Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Millennial Church woes

A friend, younger than me, posted an article on Facebook entitled:

(take a deep breath)

59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why

It's a list of 12 problems Millennials have with the Church. I don't know how representative they are, whether they are the reasons, or whether there really is a horrendous Millennial dropout problem occurring.

Nevertheless, it's interesting, and the points are worth going through one by one. Read the original article to get the fuller picture of what I'm responding to.

1. 'Nobody's listening to us'

Not true in my church, at least. Youth are engaged in the actual service frequently, very much included in the prayer life of the Church, are asked for input and come to Church meetings. But it might well be true in some larger churches.

But let's not pretend 'listening' and 'agreeing' are identical actions. And this same criticism could be made about the younger people throughout the history of the Church - yet we're still here.

2. 'We're sick of hearing about values and mission statements'

Fair, good points, although slightly reductionistic on the love God, love others bit - absolutely true but it needs flesh on the bones to actually be any help (in the Bible's case, that's what the OT law is!)

3. Helping the poor isn't a priority

Again, can certainly be true. It is a core component of what the Bible calls 'true religion'. We should be seeking to do better with this.

4. 'We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture'

I'm not sure this really is an issue in the churches I know. We barely talk about culture at all.

But it's unclear what the author means by blaming culture. Blaming it for what? Is this a call for the church to be uncritical of twerking? It's not really clear.

Of course we need to be aware of our own mess. That doesn't mean uncritical acceptance of all the world tells us on how to think and act.

5. The "You can't sit with us affect"

Or Church cliques. It will certainly be a problem in some churches, but again, I don't recognise it in my own. Sometimes this criticism comes without an awareness of other people's circumstances, and from those who, themselves, aren't working hard to build relationships with others.

I've been at my church as long as it's existed. Every Sunday I set up and tear down a PA system. I don't get significant time to talk to people after the service. I therefore miss out on fellowship that others get - although I get to be friends with the other band members. That's not a clique that has no interest in welcoming others - it's a reality of Christian service. Come and help us, and you'll be warmly welcomed.

That's just one example of how the criticism of being a clique doesn't always hold. And the solutions offered in there are quite horrible really. "Let's start a connect team because people will only want to talk to you if they've been told they have to" is not the warmest welcome someone can receive.

6. Distrust and misallocation of resources

Again, our church is pretty transparent on this - and I think others are, too. It may well be significantly more of an issue in the USA, where the author is from. I think the author might not realise the amount of admin work this could also entail - are they willing to do all that? Do they really want to see the 'admin' budget going up at the expense of the 'helping the poor' fund?

7. 'We want to be mentored, not preached at'

A false dichotomy, but let's forgive that. Mentoring is deeply needed in the church and we need to get better at it. There is often a significant pastoral failure in this area (not just for millennials) and we need to improve. The idea of creating a mentor database is absurdly impersonal and inappropriate though.

8. 'We want to feel valued'

Don't we all? I mean, seriously - ask 92 year-old Ethel if she feels valued by the younger people. Ask the elders if they feel valued. It's not just you.

But the text of this paragraph is a sloppy mess of different points. My responses:

You are welcome as you are. You should want to be better. Not everyone is a world-changer who will get to live out their crazy dreams. But God can do more than we can even imagine.

9. 'We want you to talk to us about controversial issues (because no one is)'

Well, people are always talking to you about controversial issues. Sexuality issues are on the front page of the BBC every single day for example. But the Church does need to speak more about these things. And the Bible is often applied in very general senses, divorced from the real world problems people face.

I was thinking about organisation and task management recently. Being productive is a matter of godliness. Why isn't the Church helping people with that? This is a good and fair point.

10. The public perception

Again, serving the neighbourhood - great. Really great, let's do it. Start it up, we'll join in.

But let's not be entirely ruled by public perception. We will be called all sorts of names for following Jesus - and not entirely positive.

11. 'Stop talking about us'

Probably a fair point. I hear older Christians bemoaning millennials without much thought as to how to engage them. But I'd also like to hear millennials talk about a strategy to reach old-aged people. I'd like to see them get out and serve people at a care home. What are millennials doing to reach people of other generations? If all that exists are articles like this one (or mine), we do rather play into the stereotype.

12. 'You're failing to adapt'

Well, it's true and it's not. It's the same criticism levelled by the youth of every generation. And yet, the Church goes on. And although there are problems with numbers in some parts of the western Church, Christianity worldwide is flourishing, and the more conservative parts in the west are also growing. So perhaps this is overstated.

But the article has identified a number of things that I wholeheartedly agree with. Now - be that change.

Don't sit around, passively whining about the Church not doing enough X - go out and do it. Ask a respected Christian to mentor you. Serve at an old people's home. Give to the poor. Go and talk to the people you think are in cliques and show them gracious, hospitable love.

I see that the author is doing this - working in suicide prevention. Fantastic.

Let's all keep talking and seeking to get better together. But suggesting that millennials are justified in leaving the Church for any of the reasons above is putting the cart before the horse. If you are in the Church, it's because you recognise your need for Jesus, which cannot be fulfilled anywhere else. If leaving the Church, for any of the reasons above is even a consideration, then you're missing the whole point.

So, while the criticisms are in many cases valid, the only real reason people leave the Church is because they are not convinced of their need for it. Which means they are not convinced of their need for Jesus - which is at root, a gospel and theological problem - not a problem with Church life as much as with Church teaching.

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