Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it~ Proverbs 22:6 NKJV
I try hard not to jump onto bandwagons when it comes to choosing subject matter for this blog page. In general my aim is NOT to talk about what everyone else is talking about. I want to talk about the issues nobody else is thinking or talking about because I believe it’s the things we ignore that ultimately become our downfall.
This week I am breaking the rule.
I am breaking the rule for a couple of reasons. First, I am by nature, a rule breaker. Secondly, I came up with the stupid rule and I can break it if I want to. But, mostly, I decided to break the rule because this week I read three different articles published by three different Christian organizations all asking the same question:
How do church leaders, pastors and parents lure the millennial generation back into church?
The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) have abandoned the Christian faith in seriously distressing numbers. Upwards of sixty percent of the millennials raised in church have left and most express zero interest in ever returning. Their reasons for leaving typically come down to a few key issues. Millennials tend to believe that the church is anti-gay, sexually repressive and far too rigid in its teachings and leadership structure. Most also think that the majority of churches have not done enough to help the poor and marginalized in society.
Some of those criticisms are clearly valid.
Others are only reasonable if you remove God and the Bible from the equation. For example, it is impossible to argue coherently against the idea that the American church has abdicated its responsibility to care for the poor and the government has stepped in and done the job the church was tasked with. However, calling the church anti-gay, sexually repressive and overly rigid in its teachings is only fair if we completely divorce God and the Bible from the issues. It’s basically impossible to be openly for something God clearly opposes (1st Corinthians 6:9, Romans 1:21-28, Galatians 5:19-21, 1st Timothy 1:9-11, Leviticus 20) and still be on God’s side of the issues.
Every article I read was focused entirely on finding clever ways to lure the millennials back to church. Some suggested tailoring small-group curriculum and preaching just for that particular demographic. Others recommended making services shorter, using secular music during worship services and making church government more democratic and inclusive. A few even went so far as to say the church ought to soften its stance on issues like homosexuality to make Christianity more palatable to millennials.
Some of the ideas were not terrible, a few were actually pretty good, others were clearly stupid. That said, all the recommendations were putting the cart before the horse. Before we begin the process of luring the millennial generation back into the fold, we need to do some self-examination and figure out where we went wrong in the first place.
The first question we must ask is:
Where exactly did we go wrong?
Results do not lie and the results clearly indicate that the Church failed the millennial generation. We cannot lose sixty percent of a generation to secularism, atheism and every other ism and declare it a win. The problem was not a lack of money or resources. Between Christian books, videos, Christian curriculum, children’s church and youth groups more money was spent on evangelizing the millennial generation than any other generation in the history of Christianity.
I suspect two key issues contributed to the defection of the millennial generation. One lies with parents the other with church leadership. First, there has been a shocking absence of healthy spiritual modeling in many Christian homes. Parents and Grandparents have taken their kids and grandkids to church and the adults have acted very “church-y” in the presence of church people but a whole lot less “church-y” behind closed doors. People can fool church people into believing they are better than they are but they will never fool the people they live with into believing that lie. The other problem lies with the churches. Churches have done an adequate job of telling kids what to believe but did not effectively explain why those things were true or how living by Christian principles can make a difference in their lives. In a world with nearly endless competing worldviews, churches must give an adequate explanation as to why Christianity is superior to other belief systems (1stPeter 3:15). Moreover, it is not enough to simply say something (Darwinism, homosexuality, promiscuity, adultery, trans-genderism, atheism) is sinful or foolish, we have to be able to explain what the physical, spiritual, phycological and practical consequences of adopting that particular belief system or behavior will be.
What are we going to do differently with the next generation?
If churches continue to do the same things they will continue to get the same results. Churches simply must do more teaching and training. It’s definitely time to stop telling children and teens sanitized Bible stories and start teaching doctrine. If nothing else Christian kids need to be able to clearly articulate what they believe about life and God and why they believe it by the time they graduate from high school.
How do we get millennials to think and behave biblically?
This is a much more critical issue than simply luring them back to church. Truth-be-told if we jump to find ways to fill our churches with a group who do think or behave biblically just to get them back we will destroy Christianity. The answer to the millennial conundrum is not to soften the churches stance on hard issues. The answer is to do the hard work of clarifying biblical truth to a biblically illiterate generation.