The “Millennials Leaving Church” Controversy
Over the past couple weeks, numerous commentators have responded to an article on CNN by Rachel Held Evans about why Millennials (people age 18-32) are leaving the church. Evans’ article is really more about why Millennials are leaving evangelical churches. One of the best responses I have seen is by Brett McCracken, another Millennial, in the Washington Post.
My thoughts about the question.
- Reaching the next generation for Jesus Christ is very important. We all realize that the Church is one generation from extinction, so strategizing the best evangelistic and ministry models is essential to fulfill Christ’s mission. At the same time, we should note that the Church’s dithering about young people leaving the Church is not new. The same concerns were raised in the 60’s and 70’s when I was growing up. One commentator indicated that the Boy Scouts and the YMCA were formed (over 100 years ago) because young people weren’t coming to church. In every generation, we need to consider this question anew.
- The Millennial Generation, just like all the generations before them, is not monolithic. One cannot presume to speak for “the Millennials” in total. The characteristics of some in that generation are different from others. We cannot presume that the Church can take a “one size fits all” approach and reach all Millennials.
- It is unhealthy for the Church as a whole to tailor itself solely to reach one particular group of people. Individual congregations might see a particular population as their target audience and tailor their ministry to touch that audience. But for all congregations to suddenly change to reach one particular generation would distort the overall ministry of the Church. Such a narrowly focused change would catch the Church up in the ever-shifting winds of culture, in a struggle to keep up with change that the Church can never succeed at. Not only would this be unhealthy for the Church, it would be unhealthy for Millennials to have the Church tailor itself just for them. It would only reinforce the consumerist mentality too prevalent among all Americans today and the “me” focus of some within the Millennial generation.
- What Millennials really want and need is the same as what older generations want and need—an encounter with the real, risen Christ. If Jesus Christ is present in our worship, our learning, and our ministry to others, people will meet him there. And meeting Jesus is the most important thing. Too many of our churches are just going through the motions and not truly experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in their worship, life, and work. The best thing the Church can do is encourage congregations to refocus on experiencing Jesus Christ, hearing his Word to us today, and responding to his call to join him in Spirit-empowered ministry in the world.
I am all in favor of providing a wide variety of worship styles, accommodating a multiplicity of learning styles, and facilitating a broad range of ministry opportunities in order to reach and disciple as many people as possible. As Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:22-23). The Church is here to minister salvation and healing to a lost and darkened world. We have been called to be “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (vs. 19). We will need to use all of our God-inspired creativity to reach as many different types of people as possible. Let’s look at the ministry of the Church holistically, not just narrowly focus in on a certain generation.
What do you think?