At the request of a friend, I wrote a response to Sam Eaton’s clickbait sensation “12 Reasons Millennials are Over Church.” This is my brief, unedited, response. It took me all of an hour to write, and while I could have spent days on it, this topic has been exhausting for me the last few years and I prefer to keep it as concise and pithy as I can.
I’m aware of some of the argument fallacies I’ve used. For some, I’m sure you’ll be able to see the irony in it if you know the original article.
To build my “cred” I’ll mention I am 23 years old, have been in “contemporary” churches and traditional churches. I was Catholic growing up even. Today, I find myself in a congregation that Eaton would rail against, and probably leave at the first sign of trouble. My response to the issues the church faces is much different than Eaton’s though, as I’ve sought to address them in grace and love and recognizing that if Paul needed the perseverance of the saints, then so do I. To some degree, I’d even raise the question of how mine and Eaton’s responses are informed. Mine is biblically and theologically informed. By no means am I perfect, but it is a much more sound approach. Eaton’s appears to be culturally and emotionally informed. If Eaton ever did see this, which I’m sure he won’t, I’d be open to discussion on this.
My response uses the same numbering and headers of Eaton’s for the reader to follow along with if they read them side by side.
- Nobody’s Listening To Us – The issue presented is that millennials don’t feel like their voice is being heard. When a church makes decisions they don’t agree with, they feel devalued and hurt. Well, the news is that the church is always going to make decisions that not everybody will be behind. Your biblical responsibility is to continue to love your church and support it. Above all, pray for your church’s leaders. Speaking of leadership, step up. Are you going through all of the proper channels to give your voice? This is where I believe polity is so important. Are you attending consistory meetings? Have you talked to your elders and deacons about upcoming decisions? Are you attending the congregational meetings where votes occur for large matters? Are you even trying to be an elder (the RCA’s youngest ordained elder at one time was 18, you’re never too young)? Are you putting in the hard work to have your voice heard or are you only complaining with your friends in the hip coffee shop? Even worse, are you just complaining to the internet in order to feel validated?
- We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements – Mission statements are not overly-religious. Not every church can have one mission statement. While ALL churches have the same Great Commission, not all can share a common mission statement. These are two separate ideas. Mission statements are based on context, felt needs of a community, and of course the Gospel. Mission statements point us back to our Scripture, then back to how we are to effectively minister to our communities and our people. A church in New York can not have the same mission statement as a church in rural Iowa. These two churches will have two totally separate approaches to how they go out and make disciples. A mission statement merely gives a frame of reference and, well, a mission. Loving God and others is at the forefront, but how do we do this in our contexts?
- Helping the Poor isn’t a Priority – This is just blatant overgeneralization. This is taking whatever personal experience you’ve had and then applying it across the board. Even the churches who do not value helping the poor we often do not include them in historical definitions of what a Christian Church should be. How dare you take away from the churches doing work to alleviate poverty? Also, the irony. Talk of self-centeredness and Americanization when at the core of this article is consumeristic, “this is how you cater to me,” language. And the talks of “talk to your people and organize groups to serve or connect them” is quite audacious. Take up your cause and talk to the people in your congregation about going out and serving. Want to serve the local soup kitchen but mad your church doesn’t send people? I don’t know, maybe organize a group of people from your church to go out and do it?
- We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture – You got me there. The church hasn’t been great at this. There is a small number of the church that are thinking about culture much better. They sit in the middle of both extremes. The extreme of condemning culture and the extreme of being so immersed in it that you’re not sure if you’re really a follower of Christ or just a practical Atheist. The writings of Richard Neibuhr is a good place to start. Maybe follow up with some Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, James K.A. Smith, Makoto Fujimura, and Andy Crouch. There’s a whole world of Christian theological scholarship on culture and how we engage. So, I’m going to enjoy my new Drake album while I sip my beer and think deeply and theologically about what is being said here.
- The You Can’t Sit With Us Affect – The church has hurt people, no doubt. It’s sin and needs to be repented of. With that though, we recognize that “hurting people hurt people.” While it’s not excused, it is a cause for all of us to step back and examine how we engage and treat people. The reason church feels like high school is because it’s filled with the same type of broken and fallen people that are in high schools. Regardless, we have to forgive “70 times 7” times when we are sinned against in order to seek unity. There’s no doubt it is hard, or that community will just automatically happen and be “authentic” (the irony of the Christianese mambo-jambo). Community and relationships are hard work. The hard work is what makes it “authentic” in the end. This goes for everybody and across contexts. Marriage, friendships, family, work, and church. But a calloused culture does not change overnight and requires perseverance to see the cracks starting to form. Help change a church culture or at least be the first step. And again, pray for your church.
