I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
This piece so perfectly explains my lifelong hostility to Guitar Jesus Livin’ is Easy Mass, to which I was first exposed in high school by a very well-meaning pseudo-hippie fellow who thought if we all sat on cushions in a circle, instead of kneeling in a pew, that would make it seem less totally bullshit when he told us sex was only for procreation, not pleasure.
That kind of marketing is not only ineffective …
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
… It’s also profoundly disrespectful to young people, who are assumed to be shallower than their older churchgoing counterparts. The older folks are there for the substance from the start, so you can warble elderly hymns off-key and mutter in Latin, but the young’uns have to be TRICKED into listening to the word of God. Right from the start, you’re telling them you don’t care about them, you don’t trust them, and you don’t really want them there but you’ll put the sermons on an iPad if it makes them FEEL better because you’re just that big a person.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
No disrespect to JC or the people who genuinely do long for him, but I think more than anything people my age and younger want to be a part of something greater than themselves. We’ve watched previous generations either rise to their historic occasions or smash themselves on the rocks of their own self-interest, and we’d much rather the former.
We’ve seen what results when you find something to throw yourself into, when you find a cause or a way of life that’s yours, that you’re willing to grow and push and change for, and we’re hungry for that. But most of the traditional religious structures in America are interested right now in two things: Giving you somebody to hate and giving you somebody to vote against. Neither of which really fill any kind of void.
Give us something to DO, dammit. Don’t blather on about the Kingdom of God and how we’re all storing up riches in heaven. Show us how to make things better right HERE. You don’t need religion to do that, of course, but why can’t it be one way people get there? I mean, cripes. It’s not like there’s a shortage of poor people need feeding. For just ten seconds shut up about abortion and the great gay apocalypse and let people think.
It’s far less likely to lead them farther from the church than they’ll run on their own if you keep telling them the brains God gave them are only useful as hat racks.