Last week, Rachel Held Evans wrote an article about the millennials and the church. Her post has created a number of subsequent posts that triggered even more posts (Rachel has collected many of the posts here). This is a hot topic for a number of reasons. The millennial generation is the largest generation in the United States, and it is coming of age as we speak. The oldest millennials hit the work force a little under a decade ago and they are the back end of the generation moving towards employment and influence.
It is in vogue to talk about millennials and the research is starting to stack up. Researchers are taking notice of a number of differences as this group emerges. They are putting off marriage and families, leaving churches, tweeting, and joining urban tribes. All of these things have the older generations confused. For some, the differences amount to millennials being nicknamed as the “me generation.”
One huge statement Rachel makes is millennials want substance. Millennials are the most marketed to people alive and we have strong BS meters. This group has come to age in an era where motives have come into question. I wonder why congregations are so concerned with the emerging generation. Is it the concern over millennials related to upholding the institution or is the concern related to a genuine care for the millennials? If the care is genuine, I believe it will be shown in the ability to really listen. It will not work to send around a set of survey questions and create a ministry related to the data. This kind of universal packaging does not evoke genuine concern.
Congregations will go a long way to drawing millennials back when they learn that authenticity is not a slogan or a program. It is a commitment to the hard work of relationships. The mystery of the church is that it is the active body of Christ. The hands and the feet and the knees and the elbows. This reality comes to life as people draw together.
This does not occur when we are manipulated into a one-size-fits-all pattern. The mystery of the church is each person, millennial or baby boomer, is brought into the life of God with their brilliance and personality enacted.
This demands a personhood far removed from our bounded set of individuality, but this kind of community is the church I dream of and talk about with my friends. A place where the voice of my wife is listened to just a clearly as mine. A place where my homeless friends are made welcome and equal.
I know we in the “me generation” have our issues. We are over confident and prone to over sharing, but one thing we can bring to the church is a passion for substance. Scripture is clear the church is at its best when together we are helping each other more deeply experience the body of Christ.
So what does the church need to do to draw millennials? It needs to do the same thing it should do for all people. It should be a place where every person is welcomed to the table of the Lord. This table where all are committed to communal discernment and the expression of the body of Christ in its particular location.