A GEN X Response to Millenials Leaving the Church

Recently, I noticed an article floating around FB about why Millennials are leaving the church. I’m about as tired as I can be of articles that have titles such as. . .

“10 Reasons Why People Hate the Church”

and

“25 Things the Church is Doing Wrong”

and 

“50 Reasons for the Church to Change”

and

“5 Reasons Why Millennials (at “Millennials, you can insert “Women”, “Youth”, “Vegans”, “Elderly”, “PK’s”, “Dog Lovers”, you name it) are Leaving the Church”

Several of my friends shared the article about Millennials leaving the church so I decided to see why it was so interesting. After reading it, I wanted to join the conversation because I think it’s important for there to be differing perspectives shared over important issues.

First, I’d like to applaud the author for sitting down and writing out his thoughts. If you’ve never written a blog or a public article, especially one that is personal, it’s not easy to accumulate so many thoughts, sit down before a blank screen, and then do your best to articulate well what is racing over your heart and mind. He did an excellent job of organizing and articulating his thoughts and to that, I say, “Well done!”

According to the author, this is why Millennials are leaving the church. . .

  1. No one is listening to them
  2. They’re sick of hearing about values and mission statements
  3. Helping the poor is not a priority
  4. They’re tired of the church blaming the culture and want to be taught how their lives should differ from the culture (Isn’t that why the church talks about values?)
  5. No one is asking them to sit with them in church
  6. They distrust how the resources are being used (He mentions big buildings and celebratory bounce houses among other things.)
  7. They want to be mentored and not preached at
  8. They want to feel valued (They are told they are not good enough from the second they wake up.)
  9. They want the church to talk to them about controversial issues (That’s what we were doing when we mentioned values.)
  10. The public perception of the church needs improvement and this can be done by better serving the community
  11. They want the church to stop talking about them – they don’t want to be stereotyped (Is this ironic? Isn’t the church being talked about and stereotyped?)
  12. The church is failing to adapt (because it is not reaching the Millennials)

Conclusion excerpt:  “You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.

You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.

Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.

The truth is, church, it’s your move.

Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.”

 

Dear Younger Generation Who Feel This Way,

If you want a label removed, stop wearing it. I read this article and I thought, “This is why Millennials are given such a bad rap.” 

“Serve me.”

“Pay attention to me.”

“Let me lead.”

“Let me sit on an advisory board.”

“Sit with me.”

“Or I’ll leave.”

I run a non-profit and I would not recommend anyone sitting on the advisory board whose primary concern was about being served. I want advisers who have an outward focus and not an inward focus. The church’s primary mission is to share the Gospel and to disciple people to live lives that reflect obedience to and worship of Christ. 

Writing here as a GEN X person, here’s a few thoughts….When Generation X was growing up, for many of us our biggest fear was that we would die by quick sand. Today’s young adults, some of the biggest fears seem to be not getting enough likes on social media. Do you see how we were both silly?

When we were young adults, we thought the older adults were “irrelevant and approaching extinction.”  By the way, when you’re our age, the younger generation is going to think you’re also irrelevant and approaching extinction. See how much we have in common?

When we were growing up, we were told we were not good enough. Nearly everyone on the planet has heard they are not good enough from someone. It’s an opportunity to build character and work hard to prove you can accomplish amazing things. What people say about you does not define you, what you do defines you.

Sometimes the older people don’t ask you to sit with them in church because they don’t want to see your butt crack  or the outline of too many crevices and bulges that the skinny jeans push in front of everyone(if anything should approach extinction it’s skinny jeans). That’s one controversial issue we should address – if you’re going to wear skinny jeans, wear a long shirt please. But whether you do or not, the church door is still open to you.

We don’t understand man buns and murses and the other things. But we don’t care about them one way or the other with much passion. Why is that? Because the church that you despise cares about the following….

Showing up every Sunday morning to open the doors for the community to come in.

Making sure the light bulbs are replaced and the broken chairs are mended and the cracked door is fixed, and the building is sound when people enter.

Making sure a Bible is available to every person who needs one who comes in the building.

Preparing sermons and rehearsing them.

Preparing worship and rehearsing the songs.

Worship leaders and pastors gathering together to pray before the service begins so their hearts are confessed and clean before the Lord before they lead service.

Raising up leaders who are committed to staying in the church because time-tested commitment and endurance is a sign of a faithful leader.

Bible study teachers, after having spent faithful years supporting a Bible study and learning the Word (this is where mentoring and discipling comes in), beginning to lead their own.

Pastors and ministry leaders visiting with families in the hospital when a congregation member has a loved one dying of cancer.

