What My Generation Needs From Church

The questions are constant anymore.

“Why are young people leaving the church?”

“What does this generation want from church?”

“How do we get millenials to stay/come back?”

It’s the great existential crisis of the 21st century church. Every denomination every where is bleeding people my age, for a myriad of reasons, some known, some unknown.

old-churchThere is a key factor in this migration that I think is too often overlooked. It’s not the only reason we are leaving church, but it’s a pretty big part of it.

Authenticity.

We want authenticity. We want authentic, unmanufactured experiences of the Divine.

My generation has been sold to since the day we were born. Advertising and commercialized products have been our constant environment. Every where we go, everything we do is marketed and analyzed and fine tuned to appeal to this or that demographic.

And frankly, we are sick of it.

We are sick of being told what to buy, what is important, what is cool enough for us. We are sick of being treated as numbered consumers, rather than individuals with a full, unique complement of desires and needs and ideas.

So when we walk into a church, the last thing we want is for that church to being hawking a product. We don’t need slick, PR-certified tracts of watered-down theology; we don’t need hip pastors and loud rock music and coffee bars and strobe lights.

We don’t need church to be sold to us.

When we walk into a church, we want to see a caring, authentic community of authentic people. We want to see real people enjoying being together. We want to be made felt welcome, warts and all. We want to see church happen in an authentic way.

My generation values authenticity very, very highly. We want  real experiences, not more stuff we’ll throw away in a couple years. We want to feel a part of something bigger than us, part of a community. We want people who genuinely care about us. We want to be a valued part of a church, not a butt in a pew, not a check mark on the diversity list. We want to be asked to be a leader, to serve on committees, to cook meals, to be trusted with the responsibility of being a member of a church. We need to feel like we are making a difference when we go to church, not just in our lives, but in the world. We need church to be about more than evangelizing; we need it to be a place of welcome and acceptance and authentic community.

My generation is telling church, get real.

Be church.

Do liturgy.

Serve communion.

Sing hymns.

Love others.

Accept people for who they are.

Be goofy.

Mess us sometimes.

Laugh.

Sing.

Cry.

Pray.

Stop being a rock concert.

Stop being a glorified PR firm.

Stop being a retail experience.

Then, maybe we will come back to church,

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13 thoughts on “What My Generation Needs From Church

  1. I agree that churches have tried too hard to relevant rather than teach God’s word. However, your premise of ‘we want’ is not Biblical.

    We may never understand what makes millennials tick. You look for authenticity with one hand while clinging to social media in the other. All the desires you list at the end of your blog could fit numerous ‘traditional’ churches. Yet, millennials are absent.

    Why? Because a traditional church will never be non-judgmental and open to various interpretations of scripture. One that takes sinners as they are, but doesn’t expect them turn away from their sin. A church where you and the minister proudly pull into the parking lot with your COEXIST bumper stickers. That doesn’texist. As soon as you sacrifice God’s word, you instantly become more concerned with being relevant and as a result, the church millennials claim to dislike.

    At the moment it is a catch-22.

    Colossians 3 explains what a church should look like.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Traditional churches aren’t attracting millennials because yes, they do have all that, but they are missing the intangibles: love, acceptance, community: authenticity.

      I don’t think saying “We want” is a bad thing. Church has to do two things: 1) meet people where they are, 2) accept people in and make them feel a part of the community before trying to change them, instead of demanding change as price of admission.

      So yes, we want a church that is not nonjudgemental. We want a church that doesn’t dictate dogma, but instead walks along with people as they think for themselves. A church that does take people as they are, and does ask much of them, trusting each person with responsibility and treating them like an adult.

      All this isn’t “sacrificing” God’s word. It seems, instead, that so many churches do that today, not being a place that challenges and teaches, but instead pontificates on politics and wedge issues, and confirms everyone’s biases. That’s what we don’t want anymore. Challenge us, ask of us, let us doubt and think and challenge. Treat us as adults.

      It’s not about being “relevant.” In fact, over the last forty years, it seems to me that the mainstream, evangelical, megachurch model has been the culturally dominant, “relevant” one, controlling the levers of electoral power in this country and cross-identifying itself with America. We are calling the church to stop being relevant to the powers and principalities, but to instead be relevant to us, those who want to be the church.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your response below regarding the false teaching of original sin is very instructive in understanding why finding a church is such a struggle.

