I Am A Millennial. Spare Me Your 'Relevance.'
I was born in 1993. Most of my life has been with the internet, cell phones, and social media. My public education was thoroughly secular. I have been saturated in the post-Christian, post-modern, cynical zeitgeist that defines my generation.
Although it would be entirely arrogant and simplistic for me to speak for all millennials – I can understand their general perspectives. I only speak to what I have seen and heard (most of which has been in the realm of spiritual conversation) and can in no way grasp every nuance of what produces the millennial 'spirit.' Therefore, the angle I desire to address with this blog post is related to Christianity and the church.
Much has been said about 'reaching the next generation for Christ.' What do we have to do to get millennials back in church? How do we get 'young people' engaged and interested? How are we 'listening' to the future of our church?
I am grateful for these questions – they need to be asked. There is no doubt that millennials are opting out of Christian community and ideas more than any generation before them. This is not to say that they are irreligious or unspiritual – rather, I think millennials may be more spiritual than ever. There is a voracious hunger for more than the plain naturalism/nihilism that defined generation X. (Witchcraft, the Occult, indigenousness religions, and astrology is all on the rise among young people. See The Atlantic).
It has been my experience, that the church, in hopes of attracting these young people, has decided that their message needs to be 'culturally relevant.' We have passed along ideas like, "To reach millennials, we need to adopt relevant ideas, art, music, or social trends" and then rearrange these things into a cleaver bait for some squishy, 'it's all love' gospel presentation (if that happens at all).
"Pastor, you can't just run up and smack people with the Bible anymore! We need to be very careful not to sound judgmental or talk too much about sin or hell. We can’t ask to much of them – they have limited time and energy."
Therefore, our churches focus on offering tasty coffee, 'fellowship groups', hip driving music, and the tightest of pants - at the expense of honest spiritual dialogue, responsibility, and truth-telling. This is all within the 'seeker friendly' church package.
Don't get me wrong – it works – it attracts young people – but it doesn't answer the deeper questions/longings we have. It often has a shelf-life as long as the experience keeps up - or another new church fade pops up!
This 'be relevant' attitude has even gone the next step in adopting harmful ideologies in the name of 'engaging felt needs'. One of which is the 'anti-racist/critical race theory' jargon and practice. Many churches have taken it upon themselves to 'offer space' for dialogue or 'healing' regarding the current racial climate. Pastors have told me, 'Luke, if we don't talk about or adopt these theories, the next generation will pass us by. We need to be listening to their 'hurt,' or we will never draw them into the church.'
This kind of 'relevant' thinking/approach – is a lie - a mirage. It is relativism defining our objective truth. It is relativism watering down the 'words of life' we are dying to hear. Yet - young people are trading Christianity for 'Anti-Racism' because it offers them more responsibility. It offers them action. It challenges their thinking. It's far more 'black and white' unlike our persistence in dodging the questions/reality. We are losing the next generation to social activism because we have failed to meet the issues straight on - and offer meaningful responsibility of our own.
Depression and suicide are other rising characteristics of my generation. Why is this? One reason (I believe) is precisely because we have been offering (as a church) no, true, honest answers! Social activism isn't working either - it's only one side of the pie. It is a dead end street - it never ends - and there is no salvation.
Simply put, we are not asking enough of young people! We have been so afraid of 'offending' someone or losing our hip, judgment-free coffee houses – that we have failed to provide the remedy/good news they so desperately need.
We have been afraid of ‘overbearing’ stressed out millennials. ‘Their attention span is only so long!’ Yes – if you are only offering them cotton-candy, surface deep solutions and answers. Young people are dying to take on meaningful responsibility! They have fathoms of energy to give towards purposeful, substantial goals. We have not challenged them enough!
Do we not think Millennials can handle it? Do we not believe they are willing to talk deep? Get existential? Work hard? We have put off such an artificial, superficial façade that never challenges their thinking! Hear me well; millennials want to be challenged! They can handle it! They just don’t want dry, stoic, same old same old, experiential, pyramid schemey religion.
We need to return to honest, forthright, confident preaching and teaching. Look at how Peter addressed the crowds on Pentecost in Acts 2. He held nothing back. Yes, Peter addressed the crowd in a 'relevant way' – but He primarily addressed their sin before a Holy God. This message 'pierced' the crowds to the heart! That is the power of the word preached! It's alive and active – and the Spirit goes with it.
Rather than shrinking back, looking for ways to be relevant, avoiding offense, we need to speak the truth. We need to get right to the heart of the matter. We need to be prepared to tell all generations that the problems plaguing us are our hearts! We need to be born-again. There is hope and new life in the name of Jesus. This has been the only real relevant message through church history. This has been the exciting message that spawned countless innovations, human rights advancements, and social change.
Challenge young adults to read the book of John verse by verse with your Elders. Invite them into the leadership meetings. Then ask - what do we do about this? How does Jesus affect our living? What can we do together to make change in our community? What are we missing? Is it a scriptural call? If it is not - challenge their thinking! Never assume a young person (minority) is right or has the correct motivation simply because they think/read/saw/heard so!
As soon as we try to make the gospel more relevant for today – that is precisely when it becomes obsolete (with no power – and frankly - boring). Everything we need – the call to adventure – life itself – is found in the scriptures.
My generation, like all generations before it, needs Jesus – raw and unfiltered. Feed us! Challenge us! The disciple's made it plain in John 6: 68, "Where else can we go, Lord? You have the words of life!"
Written by: Luke Johnston