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
As a general rule, I do not jump onto bandwagons when it comes to choosing subject matter for this blog page. As a general rule 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 have observed that it is the things we choose to ignore or overlook 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 entice the millennial generation back into the church?
The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) have abandoned the Christian faith in what can only be described as seriously distressing numbers. It is estimated that 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 as a group 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 valid. Others are only reasonable if you remove God and the Bible from the equation. For example, only a fool would argue against the notion that the American church has abdicated much of its responsibility to care for the poor and the government has picked-up the slack. However, calling the church anti-gay, sexually repressive or overly rigid in its teachings is only fair if one is willing to completely divorce God and the Bible from those issues and teachings. It’s basically impossible to be openly for something God clearly opposes (1stCorinthians 6:9, Romans 1:21-28, Galatians 5:19-21, 1stTimothy 1:9-11, Leviticus 20) and still be squarely on God’s side of the issues.
All the articles I read this week were entirely focused 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 intimate (or say it outright) that the church ought to soften its stance on issues (like homosexuality) in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to millennials.
Some of the ideas were not terrible, others were actually pretty good, a few were clearly stupid. That said, all the recommendations were (in my view) jumping the gun. Before we begin the process of attempting to lure the millennial generation back into the fold, we need to do a thorough postmortem and figure out what went wrong in the first place. The first question that must be asked 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 weird ism and declare it a win for God’s team. We need to figure out exactly how this happened. Clearly, the problem was not a lack of 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 squarely with parents the other with churches. 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 second problem lies with the churches training methods. We did an adequate job of telling young people 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 the church continues to do the same things we will continue to get the same results. Churches simply must do more teaching and training. It’s definitely time to stop telling 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. In fact, 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 be complicit in the destruction of the Church. 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 (mostly) biblically illiterate generation.