Recently, my article “A Millennial Anomaly? Why I’m Still In Church” ran on Ed Stetzer‘s blog, The Exchange (via Christianity Today). This is Part II of a three-part expansion on that article. Read Part I here.
Confession: Cheers is my current Netflix obsession. I’m only a few episodes in, but I can sing the entire theme song at any time of the day or night.
Sometimes you wanna go / Where everybody knows your name / And they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see / Our troubles are all the same.
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
If you’ve ever seen the show (and immediately had the theme song stuck in your head for days, or possibly weeks), you know that much of what happened at that bar was storytelling: Norm’s bad day, Diane’s super awkward blind date, Sam’s recovery from alcoholism, and Coach’s, well…Coach is the comedic relief.
They knew each other’s stories because they spent time together sharing them. Storytelling.
Yep, storytelling. It’s something we need more of in church—a community where we know each other’s stories and see we’ve all had similar troubles. We’ve already got the catchy songs (and the comedic relief).
So part one explained I’m staying in church because I love Jesus, and Jesus loves the church and isn’t finished with us. The final two reasons have to do with storytelling, something I’m deeply passionate about in both my professional work and my personal commitments. I think you’ll see why.
I’m staying in church because I believe in Storytelling in the Church.
It’s the information age and we can get great content at all hours of the day or night. We can stream sermons and listen to podcasts from all the greatest preachers. Just name one or five and their content is out there, which is awesome; people all around the world are being reached with truth because of these technologies. But I believe we are made for more than content—for more than just brain dumps.
We are made for community. We are made for hearing each other’s stories and telling our own. Why? Because stories build bridges and push us to grace in a way content cannot.
We can know a lot of stuff—all the theology, all the doctrine, all the Scripture–but when it comes to actually putting that theology, doctrine, and biblical mandates (like love and grace and kindness and compassion) into practice, we can’t go solo. We need people. Relationships. Community.
Keep in mind community happens wherever Christians meet; it doesn’t have to be in a local church building on a certain day of the week. The early church of Acts met in homes, broke bread together, and cultivated meaningful relationships. It doesn’t mention a specific day of the week, a dress code, or preferred music genre. So perhaps just because you may not see many Millennials in your church doesn’t mean Millennials aren’t in community with other Christians. Many Millennials are plugged into relationships where both content and community are at work, helping each other love Jesus and others better, aided by storytelling.
I’m still going to church because I need community and relationships in which to live out my faith. I can get great content anywhere I turn, but it’s in community I learn to practice that content and gain wisdom. Storytelling and story sharing is what brings the content alive in our churches. The iron-sharpening-iron Proverbs speaks of needs both content and community.
I’m not saying we need less content, but more community. More honesty. More authenticity. More storytelling.
Millennials aren’t looking for polished and shiny churches filled with polished and shiny church people. No. Millennials (and I believe most people) want to be in a place where we know we will be accepted (not necessarily approved of; there’s a difference). We want to find a place where people will be real, honest, and willing to share their story and listen to ours. No matter where we are in it.
I’m staying in church because we are all in the middle of our own story.
Because let’s be honest, most of the time, we’re all just a hot mess. Because this side of Heaven, we’re all in the middle of our own stories. We’re all still trying to figure it out. No Christian has arrived, and no Christian ever will. We all feel the effects of a sinful world; we make mistakes and we are mistaken-against, and we all need grace for each other. Because we are all in the middle of our own stories.
Storytelling and story listening in our churches can be summed up in one familiar word: mentoring. When we hare our stories with each other, we can say, “Hey, me too!” or “I understand you now more because of your story.” When I share my story with a person older than me, they might say, “Hey, I’ve been there, and here’s what worked for me,” or “I’ve never been there before, but how can I help you through this part of your story?”
And when I share my story with people younger than me, and listen to theirs, I can say, “Hey, that’s cool, tell me more!” or “I can see where this might take you, and here’s how you can avoid those pitfalls.” It’s taking the content and the truth we discuss and applying the grace and love Jesus teaches to each other in relationships.
But. We have to be willing to listen to each other’s stories, and have grace while we are all in the middle of our own.
I’m still going to church because I need people who love Jesus more than anything to share their story with me, and to listen to mine. To help me in whatever chapter I’m in, to love me while I’m in the middle of my story. And I’ll do the same for them.
Storytelling is key in our churches because it’s not a solo-sport, and neither is church. Both the Universal Church and the local church squarely rest on the idea that we were made for community. God made us for relationship with Him and with each other. Storytelling in the church is a game-changer for the culture and for the Kingdom. And when we fail to engage in stories, we fail to live out a major purpose of the Church.
I’m staying in church because I believe in the power of storytelling. I need your story and you need mine. You might even find out we’re more alike than you might think.
‘Cause you wanna go where people know people are all the same.
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.
So that’s why I’m still going to church. I can’t claim to speak for all Millennials on this matter, but I’m a Millennial and that’s my story. And this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of why Millennials are sticking around or leaving. If you’re a Millennial, leave a comment or connect with me—let me know your thoughts and why you’re still going to church or why you’re not.
If you’re not a Millennial, here are some practical ways you can love the Millennials in your church:
– Ask us about our stories and listen.
– Be friends with us; share your stories with us.
– Value our presence, and ask for (and value!) our input.
– Have grace for us when we don’t do things the way you’ve always done them.
– Pray for us—we’re all in the middle of our own stories.
Finally, Part III will address some misconceptions about Millennials in church. Stick around.