The church thought it was serving you when it did all these things. Even by making coffee and making sure you have an array of creamers and sweetners available, the church believed it was serving you. You see, when GEN X was growing up, the church did not serve coffee, and we were told…

“Sit down and shut up and listen. Show some respect.”

Maybe GEN X should have said that more often to the younger ones when they became adults because all the articles written today talk about how Millennials are leaving the church, not how GEN X is leaving. We’re sorry we did not say that to you more often.

When we grew up, our parents took us fishing. When we went fishing, we learned that it sometimes takes hours to get a single bite. Sometimes, you had to return to the same spot over and over before you got a fish. And once you caught a fish, then the hard work happened. You took it home and cleaned it. And before you went fishing, you had to go get a fishing license and learn to follow some real rules.

When you grew up, fishing was available on video games. Within 10 minutes, you’d catch a fish and feel like you had really done something. Then you’d move on to the next video game. Kinda like what is happening with church today. That’s our fault. GEN X and the Baby Boomers created you and it is true, now we complain about some of you. But it’s not accurate to stereotype anyone, certainly not Millennials.

I’ll tell you about the Millennials I know. The Millennials I know are not off in the corner with their podcasts and sweatpants. Honestly, it really does not matter what they wear (but I really could live without the existence of skinny jeans). The Millennials I know are fostering children, fighting injustice, moving into leadership in their churches because they did not leave the church and they’ve spent years opening doors, making coffee, setting up chairs, and attending Bible studies.  They’re adopting children and they’re serving in the youth groups and the Pre-Kids, and yes, they’re setting up bounce houses. When they do this, they build relationships with others in the church and then they have more people to sit with during the actual church service. They did not fall away because the fact that the church was not providing everything they wanted or needed did not matter. This is because they looked to Jesus Christ and the God of the universe to meet their needs.

For anyone who looks to people or a group of people to meet their needs, they will always be disappointed. The church knows this. That’s why they don’t try to meet everyone’s needs. The church knows that God will reach who He wants to reach and He will draw responsive people to Him.

Since Generation X, abortions have fallen and global poverty has fallen. More churches have been planted and worship and Gospel sharing and grass roots non-profits have sprung from local community churches. We can’t take the credit for it. Instead, we thank the generations before us who took us to church and who showed up to open the doors and who made sure everyone had a Bible available to them. Our actions were a response to hearing the Gospel.

At our age, we’ve experienced divorce, death of children, addictions that have lasted decades, major diseases, and disappointments that are too many to name. In our time in the church, we’ve learned that only Jesus can heal our wounds, and we’ve also learned that every wound and injury is temporary. This is why when younger people get so worked up about small issues like who are they going to sit with, we don’t always give it a lot of attention. The big things are important to the church – like making sure the church door is open when the time comes that you get the news that your parents died or your child has been diagnosed with a terminal disease.

I’m not a church door opener. I work in a non-profit and am frequently outside the church. But man, am I ever grateful that those doors stay open because I need that seat.

Those bounce houses? Mentoring often happens when you show up to set up a bounce house with the older generations. The bounce houses started when you were a kid because the church wanted to please you. Now, that you’re older, you are complaining that we’re not still pleasing you. You’re an adult – it’s not our job to cater to you. Instead of bellyaching, maybe you could go lend a hand and set up a bounce house and work along beside the older person who took time away from his day to serve his church and community in this way. You see, when a church sets up a bounce house, it is hoping that the community kids will show up and that they will get a chance to meet the kids and their parents. Could the church leave and go knock and doors and get to know people? Yes, for sure. There’s always room for improvement.

When GEN X was a kid, there were no bounce houses. We played Red Rover. When you get clothes-lined a few times, it always takes down your ego. When your ego takes a few hits, your pride falls. When your pride falls, you become teachable.

When people become teachable, they’ll learn how to be a leader. But when you so easily fall away, as if the Bible in front of you and the message of the Gospel you hear is not enough, no church is going to ask you to lead or ask for your advice.

Maybe we should go back to playing Red Rover. 

In many parts of the world, people of all ages are gathering together in secret and are risking their lives to even read the Bible and to pray to the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. 

You can see all that is not and grumble that God is lacking to provide what you need through His church (Christ is the head of the church after all), or you can engage from a thankful heart.

I was like you, and I still am like you to some degree. I used to think the church was not reaching the community or serving the poor and I thought it was too clique-ish. And then I started serving the community and and the poor and created a community with the church involving people of all ages, giving them a place to serve. I did that because I realized when I was complaining about the church, that I am the church. Without the love, care and support of the church, I would not have been able to do any of it.

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re complaining about the church, you’re complaining about yourself.

PS:  Everything you write in an open blog, if the issues are really meaningful to you, go share it privately with a pastor in person. Be open to the discourse that follows. 

Tenderly,

Casey Alvarez

 

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