Stop Defining My Generation

Several nights ago, I had one of those nights where I couldn’t get to sleep because I was writing a blog in my head.

I always try to shut my brain off so I can just get some sleep, but without fail, it’s always better if I just write it all out of my brain!

My pet peeve words for at least the past year (depending on the word) are “authentic,” “organic” and “missional.”

I’m not going to go into why here. If you’re confused or offended, contact me and I can explain more fully.

These words have been excessively used to describe my generation – the millennials – when it comes to issues of spirituality and religion – particularly Christianity.
You see, when Generation X (mostly made up about 30-50 year-olds), discovered that their churches were growing older, grayer, and were having troubles retaining the young adults, they started asking themselves one critical question:

Why are millennials leaving the church?

It became the premise of tons of research studies and articles. These studies resulted in findings the pointed towards light shows, modern worship, and large churches being the reason millennials are leaving the church. These findings also seemed to suggest that what millennials are looking for is authenticity, organic faith practices and “missional living” (aka, “doing life together”).

So the conclusions from these studies have been used all over church culture to determine the methods churches should be using to reach all millennials and get them into our churches.

Here’s my problem with all of this.

The question, “Why are millennials leaving the church?” uses the word leaving which inevitably insinuates that the millennials they are asking about grew up in church or were steadily involved in church over a significant period of time.

I recently heard but have not verified a statistic that only 40% of Americans claim to have some kind of Christian background. I would venture to guess that, generously, only half of Americans with a “Christian background” have actually regularly attended church for a period of time. So we’re down to 20% of Americans. Then within that 20% of Americans, what fraction would you imagine actually represents millennials? Then, what percentage of that small percentage are no longer attending any church? We’re down to a fraction of a percent I would guess.

My point is, it seems all the research to find the answer to this question involves only a tiny fraction of Americans. And that tiny fraction is made up of people who grew up in church and are in the most entitled generation of all time (maybe an exaggeration… maybe not).

What about the people who didn’t grow up in church? What about the people of other religions? What about the homeless or the drug addict or the wealthy business man or knowledgeable academic?

Why would we then use what research has found true for such a small percentage and use it to explain what an entire generation is looking for in a church?

Here’s my theory – coming from a millennial, not a Generation X researcher.

Millennials who grew up in church are leaving for one of two reasons:

1. They’re leaving because they were presented with the real Jesus and chose not to accept him for various reasons.

2. They’re leaving because their church and parents failed to introduce them into a real relationship with Jesus and disciple them in that relationship, helping them grow into a real and selfless faith.

Reason #1 is simply a human exercising his God-given freewill.

Reason #2 is an immature and self-centered product of an entitled society and negligent Christians.

Keep in mind before you tell me I’m being too harsh: I did not say all of these people fit into Reason #2.

You see, I don’t believe even slightly that the majority of my generation is turned off by a modern band, showy lights, buildings constructed with excellence, etc. I believe the people who don’t like that either grew up with it (part of that small fraction of the population) and saw nothing real behind it in their own individual situations, or it’s simply not their personal preference.

And I believe millennials who make a blanket statement suggesting a certain preference is inherently wrong and ineffective are simply being self-centered. And self-centeredness within the Church results from a lack of spiritual maturity (obviously, as Christians mature they are to strive to be more like Jesus who was the most selfless human ever).

These people do not seem to care that something they don’t like may in fact be what reaches a large percentage of the unchurched. Personal preferences aside, unchurched people simply want two things: (1) for church to be a place where they feel comfortable, and (2) religion to be something they connect to spiritually.

These people fail to realize or accept that we’re called to deny our own preferences to reach souls for eternity. 

So frankly, I don’t care about the opinions of people who call themselves Christians yet remain this selfish and quit church for these reasons.

The only part of these “millennial v. church” studies I find any benefit to is that their conclusions call those of us in the Church today to step up our game!

We need to make sure those who have been entrusted to us and those who trust us truly know the answer to, “Why Jesus?” We need to introduce them to a relationship with Jesus, and help them grow and mature in it, able to defend their decision. Then, we need to take on the responsibility of showing them Jesus’ why – why did he really come and what is our purpose after salvation? How do we best serve him, fellow Christians, and the lost? How can we truly become more like him, imitating his attitude of selflessness and servanthood?

And let’s keep in mind, the parents of these millennials spent so many more hours per week influencing or not influencing their children than the church did. I know from being married to a student pastor – we get the students 1-4 hours a week, if that. We take our responsibility extremely seriously, but the ultimate responsibility is not ours.

So my plead to these church leaders from Generation X and some Baby Boomers:

Please stop telling me what I think based on this research of such a small percentage of people! 

Next time you’re in a meeting telling us what our generation thinks and wants, stop and ask us if it’s true!

Stop defining me and my generation without surveying the whole of this generation!

Please stop making blanket statements that ultimately stereotype and create false stigmas!

And please don’t assume that because one thing is your preference, the other side is wrong, harmful, ignorant, egotistical, arrogant or ineffective.

Most importantly, please don’t become so focused on the few that chose to walk away that you forget the multitudes who haven’t even been presented with the option [in the U.S. too!].

I can honestly tell you, the way everyone in this discussion has defined my generation is not true of me or most people my age I know.

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