I don't often touch on anything, well, touchy here at Our Sunnyview. It's not always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but I do tend to deliberately sidestep anything that might be considered controversial.
Still, sometimes something just hits a chord with me, and I feel the urge to share it with anyone out there who might read this (and I appreciate you all!).
Recently a couple of my Facebook friends have shared this article on their feeds: Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church. It's given me a lot of pause for thought, and I wanted to comment on why I feel this article is both right and missing the point all at the same time. Feel free to stop reading if you don't want to hear more. I won't know, and I won't be offended. It's your life. :)
What It Got Right:
I like this article because of the list of things that the author says that younger generations want in a religious facility:
- to allow science and faith to not be mutually exclusive
- to allow the LGBT community and faith to not be mutually exclusive
- to allow the tough, deep questions to be asked
- to keep politics out of the pulpit (and, if we're being frank, the pulpit out of politics)
These are ALL things that I would look for if I ever thought about darkening the door of a church again. The third item on that list in particular has been a major sticking point for me throughout the years. It was actually one of the reasons that I left my last church. All the adult Sunday School classes were lectures, which I didn't care for. But when I mentioned that that style of class didn't suit me, I received in return a prayer that my heart would be opened to the Word of the Lord (presumably so I would be willing to learn from those who were older and 'wiser'). I had the same struggle as a teen when I asked the youth leader if we could study the Bible as history as well as the lighter stuff. She thought I'd lost my mind. Who wants to go to a church where all they're going to do is skim the surface? If I'm going to believe something, I better be allowed to dig into the whys and wherefores.
Oh, and the coffee hour and jeans and rock music? Jeans, yes. Coffee, sure. Rock music? I dunno. That's a matter of personal taste. I don't see how rock music makes it better. I think offering a choice is a better option. Personally I like the hymns, some of which are older than my grandmother's grandmother's grandmother. They've been around that long for a reason. But coffee and the choice to wear jeans or not and the choice to have rock music or not isn't going to drag me in for the long-term. It might appeal initially, but it won't keep me there.
What It Got Wrong:
The focus of the article is on evangelical Christianity. Yes, it's a big sector of the church-going population, but the author talks about millennials abandoning the hip, evangelical worship services for the traditions and liturgies of other churches. Awesome. Let me tell you where a lot of other folks are headed when they abandon the evangelical megachurches: Nowhere. I about choked on the idea that some of these traditional, liturgical churches might embrace the idea of anyone in the LGBT community leading anything church-related, let alone embracing the idea of evolution as fact. (When I visited my mother last fall, she wanted to know if M1 had 'gotten over that evolution thing yet.') To be fair, the ELCA has elected a gay bishop, which is a great step forward, and the Episcopal church has had a gay bishop for years as well, which has led to a split between it and the Anglican church in North America. But for the most part these churches with traditional services have 'traditional' values. Stepping into a Catholic Mass after attending a Baptist service for the majority of your life (or vice versa) can be a huge culture shock. Again, I don't think it's something that many millennials are going to adjust to quickly or well.
Why not? Ahhhh, that is the question, isn't it? The author seems to think that young people WANT religion in their lives. And I won't quibble with that. The question of personal belief is one that I think most people struggle with off and on for a good chunk of their existence. I certainly have. However, what she's really missing is the concept that millennials live in a world that they have shaped. The Internet came of age with us, and as we grew, we shaped it. We have literally designed our worlds to suit us, and with that power has come the rather revolutionary awareness that we don't have to be pigeon-holed into one belief, one lifestyle, one life plan. The Free Love era a few generations ago had it almost right, but they didn't have the Internet. These days we're not all going to flock to one part of one city to participate - we'll find a forum or create a social network for that. We don't want to walk into a place that we can't adjust to our liking in some form or fashion. If there's not going to be a class that appeals to us, we'll either make one of our own or not go. If there's not a worship service that we like, we don't go. This is true across the board for millennials - homeschooling, colleges offering to create custom degree plans, etc. are all areas that are growing due to the customization demands of today's young adults. And churches have a tough time adapting to that.
One of the fastest-growing church communities that I know of is LifeChurch. Run more like a business than a traditional church, its commitment to small, community-based groups with individual focus appeals to many families that I know. Is it my cuppa? No. But when talking about the millennials, this is what the author should have thought about. She's got the right idea; she just didn't get there.