Over the past several years there has been an explosion of conversation about millennials leaving the church, and the statistics are pretty daunting. For instance, millennials (those born from approx. 1980-2000) represent the largest group of religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. While there are many in the millennial category who have never attended church at all, there are also many who once attended church regularly but have now completely dropped out of church altogether. Recently, I read an article that gave twelve reasons why millennials are done with the church. Of those twelve reasons I picked out four of them that I’ve found to be common critiques of the church by millennials. Here’s my response:
REASON #1: “Nobody’s listening to us.”
· Further Explanation: This complaint is not unique to the church and it is not unique to millennials alone. We see many young people today protesting that their voices are not being heard on topics such as politics or education. But as we look specifically at millennials’ complaints regarding the church, their criticism is that they perceive problems within the church and that no one is listening to their critiques and solutions.
· Response: As I explore this complaint I must ask this question of millennials: To whom within the church have you tried to talk with about this issue? And how did you approach the conversation? As a millennial myself, I have found plenty of people in the church who are longing for fresh ideas and new strategies. But fresh ideas are typically not welcomed if you aren’t interested in the good of the whole congregation. Oftentimes I hear individual, self-centered solutions from millennials that offer little to no value for anyone other than those in the millennial category. So, if you’re in a church where no one is listening to you, ask yourself why. Is the problem with them or with you? Are your criticisms of the church entirely self-serving or are you humbly trying to understand and relate to others while listening to their ideas and concerns as well? Recently I read that we must seek first to understand before seeking to be understood.
REASON #2: “We don’t want to be preached to.”
· Further Explanation: The idea here is that millennials crave relationships, not preaching. While preaching might have reached our parents and grandparents, it just isn’t reaching millennials because millennials want to be mentored.
· Response: My question here is: Why not preaching? Do you think you have a better way? Jesus of Nazareth was a preacher. His disciples were preachers. The prophets who came before them were preachers. And the church throughout the last 2,000 years has been saturated with preachers. So, if you want to be discipled or mentored, then sit under sound biblical preaching. Sure, we can have one-on-one relationships with other believers who sharpen us in the faith, but nothing can replace sound, biblical preaching.
It’s possible that the reason you don’t want to be preached to is because you haven’t actually heard true, biblical preaching. It’s possible that you don’t want to be preached to because, sadly, you’ve only heard someone tell you what’s right and wrong, and you’ve never heard preaching that heralds the beauty and glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. The problem might not be with preaching in-and- of-itself but, rather, that you have never really heard preaching.
REASON #3: “We want to be valued.”
· Response: What does it mean to be valued? I’m guessing that many of the people who have this complaint grew up with presents spilling out from under their Christmas trees every year (as did I), had at least three meals every day (as did I), and had closets full of clothes (as did I). Then you go into the church and it isn’t designed solely with you in mind. You walk into that building expecting to be served and exalted (although no one would admit it out loud), but even if you were served and exalted, it would never ever be satisfying. The only real value any of us can ever find in this life is in Jesus Christ alone. So if your church is preaching hope in Christ alone, then that’s a good place to be. Your most important need in this world is not to have people cater to your desires, but to see yourself in light of Jesus Christ and to repent and cry out to God Almighty. We all rebel against God and now He calls us to repentance. But because our hearts are so hardened by sin, we won’t respond to that call apart from divine intervention. So you say you want to be valued? Find a church that values your soul and tells you of your great need for Jesus Christ.
REASON #4: “The church doesn’t care enough about the poor and needy.”
· Response: I agree with this statement, particularly in an American context. Our nation is greedy, and we often look out for ourselves first and foremost. But instead of criticizing everyone around you, including the church, I must ask: What are you personally doing for the poor and needy? For a long time I criticized churches for spending their money on big, fancy buildings when, in my mind, they should have been feeding the poor. But in the mean time, do you know what I was doing? I was pointing fingers and criticizing others for how they spent their money rather than examining my own generosity (or lack thereof).
Much more can be said about this subject, but let me offer one reminder to the church as a whole: While Christians are certainly called to be generous and compassionate, the church has been given a mandate to preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all the nations. By no means am I suggesting that we ignore our neighbor’s physical needs, but I do want to warn against helping our unbelieving neighbors only in a physical manner, all the while making them more comfortable on their way to hell. We must not neglect to share with them the only message that can actually save their soul – the glorious truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, there’s no question that these four points (and many others) could be discussed at much greater length, and I would love to examine them further, but let me make a couple suggestions to millennials and all professing believers: 1) Make sure that you are truly examining the church and yourself in light of God’s Word, rather than in light of your own thoughts and feelings, and 2) If you find a church that is not doing what you think it should be doing, maybe God has sent you there to fill the gap. So, instead of complaining that a particular church isn’t ministering in a certain fashion, why not join with that church and do the work of ministry that God has laid upon your heart? Remember, the church is designed to build up, not to tear down. So you will either be a part of the building up or you will be fighting in vain to tear it down.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to discuss these issues with you. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.