- Distrust & Misallocation – Most churches hold annual financial meetings. Usually this involves a report of the previous year and then a budget proposal for the coming year. That budget usually needs voting on, but that budget is also open to discussion in that meeting. Are you attending these meetings? Most, if not all, churches will give you a financial report as often as you ask. Some even print weekly reports on the back of bulletins. Are you reading the bulletin or throwing them away? Have you contacted your church treasurer asking for a report? If you attend a church that provides no report or even a budget vote, then maybe find a new church. Don’t paint every church with a broad brush stroke. Never forget to give to your local church.
- We Want To Be Mentored, Not Preached At – Maybe check out one of those small groups or bible studies you were just railing against? Maybe in those small groups you’ll form relationships with people and find a mentor or two. Mentorship does not happen quickly or easily. Craving a mentor? Seek one. Does your church have elders? Ask one to be your mentor. Are you a young married couple? Seek out an older married couple. Mentorships come from relationships, and we already talked about how relationships require hard work.
- We Want To Feel Valued – First you complain about not serving enough and now you’re asked to serve and you’re complaining you do it too much? I get it, churches tend to abuse volunteers. It’s not a good practice. If a ministry leader won’t accept ‘no,’ see Matthew 18:15-20 for how to deal with those who sin against you. If the Gospel is being preached week in and week out, then you’re being told you are valued. The church may support you, but they are not required to be your biggest cheerleader to chase your big dreams, especially if that dream is not something that falls in line with the Great Commission or even, gasp, the mission of the church. The self-centeredness of this “the church should be believing in me and my dreams” is quite contradictory. What ways are you serving your church? What ways are you advancing God’s kingdom? Did you ever get around to starting up that soup kitchen group? Did you attend those meetings to voice your concerns? Church isn’t about you, and it’s never been about you.
- We Want You To Talk to Us About Controversial Issues – Why would we not talk about these issues in the presence of entire families? If we don’t then another generation is going to grow up and be upset about the same thing. All scripture is sufficient for all people to be taught from. Why would we create another bible study or small group when we need to be out there serving in the soup kitchen? Why would we make another program, which requires money, when we need to be giving to the local shelter? Which is it? No more programs created or serving? Or is it only programs that cater to you that should be created? Seems pretty self-centered and American. At this point, we can condense it into “Consumeristic.”
- Public Perception – We’d love to serve the crap out of them but you guys are too busy meeting in your newly formed small group to talk about hard issues. Another thing, for the church to be “the aroma of Christ” will repel many. Christ was whipped, beaten, mocked, shamed, and hung on a cross for the things he preached and proclaimed.Centuries of Christian Martyrdom have existed. While we’ve had it comfortable here stateside, it’s not exactly popular to be a Christian in Egypt. “If you guys would just go knocking on your neighbors doors and see how you can serve them better” won’t exactly fly when faced with possible death. Scriptures never tell us that God’s people will be received with open arms, in fact, it tells us the opposite. While we do need to serve our communities, it’s not for the glory of our own public image, but rather for the glory of God alone. Stop being concerned with what other people think of the church.
- Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something) – I’ll let you see the contradiction in this statement.
- You’re Failing to Adapt – Churches do need change. But so do individuals. There is equal responsibility here. Church is not going to become you’re ideal. Again, that’s consumerism. The church is to be a distinct people with distinct marks. The people will always be broken and fallen this side of Heaven. The church, as an institution, is not here to meet your every need. The church exists as a place for God’s people to gather in fellowship and to worship the triune God.The church is referred to all throughout scripture as the bride of Christ. We will sit at the wedding feast with him and enjoy the new creation forever singing “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest!” While you’re feelings tell you church may not be important, the never changing God tells us it is absolutely crucial and central to the Christian’s life to gather with fellow believers in worship. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ. While they have somethings to work on, so do you. We all do. Thats the “real,” “authentic,” truth. We’re all broken and fallen people. We all have to adapt and grow. We all have to put in hard work for community, relationships, and service. None of that happens when either side throws up their hands and says “I told you everything that’s wrong with you, it’s your move!”
Love your church. Pray for your church. Serve your church. Address the problems in your church. Not for your benefit, not for public image, not to simply put butts in the seats. Do it all for the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you for your time.