Whether it’s garnering good press or bad press, millennials fill up news broadcasts and op-ed columns. Studies and surveys observe and record their worldviews and tastes, since they are the generational bracket that is coming of age. They have emerged as the leaders, businessmen, and parents of the present.
The Center for Generational Kinetics defines a millennial as someone who’s been born between 1977 and 1995. Other experts often extend the range to the year 2000, but the Center for Generational Kinetics contends that the extension is too broad.
The website argues in the article, “How to Determine Generational Birth Years,” that, “the most important, generation-defining moment for Millennials (particularly in the U.S.), was September 11, 2001. It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be born between 1996 and 2000 and have a strong, emotional connection to 9/11. Your brain is simply too young to put the event in a cultural, geographic, or other context. From our research-based vantage point, if you were born in the U.S. and 9/11 has always been history to you—something you literally cannot remember—then you are not a Millennial.”
Yours truly was born in 1996, so Generation Z is my posting. However the article says, “It’s really important to note that you can be born within three years on either side of the beginning or ending of a generation and have all the characteristics of the generation before or after.”
While I don’t meet the cutoff, I’d argue I’m close enough to make an informed observation. Usually, the older generations make observations about the younger generations. I’ll be flipping that convention on its head.
What to Make of It All
Implicitly, most everyone wants to know, are we in good hands with millennials at the helm?
The church should ask the same question as well, for if you google “millennials and the church,” the results aren’t exactly comforting. A concerning portion of them have either left the church or are disillusioned with it.
The very generations meant to fill critical leadership and ministerial roles have decided they want nothing to do with church, though they affirm their commitment to Christ.
This isn’t the case with every millennial, but there are enough who’ve ditched church to warrant cause for concern.
What Does the Bible Say?
The question of, I’m a committed, Bible-believing Christian. Should I attend church? is not a difficult one. Even though Millennials are the flavor of the day, Hebrews 10:25 applies to all age groups.
“Let us not not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Case closed right there. Lone wolf Christians don’t thrive, because a walk with Christ isn’t just about the Christian individual. It’s about the body of Christ, the fellowship and encouraging one another. You can’t lift one another up when burdened if you’re a no-show each Sunday.
Church isn’t all about the individual’s needs either. In fact, the Jesus we claim to serve is supposed to take precedent. That’s why we worship. That’s why we pray. That’s why the preacher preaches. And, in the end, Jesus is the only reason we’re able to serve.
So if you pack your Instagram with photoshoots of your devotions and wax poetic on Facebook about evangelistic cultural engagement strategies, punching in for an hour or two each Sunday shouldn’t be difficult.
Church is about Jesus. Christians love Jesus. Christians should be at church.
What seems like airtight logic doesn’t always click with others, so here are a few grievances I’ve found that millennials have with the church.
“Nobody Listens to Us”
By far and away, when I Googled “millennials and the church,” I found that the millennial mass exodus originates from a feeling of abandonment. I hear it from others as well.
I get it. I’m young too, and the church I attend both at home and at college is overwhelmingly dominated by the 50-and-up crowd.
But here’s what I’ve learned growing up in a predominately senior church: it’s better to listen, then speak. The older saints know a thing or two, having lived this whole walk of faith a bit longer than we have. I think the same might hold true even if you’re a Millennial with a solid career, a spouse, and a kid or two. Listen to the elders, and you’ll be enriched.
Plus, no one’s going to hear you speak if you’re not in a pew on Sunday morning.
Unfortunately, if millennials want to reform churches, then they’ll actually have to consistently attend one. If you’re a Christian “Tigger” of any age who hops churches every weekend like it’s a wine-tasting event, then you probably aren’t going to gain a voice. You can’t be a flight risk and expect to set down roots at the same time.
Another charge by millennials is that they are simply brimming with good ideas that will revolutionize everything from missions, to church attendance, to the Sunday morning experience.
But tragically, no one has listened to them, so the ideas are relegated to the church dumpster.
Pastors and church leaders relish hearing new ideas, but they want people who have the staying power to see their vision through. If you’re 1 for 4 every month when it comes to church attendance, why would a Pastor want to listen to you? If you aren’t willing to serve, then why should a Pastor slobber over you as if you’re the next Billy Graham?
