the Church is there for. For once in your life try to think about something other than yourself and your own personal wants.