If we are honest the church in America is not doing well reaching the younger generation. Now I know there are churches that are doing great things, but as a whole we have a lot of room to improve.
I’m not a pessimist, or a glass half full, kind of guy. I like to classify myself as a realist. I know, I know. All realists are really just pessimists that cannot admit it. But I truly believe I’m a realist. I guess you can be the judge if I am or if I’m just in denial.
I don’t want this to come off as the sky is falling. I don’t think that is true. But I do think there are some easy things we can do so that the younger generations can know the love of God and find the benefits of living in community.
For lack of a better word I am going to use the word millennial throughout this post. I don’t really like that word because it comes with a lot of baggage. But I don’t know of another word that would adequately describe this (my) generation.
If you want some of the raw data on the state of the church here’s a few studies:
Barna | State of the Church
Pew | Religious Landscape
Pew | Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Towards Religious Groups
Pew | The Changing Global Religious Landscape
These studies don’t paint the brightest of futures for the western church. Particularly with the next generation. Now I don’t believe we are all going to hell in a hand basket. And I certainly don’t think all hope is lost. In fact I believe now in the church more than ever. I’ve seen a lot of articles talking about how the church is dying. And I cannot disagree more. I don’t believe it is dying. I believe it just needs a shift in model.
For all of church history the model for church has been changing to suit the culture. Just look at recent church history in the past 100 years, and you will see all the innovations that have come and gone.
I believe that these studies that are coming out are pointing to the dire need of a major shift in how church is done in our culture.
As a millennial, if that’s what you want to call me, and someone who works in the church full-time, I find myself in a unique spot. I believe it’s time to start thinking about what needs to change and what needs to stay in our churches. If we don’t, the church in America will slowly die and will certainly lose all credibility.
Here’s 7 things that I have found that are turning the younger generations away from the church. I have heard these in conversations, read them in comment sections, and even been frustrated with them in my own life.
Lack of Real Community
I know what you are thinking… We have an awesome small group ministry, plus you can always grab coffee before service and hang out. While those things can promote community those simply aren’t enough. The main focus of the average church is their Sunday service. Which for all the good they do, the biggest weakness is they lack community.
The focus of energy in most churches is on what’s happening on stage on Sunday and not the community Monday-Saturday.
I’m not saying the church service as we know it is bad. But we must recognize what it cannot do. If we want all people to find a place in our churches then we have to put more effort into how we do community.
Sermons are Still the Primary Teaching Tool
At one point sermons were the best way to communicate the Gospel. Then someone got the genius idea to put sermons on tape cassettes so you could listen anywhere. And then CDs came along, and now mp3s. Those were all great ideas.
But now it’s time to rethink how we teach our churches about Jesus. I, along with many 20-30 year-olds, am constantly listening to podcasts. And there is so much GREAT stuff out there. They are conveying information in new and refreshing ways. Many Christians have hopped on board and started talking about the Gospel and what it means to follow Jesus. And this generation is eating it up.
My question is why haven’t churches done this yet?!
I’m not talking about putting your sermons on a podcast. Every church does that. I’m talking about crafting a podcast specifically designed to be a podcast. One that can tackle some of the tough, and historically unapproachable, topics. I did a search this past week looking for churches doing this, and I came up with 2… I’m sure there are more. But the point is the vast majority of churches are not teaching in the primary format that culture has become adapt to using.
I suspect the sermon as we know will slowly disappear or at least massively change. The way to teach the Gospel effectively to the younger generations will be through technology.
All (or most) of the Energy Goes Into the Church Service
We already talked about this a little in the first point, but I think this goes at a deeper point. Most millennials aren’t interested in just going to church; they want to participate in church.
This means that the church needs to provide opportunities to be a part of the church on Sundays AND throughout the week. Community is a big deal. Also the church needs to provide opportunities to serve in the local community.
I know most churches will respond: we do that! We have Life Groups, and we give to a lot of outreaches. While many churches do that they have not geared it in a way that connects with millennials.
Lack of Trust in Institutions
In previous generations large institutions meant credibility. However they increasingly mean corruption to the younger generations. The natural bent of millennials is to not trust institutions. That certainly doesn’t mean every church is corrupt. In fact I would say the exception is the corrupt church, not the rule. But it is important to recognize the lens in which the church is viewed through.
In order for churches to gain trust back they have to show, and prove, that they are trustworthy by being transparent.
Their Thoughts Aren’t Valued
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a story like this: A young person walks into church with a new or different idea on how to run a ministry of the church. Rather than be heard they are just shut down with an excuse on why that wouldn’t work. Or that they are too young and inexperienced.
Millennials need to be heard and their ideas valued. In fact many of their ideas will benefit the church. But sadly most of these ideas are left on the ground because no one took time to listen.
Think about this for a minute… Who’s going to be leading the church in 10-20 years? Yeah, millennials. If we don’t give them the opportunity now in a way where they can grow and learn there won’t be any qualified leaders in 10 years when we need them.
The Church is Not a Safe Place to Wrestle With Issues/Theology
This is a big one for me. The church should be the safest place to bring whatever is going on in your life out into the open and deal with it. But often the church is not a safe place to wrestle with your theology. If you don’t align with what the church believes then it’s the door.
The church should be a safe place to question Biblical inherency, gender roles, what’s sin and what isn’t, talk about doubts, and even disagree about issues. The church should be the safest place to figure life out and what you believe. But more often then not the church is a place where you have to have all your “stuff” together. And if your life is a mess or you don’t prescribe to the same theology then you aren’t welcome.
We should be able to engage in healthy conversations about theology. And when we disagree have maturity and pursue unity. The only thing, and I mean the only thing, that I think disqualifies someone from the body of Christ is an unwillingness to grow.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree?
If you are a millennial and are frustrated with the church or have left your church I would love to hear from you! Share your story in the comments!