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 III of a three-part expansion on that article. Read Part I here and Part II here.
Alright. Now that you know why I’m staying in church as a Millennial, it’s time to do some mythbusting about Millennials and The Church. First, the cool factor. Hint: It’s a myth. Commence the busting.
Forget Being Cool
Myth #1: All Millennials want is for a church to be “cool,” “hip,” or “relevant.”
Millennials aren’t looking for skinny jeans and fog machines—and we try not to be insulted by the assumption of such superficial standards. The cool factor is a myth. We’re not interested in how cool you are as much as we are in authenticity—real, honest, and humble relationships.
Now I know your church probably doesn’t have an official dress code. But if I walk in wearing jeans and drinking coffee, what kind of looks will I get? Will I be welcomed or once-overed? Will someone say something about my attire? If we feel like we aren’t welcome because of what we’re wearing, this may not be the church for us. Jesus’ Gospel doesn’t make such strict rules, so why do churches?
I think it’s perceived that Millennials want churches to be “cool” because many times (not in every case), the churches with skinny jeans, fog machines, and coffee are often the churches that welcome people of all backgrounds, styles, and stories. No once-overs. Just authenticity.
Also, please know we aren’t wearing jeans to be obnoxious; it’s usually because that’s the style of who we are. And if we truly believe the Gospel, it shouldn’t matter what anyone wears to church on Sunday. Jesus knows us all and loves us all, regardless of what we wear or where we’ve been. That’s the beauty of the Gospel.
Too Single For Church
Myth #2. All Millennials walk away from faith when they go to college and never come back.
Most Millennials right now are between the ages of 17 and 37, give or take a few years on either side. The prime marriage-and-family years. And marriage and children are often catalysts for going to church. Parents may have fond memories of Sunday School or VBS as a kid and want to give their kids the same thing. Or maybe they never went to church as a kid and want to explore that opportunity for their family. Whatever the cause, families are often the reason people go to church.
And churches have responded well to this; they’ve seen the need for marriage and family ministries and have answered the call. Programs are adopted or crafted to meet this need, and I’m glad churches are caring so well for marriages and families. Don’t stop.
But Millennials aren’t getting married as young as previous generations—or at all—and this is a cultural phenomenon many local churches have missed. Seeing a family-oriented church culture, many Millennials who don’t fit the marriage-and-family mold aren’t quite sure where to go. We’re often met with a “when you get married…” tone, as if we’ll have to sit at the proverbial kids’ table until then. We’re relegated to “college and career” groups (which are two very different life stages) as a holding tank for when our real lives start. It’s easy to, as a single person, feel invisible, as though we’ve slipped through the cracks, or there just isn’t a place for us. Much of this would be solved by a reevaluation of messaging and communication, not simply more programs: how are you truly communicating love and acceptance to single (or single again) people in your church?
(Also, we beg of you, please no more single-and-ready-to-mingle groups.)
Find the Millennials or the single/single-again individuals in your church and find out how they might be helped and loved. Maybe a housewarming party or a card shower or even a cup of coffee would show them the kind of love they need from the Body of Christ.
Have You Asked?
Myth #3: Millennials are gone and nobody knows why!
Typically, if you have a problem and you also have access to a primary source that might help you solve that problem, that’s the first place you go. Kind of like how I would always ask my engineer-brained brothers for help with my algebra (okay, I still do). But for all the head scratching about Millennials not being in church, I’ve never once been sought out as a Millennial to help solve the problem. It sometimes comes up in conversations, and I usually offer my two (okay, three) cents. But nobody has actually asked me, a Millennial, why we’re leaving. (Or why I’m staying.) Not that I’m aways waiting for people to come to me; I’m always willing to (and often do) have conversations about anything. But I also don’t want to be the person who always has something to say; in all honesty I often do, but I don’t have to always say them, and I try to keep most things inside until someone’s ready to hear them.
Until now, apparently, since I’m writing about it. 🙂
I’d simply ask that, before making off-the-cuff comments about the absence of Millennials in church, please talk with us. Get to know us. Hear our stories. Work with us to brainstorm on reaching more Millennials. We want to be involved. We want to be part of a healthy, thriving church full of authentic people loving Jesus. But sometimes, we feel invisible. Sometimes we feel unwanted. And sometimes, we don’t quite know what to do with those feelings. We really do want to be part of the solution. But we often feel like we’re the problem, and we’re not sure how or where we fit into the solution. So we need your help. And we want it, too.
Bridging the Generation Gap
Millennials have work to do, too. We’ll have to strap on our adulting pants and make the sometimes difficult journey from the church parking lot through the lobby and to the seat. We’ll have to see past the awkward bulletin handoff and speak with confidence to those around us in the ever-delicate dance of after-church small talk.
Because the authentic relationships on the other side of the church lobby experience are soul-feeding and grace-giving.
But sometimes we have to go first. Which is a gift of authenticity that almost always returns twofold. It’s worth it, friends.
Now, let us go forth and love each other as Jesus so longs for us to do.