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This Part 3 of a three part series introducing the three basic purposes of this blog. Access the rest of the series here:
Evangelicalism in America is bleeding.
A 2012 Pew study found that approximately 32% of Millennials self-identified as “religiously unaffiliated.” This growing group of young people is referred to as “the Nones.” About 67% of Millennials affiliate themselves with a religion of some form while 84% their parents (largely Boomers) are affiliated with a form of religion.
News pundits and social commentators report that the American Church looks as though it is bleeding out, dying a slow death because it simply cannot adapt to the progressive nature of American culture.
Others see the slow bleed of American Evangelicalism as, not one of a impending death, but that of a purifying bloodletting.
As local church attendance statistics continue to dwindle, the true people of God come into clearer focus. As Evangelicalism becomes more incompatible with American culture, the faith of Millennial Evangelicals will be tested and they will be required to get off of the fence. Nominal Christianity is no longer chic. Claiming faith in Christ is starting to come with a cultural cost.
Even as more young people disaffiliate themselves with the Church, Millennials still occupy the pews. Let’s briefly consider three general ways in which the church can serve Millennial Christians.
Presently, the leadership bodies of most churches are made up of Boomers and Gen-Xers, the parents of the Millennial generation. Churches routinely wrack their collective brains trying to figure out how to reach a group of young people that seem to be eluding the church at every opportunity.
If you’re going to effectively reach young people, you’ve got to be willing to establish young leaders. You’re going to have to be willing to take chances.
I admit, I’m biased when it comes to this point because I’m a Millennial who wants to be a pastor as soon as possible. I hear guys a little older than me, young Gen-Xers, talk about how they started preaching at 16 or pastoring at 20, and I’m like, “How on earth did that happen?”
Boomers and Gen-Xers can certainly sympathize with the leadership-oriented Millennial like me who wants responsibility in the local church—the same happened to them. Churches need not replace the entirety of their leadership with Millennials, but welcoming the voice of the aspiring Millennial leader may help the local church reach young people.
In the same way that a church cannot expect to be multiethnic with all-white leadership, a church cannot expect to attract young people with all-old leadership. Take a risk, Boomer Pastor, hire a Millennial and show him how to shepherd.
Millennials tend to be averse to institutions. They often avoid unconditional allegiance to political parties, they’re putting off the institution of marriage, and they are less likely to be involved in the institutional church (see “Nones” statistics above). The institution of the church is no longer culturally or socially attractive in America for many young people—the cost of discipleship in America has increased and those willing to pay it have subsequently decreased.
Pitch the local church as a hub for friendships, not a hub for programming. Programming has its place, no doubt about it. But, Millennials are likely going to attend church events like game nights and block parties for the social opportunities more than for the event itself.
Groups have never mattered so much in the local church. Community groups are where the Millennial magic happens. Organic, intentional, deep friendships founded on the gospel will keep Millennials in the institution of the church even when the blemishes of the Christ’s bride are on full display. Intentional community is often worth the cultural cost Millennial Evangelicals must pay to be active in their local churches.
Pitch the local church as a hub for friendships, not a hub for programming.
Throughout history, young people have loved to challenge the status quo. Millennials are no different, but there is reason to believe it is not going to stop when they’re no longer “young people.”
Because of the diversity of lifestyles and philosophies within the Millennial generation, churches must be increasingly willing to challenge the status quo.
Trite answers to difficult theological questions do not work with Millennials. Over one-third of Older Millennials (ages 26-33) have a college degree, making this generation the most educated young adults in American history. “Because the Bible says so” is going to be harder to justify with this group of young people. The Church is going to have to tell its Millennials why it matters that the Bible says so, and how you can prove that’s what it actually says.
Millennials are going to question everything from why churches call the Lord’s Supper “communion” to why churches even do “communion” at all. These churches must be willing and able to answer these sorts of questions, however unorthodox they may sound.
Encouragement rarely occurs without intentional effort. A church that serves and supports its young people will be served and supported by its young people.