        First off, throughout the Bible, there is an easy to follow thread that man is by nature sinful (Mark 7:20-23, Genesis 8:21, Psalm 51:5, Romans 7:21-24, Ephesians 2:3). These are not intended to be ‘clobber’ passages from a sadomasochistic heart inflicting unwanted pain on self or others. Rather, we see that faith in Christ requires 1) that we understand we are sinners requiring salvation and 2) we come before him with a repentant heart. By removing original sin, we marginalize Christ’s work to being a teacher, instead of a savior.

        Second, progressive Christians seem to have an immature notion of love. As a father, I know that in some instances the best love I can show to my children is one that is stern and condemning of my children’s actions. I do this to foremost protect the child from harm, secondly to prevent siblings from copying that action and finally to ensure not to tarnish my families reputation and ideology. Christ has given his church that same responsibility to the unrepentant sinner (Matthew 18:15-20). Love should be tolerant but not always accepting. Any church that has a blanket policy of acceptance hurts not only the specific unrepentant sinner but risks damaging the rest of congregation (1Corinthians 5:1-13).

        Obviously, the issue with acceptance is almost entirely based on sexual preference. While you may be able to rationalize away text that directly condemn sexual behavior outside of monogamous heterosexual relationships as the result of the author relying on his own cultural bias; it is impossible to find Biblical doctrine that speaks of any other God pleasing sexual relationship other than the monogamous heterosexual relationship instituted with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6)

        Take all three of these into consideration; rejection of original sin, immature notion of love and bending the Bible to suit preference. The struggle to find a church becomes a search for God where He is not. The mega church incorporates all these but becomes vague, self promoting and God lite (ie. not authentic). The traditional church rejects these but offends your world view. The truth of the struggle is that God has imprinted his law on our hearts (Romans 2:15). As such, millennials know the answer to the church question, but fear more how that looks on Facebook, then how it looks before God.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rita Watson

    I think the church should face the social issues of the day head on with discussion and scripture. I want to go to a church who loves and accepts everyone gay or straight, black or white, male or female, warts and all. God made us just like we are – accept us all with open arms and be willing to perform the sacraments such as marriage for gays as well as straights and teach that sex outside of marriage is a sin for everyone – gay or straight. Stop the bigotry in our churches or you will never keep millennials in the church or a lot of older people. We do not want to play church anymore – get real, get honest, get transparent.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In my experience of religion and all the things that go with it, the biggest thing that turns me (and those who I know) away from is it the lack of any form of tolerance. They seem to want people to be what they never can be and then castigate them for being human. They seem to want us to live in perpetual shame and self repulsion. Now, I now this is not the case for all believers, I have a few religious friends but they are also becoming turned off by this and other factors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. This is why I think original sin is such a damaging and false theology. Instead of affirming the imago dei in each of us, the innate goodness of every human being, we are told we are bad and evil and sick. And then we wonder why people don’t like church anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ‘stop being a rock concert’ hm. why sing at all then? oh. is this a ‘rock music isn’t gospel music’ kind of rant? because Everybody knows only one type of music ‘identifies itself’ as gospel music. you my friend seem to have bought into a ‘formula’ for what godliness is. and That is what young people hate about x-tianity

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  5. Stalwart Sam

    I am reminded of one of the more insistent teachings of my Dad. Church is not a building. It is the people who are inside that make the Church. The building doesn’t need a steeple or a large dining room (Southern Baptists are renowned for their appetite). What it needs are people who care about the Faith. And I specifically say care because it doesn’t matter how long or how far along sanctification one is, so long as one is trying.

    Overall, I agree with the message here even as the scholar in me is curious about the larger picture of demographic shifts and the like.

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  6. Justin thanks for this post brother. I am a young pastor, seminary student, and blogger also. I’m glad I came across your blog and hope to see more of your stuff in the future. Authenticity is huge. If God is real people want to experience him. People don’t need church to be cool, they need it to be a place where they experience God. “Come to church, because our worship leader wears skinny jeans and smokes cigarettes” is hardly the way to accomplish The Great Commission, and our generation sees right through it…

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  7. Pingback: Year in Review: Top Posts of 2015 | Justin DaMetz

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