There are many articles circulating around the web about why Millenials are leaving the church. I am not a Millennial, but having worked with this age group within the church for the past twelve years, I have a few thoughts to add to the conversation.
Before beginning, I would like to define what is meant by the term Millenials. Millennials is the name given to those born between 1980 and 2000. It is said to be one of the largest generation, composed of approximately 78 million people. They are currently between the ages of 33 and 13.
Rachel’s article speaks to how churches have become centered on culture wars, politics, sexual norms, and trendy worship, rather than the person of Jesus. Rachel makes the point that Millennials don’t want a list of requirements added to their faith. These additions to the gospel have caused Millennials to flee, because they want a church whose substance is based on Jesus alone. She is right when she states, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.” While each generation might be different, we each need the same thing.
Trevin’s believes that he disagrees with “what communities following Jesus look like in our culture.” In spite of Trevin’s desire to polarize the discussion, they appear to agree that Millennials don’t go to church “because they don’t find Jesus there.” I appreciate his statement that,
“Some Millennials, like many from generations before us, want the church to become a mirror – a reflection of our particular preferences, desires, and dreams. But other Millennials want a Christianity that shapes and changes our preferences, desires, and dreams.”
He reminds us that all generations try to change the image of Christ into what they want to see, rather than what He calls us to be. Millennials are no more guilty of this practice than the generation that preceded them.
Both articles make many good points about the need for change within current church culture. However, it may take more than changing church culture to see statistical changes. I feel as if arguments about the departure of Millennials is simply an outlet to voice what we think is wrong with the church, and blaming others for letting the church become that way. Arguing about why they are leaving is less work than keeping them within the community.
To move beyond arguments to actions, here a few ways to welcome Millennials into our lives and spiritual communities.
1. Replace the negative metanarrative of adolescence and emerging adulthood. Instead of enforcing the negative metanarrative of Millennials and teenagers (which says that they stop going to church and party upon high school graduation), a new picture of faith during emerging adulthood should be established. The over-simplification and stereotyping of generations, while beneficial to business practices (like marketing) can be destructive to the unity of the church.
Adolescents are affected by the expectations that others place on them, and if the church has no expectation for them following high school graduation, they will meet them. Churches need to establish their expectations for emerging adults, and learn ways to communicate those expectations.
2. Listen to their Stories. We need to spend less time reading articles about them and more time sitting down with them over a cup of coffee (or in my case a sweet tea from McDs). In our peer-centered culture and churches, we have lost the ability to build inter-generational relationships.
There are many books written about the concept of teenagers leaving their faith and what can be done. I appreciate what these writers contribute for the sake of the kingdom. One approach that I believe is helpful is found in Generation – Ex-Christian by Drew Dyck. Instead of placing blanket reasons on why they have left as a generation, Dyck approaches the question individually.
3. Live a Life of authentic faith in their midst. Paul says that God, “uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Churches often stink for the wrong reasons (and I am not talking about the funny smell coming from the youth room couches). It is not our responsibility to attract Millennials, but to live authentic faith. Ultimately, we cannot control people’s response and must remember that some will be turned off by the aroma of Christ.
Fragrances are not meant to broadly blanket an entire area. An over-dose of any fragrance will cause anyone to turn and run. If we want to make a difference among Millennials, then we must go among them. The church in order to reach Millennials, must break down barriers between the generations and build bridges. If you want a Millennials to notice your faith, then instead of pouring on more fragrance, you should move to where they are.
Reflect on the Millennials that God has placed in your life. Let us seek after them like Jesus did the lost sheep. As you pursue them, follow in his footsteps. His searching is relentless, and He will lead your way.