You earn a voice through demonstrating that you’re willing to 1) stay at a church, 2) contribute and serve the church, and 3) respect your fellow congregants. Millennials are supposedly all about clarity, so in order to contribute to the church, all one must do is ask how and show up.
In any other line of work, the “new guy” or “new girl” will not earn his or her boss’s respect until they demonstrate a good attitude and commitment. In the same way, the “veteran” members of the congregation, including the leadership, won’t incline themselves to listen to your fivefold ministry plan unless you’re willing to see it through, because they’ve seen about twenty people just like you in the past three months who’ve said the same thing.
So when you have your next life-changing idea, show humility when you present it to church leadership, take constructive criticism, realize you don’t have the complete perspective, and work with others.
None of us are prodigies, and even if we were, every prodigy must become a veteran, someone who’s taken their knocks and gained the experience.
“The Church Doesn’t Support the Poor Enough”
This might be the shakiest argument I’ve seen. God calls the church to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. I think the church does a commendable job on that front; of course, we can always do better, but I don’t think the church is guilty of neglecting the poor.
If your church isn’t doing enough for the poor, in your opinion, then why aren’t you in the slums or on the street every day of the week, making up for the perceived inadequacy? Or, even better, why aren’t you heading up an initiative to start a food bank at your church?
I don’t find any passage in the Bible that commands believers to play hooky from church simply because there are real or imagined inadequacies.
When Paul wrote his epistles to various churches, he often was in problem-solving mode or correction mode. Some of those churches were either in some sort of heresy or falling short in conviction.
He was faced with a great deal more crises than the average American churchgoer, yet he didn’t retire from the church-planting mission.
So if you’re blowing off church, because “My church doesn’t do ____,” either find a new church or be a reformer in your own.
“We Want An Authentic Pastor and Congregation”
Millennials don’t want to be patronized—and rightfully so. They’ve grown up being the key target for slick advertisements and in recent years, social media campaigns. Thus, they know a performance when they see one.
On the other hand, some millennials will exploit a tiny flaw they see in a church, and decide, “Real recognize real, and this church isn’t authentic enough.” Inevitably, someone wasn’t nice to them; or they didn’t like the sermon; or a church member gave them an indiscernible look that they’ve decided was malicious.
I’ve had the privilege of attending the same church in my hometown since I was a few days old. Along the way, I’ve seen the nasty underbelly at times, in its diverse and odd ways. But, eventually, all of us have to realize that no church is immune to human pettiness, and exiting stage right each time there’s a problem is a weak excuse that you can’t find a church.
If you want authenticity, the best place to find it is the church. Just listen to a few testimonies from the quiet old man in the fifth row or the married mom of 3 in the back. The seemingly everyday joe or jane sitting around you probably has a story if you’re willing to listen, and it’s all grit and grace without a trace of glitz.
If you’re a millennial and really can’t find a church, take a hope over the pond and join the underground church in China, or the persecuted church in South Sudan, Iraq, or any number of churches in 10/40 corridor. You’ll get all the authentic you need, complete with real persecution and physical suffering.
“This Church Isn’t Diverse Enough”
You may be right. But are you really going to stop fellowshipping with your brethren because of the lack of diversity?
If you see a lack of diversity, wouldn’t it be the Christian thing to invite all your friends that would bring diversity and encourage others to do the same?
It’s not advanced calculus. Reach out, and people of all race, career kind, and creed will come. It happened at Pentecost and it still does today.
“We Don’t Feel Mentored, Affirmed, and Valued”
If you want a mentor, you need to develop relationships, which requires time and patience. Discipleship isn’t just the mentor pouring into someone. The disciple must pour into the mentor as well.
It’s not all about us, and in the church, nobody rides for free. You can serve others and be served as well, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Chances are, if you a find a church with people who love Jesus, you’ll find all the mentors and affirmation you need.
We Don’t Get a “Relevant” Message that Addresses Social Issues
I understand that Pastors need to speak the Gospel into the times and expose injustice. I get the complaint.
But the problem is, social issues aren’t necessarily the main order of the day, because what social issues and social justice means is really politics, and people will bring out the knives when politics get involved.
