I saw this interesting CNN opinion piece on my Facebook wall a few months back about why millennials / Gen Y – the newest generation of adults – are leaving the church. I mean, this is absolutely absurd! More than half of adults under 30 do not oppose same sex marriage ?! Gosh, we must figure out how to stop this Godless generation and save their souls before the Rapture!
Millennials have been getting a lot of news attention in recent years. As employers are concerned about what do with these entitled, narcissistic 20-somethings who show up to work in flip-flops and demand a bi-annual promotion, so is the Christian community. And it is a rightful concern. No one wants to see people turn away from the faith.
Rachel Held Evans, who wrote the CNN opinion piece, provided a very thoughtful analysis of this problem. Christianity often comes across as very exclusive with little room for questioning. I could not help but agree with many of her points because I am also part of this cohort. We’re also close in age. It speaks something of my generation that I am writing this blog as a way to question some of the strict dogma to which Christianity is clinging.
Her most interesting point is how churches are trying to gloss over this issue with simply making “a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.” What’s next, presenting Scripture in 140 words or less?
I’ve always found this whole “radical Christianity” thing rather unnerving, but I have not been able to articulate it. Thank you, Rachel, for putting my thoughts into words. I thought something was wrong with me since I could see through the BS of Jesus 2.0, but apparently I am not the only one. Seeing churches try to be all cool and grungy just made me think of one’s mom trying to wear low-riders, get a tattoo, and try to be hip/groovy/off the chain/fetch/whatever.
But it’s a deeper issue than that. That pre-service latte might make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but the person serving you the drink really believes you’re going to burn in hell if you don’t repent and come to Jesus. Especially if you are gay and/or having pre-marital sex. Would you like a purity ring with your Skinny Chai?
Rachel further goes on to say that many young adults are considering the more “traditional” faiths such as Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Because they are “unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.” In other words, they keeps it real, yo!
But in my experience, and in the experiences of others I know, it is more than just trying to find a church that not fake. It is about finding answers, comfort, and connection. I attend a non-denominational church. Sometimes they try to be cool and edgy (and I am pretty sure I’ve seen one of the pastors in skinny jeans), but they have an authentic side. Ironically, many testimonies and baptisms that are read aloud are from people in their early 20’s. It is that time where you thrust into the real world, are desperate to prove yourself, and find out that everything you learned in school is bogus. You can even read about how it happened to me!
Despite all the “connections” through Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc., millennials often feel lonely, even if their newsfeeds deny it. Friends are constantly flaking out, the social network is scattered, office politics bewilder us, the careers we were promised are not happening, dating is…well…I am not going to get into that. We experienced severe disillusionment from being children and teens in the Clinton boom years, and graduated into the Great Recession. There is a lot of change, and not a lot of hope.
As Rachel puts it, Christ can offer us this comfort. But this may mean not having to know the answers, but trusting that God does and that you can depend on Him. Church can offer up a network of sincere believers with whom you can form friendships. People are not perfect, but at least the connections will be based on something more substantial than being at the same bar that night.
So what should churches do to entice millennials (and the rest of this so-called Godless nation)? Nothing. Just be authentic. The world is sick of all the fakeness…the sense of want created by advertisements, the saccharine worship music with the undercurrent of disapproval, the shallowness we experience in relationships…keepin’ it real is refreshing. More so than a frappuccino.