Everyone seems determined to figure out what has millennials sick of church. It’s probably not as complicated as people try to make it.
The article, at ChurchLeaders.com, admittedly an odd site for me to be reading since any leadership I used to have at my church is no longer in play, lists typical responses to the basic question.
“It’s not authentic.”
“It’s too corporate.”
Well, let me go ahead and save you some time: these aren’t really the issue. These are minor annoyances one notices in any depth only when they’ve already been turned off by something bigger, something more important.
The article also suggests this:
If churches want to see more millennials walk through their doors, they need to stop trying to entice them with free stuff…
Free stuff? So we don’t like coffee, coffee mugs, stickers and logo-imprinted pens now?
Allow me to let you in on a little secret: no one hates those things. Again, this is like complaining about the color of the napkins at a fine restaurant.
What people — millennials or anyone else, for that matter — might hate is an organization that puts too much focus on those things, when their focus should be making people feel welcome, making people feel comfortable and making people feel they matter inside a church as much as they matter to God.
Granted, I know the latter is impossible: no one can matter to another person as much as he or she matters to God.
Too often when someone walks into a church for the first time, they’re greeted by whoever happens to be at the door, handed the typical bulletin, and possibly pointed to the visitor’s center if the greeter finds out you’re a visitor.
From that point on, for the most part, you’re on your own.
The pressure is on the newcomer to connect with people who largely already have their own social connections within the church.
There are other classic objections like, “They’re too judgmental.” But this is another complaint of people of all ages, not just millennials. It’s a universal problem in which church members seem to develop a mob mentality and speak out enthusiastically against a sin even though that sin may well be happening in their own homes.
But being too judgmental (and too hypocritical) is a complaint against believers that dates back to Biblical times.
Unless millennials just woke up one day and realized it for themselves for the first time, it doesn’t make sense that this is the sole reason, either.
How about this?
Since we’re playing armchair theologian today, I’m going to suggest an issue that might be a more primary cause of dissatisfaction.
Churches have gotten really good about telling us what we shouldn’t do, but seem to have been getting worse about telling us how to get there.
Every person struggles with something. Even the most dedicated church member you’ve ever met has had some battle he or she has faced.
I’ll call it X, because it’s different for everyone.
We all have our X. No matter how well we try to hide it. If our X happens to fall into the category of “sin” — and if it didn’t, we wouldn’t have a problem naming that X — sooner or later, the church will get around to addressing it.
They’ll tell us X is wrong.
They’ll tell us to stay away from X.
They’ll tell us that if we were as close to Jesus as we should be, X wouldn’t be a problem anymore. (That’s almost certainly not true based on the description of dealing with sin that Paul himself wrote about, but they’ll tell us that, anyway.)
They’ll tell us to “repent” about X and pray for God to take X away.
And they’ll send us out the door, proudly thinking they’ve helped us defeat X.
But X isn’t defeated. X is still there. Some of us have been praying for years — for decades in some cases — that God would just wave a hand over us and take X away once and for all.
And yet X remains.
If we work up the courage to talk to a close Christian friend about what our X happens to be, unless that person also knows the struggle against X, we get another heaping dose of “pray more.” Or another dose of “walk closer with God.” Maybe even a nice “Set aside more quiet time to read God’s Word.”
If their X is a different issue, they don’t see any connection with our X. Yet I’d be willing to bet that if someone turned the tables on them and suggested, with the best of intentions, those exact same strategies to fend off their own personal X, they’d get frustrated, too.
Frustrated that others are so quick to assume that they aren’t praying, aren’t seeking God, and aren’t seeking answers in the Bible or among fellowship with other Christians.
To be fair to the Almighty, I might respectfully suggest that not removing your X or my X isn’t a cruel joke or a sign that He doesn’t care.
To the contrary, our X may be in place — and may be something He hasn’t, as yet, dealt with — because that X is preventing us from being ensnared in an even worse X.
It must be a possibility, because only God has a God perspective. All we can see is that one X hanging over us.
Unfortunately, that’s not really the message people are hearing in churches. What they’re hearing is that X is wrong, God doesn’t like X , so you should stay away from X.
What if your X is alcohol and you’re an alcoholic? If defeating that X was as simple as just saying, “Okay, I won’t drink anymore,” don’t you think a lot of alcoholics would just walk away from it?
What if your X is porn? There’s a good chance you don’t need someone to tell you it’s wrong. There’s an even better chance to you don’t need anyone to point out it’s ungodly or lustful. There’s a great chance that you need someone to tell you that there’ll be struggles and you’ll fail many times as you try to force yourself not to watch and seek God’s help for strength.
This, like other issues in the church, has been going on for a long time. But these days, as things get more and more political, as an “old guard” in today’s churches get more and more insistent that churches go back to “old values” and speak out against today’s new generation of sins, the generation more likely to be dealing with those sins might just be getting all of the “what not to do” and none of the process involved in getting to that point.