Arguably the biggest issue facing the church among people my age (the “millennial” generation) is, well, the church. Churches have noticed the numbers and the fact that it really seems that they won’t last more than another generation or two due to the dismal number of millennials in the pews. So, once a church acknowledges the problem their next step is to decide what they’re going to do about it. Three prominent methods stand out.
First, most congregations in the church decide to stand pat. We have the truth, after all, and that should be enough to influence people to stay, right? Numbers don’t lie, though, and if we don’t change something and just continue on with the same plan of action, it’s only going to be a matter of time before we’re reduced to nothing, completely irrelevant. Of course, that very sentence alone is enough to scare many churches. We can’t change – we have the Gospel and doctrine and if we change we run the risk of not being God’s church anymore, or so some might say. Looking for flaws in our methods, examining ourselves a little bit more closely by the Book, and finding ways to relate better to the culture aren’t wrong as long as we stay biblical, though. One of the biggest factors in the last church boom was the development of the Jule Miller filmstrips. They represented innovation without compromise, something that’s been sorely missing for decades now, and something we can’t afford to do without any longer.
Second, a large number of congregations choose to follow the “Field of Dreams” model. This idea of church growth is built on the “if you build it, they will come” concept. Megachurches have had success with it, and so the temptation is there for churches to try to address our shortcomings in numbers by offering anything and everything people might want. You want a hip coffee shop as part of your church experience? Babysitting for your children (disguised as “age relevant” ministry) during class and worship? An all-encompassing program for your niche demographic (youth, singles, young families, middle aged, senior, etc.)? For denominations and community churches it means turning worship into a rock concert with light shows and high-energy bands, and sadly our congregations aren’t far behind in some cases. What millennials want, though, is a true connection that provides a sense of community. They can see how hollow and meaningless all the fanfare around these types of churches really is. So, they go looking for the opposite.
Third, in response to the second type of congregation, is the idea of missional churches. This is something that the denominations have been developing for a number of years, and it’s also something that millennial church leaders are pushing for today. A byproduct of the emergent movement, the idea here is to focus less on church and more on the love of God. Think of all the “I hate religion but love Jesus” material that’s come out in the last few years. Because people my age view religion as stuffy and heartless, they’ve revolted against the first two types of churches by gravitating to this third type, where the focus is on serving the people around us and having “conversations” about Jesus and spirituality. Generally speaking, the focus is not on doctrine. The ability to serve and reach out to the community alongside like-minded people allows folks to feel a sense of belonging and activity. While those are good things, the church should be about the work (and teachings) of Christ and not building ourselves up on our own works.
In attempting to summarize the three different styles of church that have left a whole generation so disaffected, it seems the problem is a matter of direction. The first type of church, focused mainly on tradition and “how we’ve always done it,” is caught looking backward. The second type of church looks inward, trying to figure out all the ways they can trap people once they come in the doors by providing them with the ultimate religious social club experience. The third type looks outward, finding ways to serve the community and downplay people’s dislike of religion by good deeds. The problem is that none of these methods looks upward. God is just a minor part of the equation, when His love for us and our dependence on His grace is all church should ever be about. Young people want something that’s real, and who can blame them? Until God is made the center of the church, though, we have no ability to give people that which is real.
By Jack Wilkie