Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The statistics are in. My colleagues and I see it, experience it, talk about it, and ponder it. It appears that we all agree that millennials are leaving the church (or simply not coming at all), yet none of us seem quite sure what to do about it.
As a Naval Officer I was charged with training my relief, educating, mentoring, and educating those who follow us to take over for us when we are gone. Because of this our ability to develop relationships with younger people was a part of daily life. From my experience millenials grew up on easy answers, catchphrases and clichés, yet they are smart and aware enough to know that things are almost always more complicated than that.
When some of the millenials returned to church, it was not because of great programs, alluring events or a really cool "café" set up in the foyer. It was/is because they needed community and in our tradition, a return to ancient methods of worship.
Not all millenials are there yet. For many of them, the clichés are still maddening and alienating. Recently, I found an article by Addie Zierman who wrote about the top five church clichés that millenials tend to hate the most. What follows are the top 5 as well as some of my thoughts as well as Addie's:
1. "The Bible clearly says..."
Millenials grew up in the Information Age and have access to hundreds of commentaries, sermons, ideas, and books. They engage with Biblical scholars on Facebook and Twitter, and they see the way that doctrines - rooted in the same Bible - differ and clash with each other.
They are acutely aware of the Bible's intricacies. They know the Bible is clear about some things- but also that much is not clear. They know the words were written in a culture that we don't completely understand and that the scholars will never all agree.
They want to hear their preacher, pastor, and church family approach these words with humility and reverence. Saying, "This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong." This approach enlightens them and builds more trust than responding with The Bible clearly says...
2. "God will never give you more than you can handle"
This paraphrased Mother Teresa quote has become so commonplace in Christian culture that many are shocked to learn that it isn't in the Bible.
Inherent in this phrase is the undertone that if life has become "more than you can handle," then your faith must not be strong enough. Millennials may be a bit narcissistic, but they also know the weight of too much. They understand that they need help: Connections, Friendship, Sometimes therapy.
They know that life so often feels like entirely too much to handle. And they want to know that this is okay with you and with God.
3. "Love on" (e.g. "As youth group leaders, we're just here to love on those kids."
In addition to sounding just plain creepy, this phrase also has troubling implications. We may understand that they need help, but we certainly don't want to be anyone's project or ministry.
It may just be semantics, but being loved on feels very different than being simply loved. The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler...but deeper. It suggests that the relationship is the point, not the act of love itself.
And really, that's what they are looking for: relationship -that honest back and forth of giving and receiving love.
4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as "Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding"
Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who's in and who's out. We know our own doubtful hearts enough to know that belief and unbelief so often coexist and always have. Those of us who follow the Christian faith know that the world around us feels truer than the invisible God who holds it together.
Terms like backsliding that try to pinpoint the success of our faith, frustrate us. They don't want to hustle to prove our faith; we don't want to pretend. They want to be accepted and loved for who we are, a Child of God, not analyzed.
5. "God is in control . . . has a plan . . . works in mysterious ways"
Chances are many of us believe this is true. But it's the last thing we want to hear when something goes horribly wrong in our life. We are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well: Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting, the prisoner, the marginalized, the homeless, the hungry; The One who cries when Lazarus is found dead...even though he will bring Lazarus back to life.
We've heard many of them say that we like Jesus but not the church, and it's not because they are trying to be difficult. It's because the Jesus they read about enters into the pain of humanity where so often the church people seem to want to float above it.
In the end, it's not really about what churches say or don't say. What millennials want is to be seen, Understood, Loved! It's what everyone wants, really. And for this generation of journeyers?, choosing honesty over cliché is a really great place to start.
See ya Sunday!
Blessings & Peace
All Saints Messenger >