I’m not saying pastors should remain silent on the issues of the age we live in, but church isn’t a politically rally (and thank God it isn’t). If your pastor preaches the Gospel, there lie the keys to exposing injustice and solving social issues.
It takes a mature pastor to give commentary on the times, and it would help if millennials and the other generations that are invested in social issues to encourage the pastor by asking questions and encouraging him/her rather than getting a bruised ego and moaning when they don’t hear the political talking points they desire.
Where We Stand
So we all find that these reasons for ducking church are more universal than we thought. It’s not just about Millennials.
And millennials do have legitimate grievances against the church, but that doesn’t mean those with grievances have the right to create a rap sheet of the church’s flaws and tell God that’s why they can’t get themselves out of bed and go to Sunday morning sermon.
Martin Luther didn’t write the 95 Theses and then give up church altogether when the Papacy excommunicated him.
Instead, he started his own, and happened to change the world.
He didn’t make excuses; he acted on his grievances and became a reformer. That’s why millennials can be reformers instead of disgruntled ex-church members.
I strongly believe that a global outpouring of the Holy Spirit is coming in the near future and it will be followed by massive revival. Millennials have the opportunity to play a critical role, but if they don’t show up on Sunday, why would they be trusted to be the next wave of mentors, evangelists, and pastors?
Bringing Them Home
How do we attract Millennials, then? Give them the Gospel, and get them excited about perfecting the fear of God through holiness. The church’s greatest sin against millennials isn’t legalism, though legalism has been a problem; rather, it’s legalism distant cousin, license. We’ve sold cheap grace to millennials, and it’s manifesting in a culture of entitlement in the Millennial generation.
I may not be a millennial myself, but I’m a generation after, and trust me, the outlook is just the same.
It’s simple. Millennial or not, younger or older, we can’t do anything without Jesus. If you love Jesus, you’ll want to fellowship with other believers at church. Why? Because church is not solely about you, or anyone for that matter. It’s about meeting Jesus and becoming His Bride. It’s about thirsting for his presence and His holiness. It’s about worship.
You find all these things, and you’ll find a voice. You’ll find your affirmation. You’ll be valued. You’ll serve the poor. You’ll speak your ideas.
Church is the place you go to find out that you’re more like everyone else than you thought. You find that you’re just as broken, just as awkward, just as shamed as everyone else.
But you go because there is power in the name of Jesus, the power that heals and is truth. You go there because the King deserves his crown, and we give it to Him through worship, crying, “Holy Holy Holy, is the Lord God Almighty.”
Some millennials carry deep wounds from vicious people in their churches who acted like anyone but Christ. Others found themselves on the receiving end of the skyrocketing divorce rate in the church. They were the kids of divorced parents who had no ministry for them.
I don’t question those kinds of scars, not for one second. But Jesus went to the cross even though his 12 buddies went AWOL on him.
So to millennials and the generations like me that follow them, give church another go, please. Not every Christian is a hypocrite. There are people in those pews, just like you, people who sin deeply and often, people who are wounded, who still find a way to make that Sunday morning drive.
And they have been found faithful.
What will be said of the millennial generation and those that follow? Will it solely be known for its long march away from the Sunday morning service? Or will it be known for its humble trek home, a reconciliation to a family that it could never fully separate itself from?
The kingdom of God is full of ongoing reclamation projects, and the millennial generation has the opportunity to be one of its finest, a most valuable redemption.
Christian leaders are afraid of the millennial exodus from church. But what would happen if that exodus turned into a reinforcement, a number of generations who are the exception to the stereotype?
Imagine that. Imagine what a return that would be. They would join the other millennials who already attend churches and have found their spiritual home. Feel the chills yet?
But you have to be a member before you can be the servant. And you have to be a servant before you become the reformer.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. For updates on his latest blog posts here at restandrefuge.wordpress.com, you can follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to receive notifications by email. Want to read more? Check him out at themajestysmen.com/author/kevincochrane, a friendship and mentoring community for Christian males (views on my blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com are my own and do not necessarily represent those of The Majesty’s Men). To contact, email him at email@example.com.