From the depths of my heart, I want to love church.
I want to be head-over-heels for church like the unshakable Ned Flanders.
I want to send global, sky-writing airplanes telling the life-change that happens beneath a steeple. I want to install a police microphone on top of my car and cruise the streets screaming to the masses about the magical Utopian community of believers waiting for them just down the street.
I desperately want to feel this way about church, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, like much of my generation, I feel the complete opposite.
Turns out I identify more with Maria from the Sound of Music staring out the abbey window, longing to be free.
It seems all-too-often our churches are actually causing more damage than good and the statistics are showing a staggering number of millennials have taken note.
According to this study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history and most drastic among millennials described as 22-35 year olds.
Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
59% percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
35% of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
As I sat in a our large church’s annual meeting last month, I looked around for anyone in my age bracket. It was a little like a Titanic search party…
IS ANYONE ALIVE OUT THERE? CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?
Tuning in and out of the 90 minute state-of-the-church address, I kept wondering to myself, where are my people? And then the scarier question, why I am still here?
A deep-seated dissatisfaction has been growing in me and, despite my greatest attempts to whack-a-mole it back down, no matter what I do it continues to rise out of my wirey frame. [To follow my publicly-chronicled church struggles, check out my other posts The How Can I Help Project and 50 Ways to Serve the Least of These] Despite the steep drop-off in millennials, most churches seem to be continuing on with business as usual. Sure, maybe they add a food truck here or a bowling night there, but no one seems to be reacting with any level of concern that matches these STAGGERING statistics.
Where is the task-force searching for the lost generation? Where is the introspective reflection necessary when 1/3 of a generation is ANTI-CHURCH?
The truth is no one has asked me why millennials don’t like church. Luckily, as a public school teacher, I am highly skilled at answering questions before they’re asked. It’s a gift really.
So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.
1. Nobody’s Listening to Us
Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
Create regular outlets (forums, surveys, meetings) to discover the needs of young adults both inside AND outside the church.
Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
Hire a young adults pastor who has the desire and skill-set to connect with millennials.
2. We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements
Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.
Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should be easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.
Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?
Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jumbo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service.
3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority
My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.
Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…
Now lets clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.
If the numbers are not equal please check your bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).
“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt
Stop creating more bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose.
Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts. Then connect people who share similar passions. Create space for them to meet and brainstorm and then sit back and watch what God brings to life.
Create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference (and, oh yeah, they’ll also meet new people).
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