On Saturday, post-evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans explored “Why millennials are leaving the church” on the CNN Religion Blog. The majority of Held Evans’ writings address issues within the American Evangelical church.
In a follow-up post, she also acknowledges that “it’s not just evangelical churches losing young adults, but also Catholic churches, Orthodox churches, and Mainline Protestant churches…sometimes at even higher rates.”
Throughout my ministry, I’ve had opportunities to speak in a variety of churches, to run workshops, and host forums that focus on the role of young people in the church. At the end of these presentations, I’ve been confronted with all manner of disappointing responses:
- “So what you’re saying is that we should start a contemporary service…”
- “I expect young people to leave the church after confirmation, and not to return again until they’re married and have kids.”
- “Okay I hear you, but what program should we run to get them back?”
I’m sure these folks are well-meaning, but I wish they would hear what I’m saying. Here are the blunt answers to all three questions:
- No. That’s the last thing I’d tell you to do.
- Sounds like a losing proposition to me.
- There isn’t one.
Like Rachel Held Evans, my chosen response is to slowly bang my head on the podium. Here’s why:
- We don’t need another mediocre rock band playing “Shine Jesus Shine.” That song wore out its welcome in the mid-90’s evangelical church. What makes 21st Century Canadian Anglicans think that a song about moths swarming the light will draw people to church?
- We need to do better for our young people than graduating them from church at confirmation, ignoring them for 20 years, and then hoping they’ll return. Oh sure, we’ll develop a “young families” ministry for them if they show up again at that point. And that’s a good start. But imagine what Christian discipleship might look like if we hadn’t ignored them for the past 20-years of their lives.
- There is no program that will save your church. None. No Alpha, no Messy Church, no Fresh Expression will suddenly fill your pews, fill the plate, and pay for that roof you’ve needed to repair for the past six years. It’s just not going to happen. And, to be blunt, it’s the wrong approach. The job of the church is to go out and make disciples, not increase the number of Individual Giving Units.
What would happen if we treated young people as if they mattered? What if we unleashed young people to passionately live their faith in daily life? What if we listened to their deepest passions, and found ways to encourage them in Christ’s name?
When I posted Rachel’s article on my Facebook wall, I immediately heard this comment from a Millennial I know:
I love this. The assumption that we 20-somethings don’t like church because it’s not “cool” enough is actually kinda ageist and offensive. We are grownups and we see the meaning of things beyond the surface.
And later during the discussion, they shared:
My experience of church is people not even bothering to ask the question, because we just assume that millennials aren’t interested. I was thinking about it this morning as I sat in a back pew, among 70-80 people where I was one of two millennials from what I could tell. My church wants to reach out to young families, to young children. There is an assumption that we should be doing what we can to make them feel welcome. But I’ve never heard anyone ask, what should we do to make the 20-somethings feel welcome?
So. What should we do to make Millennials feel welcome? And what should we do to get out of the way so that they can take ownership of what is their church, too?
I’d love to hear from Millennials, as well as from those who are actively engaging the Millennial generation.