I write you on the behalf of many of my generation regarding the question of how to keep millennials interested and engaged in the Church.
I write as a friend, a church congregant, and—perhaps most importantly—I write as a member of that generation that only faintly remembers VHS tapes and cannot recall a time before the internet or cell phones. I write as someone who remembers being deeply upset that he could not watch American Idol’s second season finale because it went on far past his bedtime.
That’s right, I am from that funny lot of media-dependent, coffee-sipping teens and twenty-somethings that are just so hard to pin, and I have a bit of advice.
Call me audacious, but I would suggest that wondering how to keep the church interesting, for millennials or anyone else, is asking the wrong question entirely. The church is to be built upon a rock, not upon the changing times or cultural trends (see Matt 16:18). It is no more the Church’s job to appeal to the changing culture than it is Beyoncé’s job to preach.
I grew up in church. I remember Vacation Bible School, youth group, Sunday service, and six years of Christian school. In high school, I volunteered with an afterschool program that gave Bible lessons to public-school children and served on my church’s worship team. I had my Christian résumé down pat.
Despite my upbringing, however, I remember feeling great confusion and frustration when asked about what my faith said about topics like marriage and abortion. The truth was, I did not know. I had never heard a church leader comment on these topics. Taking matters into my own hands, I developed a perverse idea of “love” that meant anyone could “marry” anyone and men should give women their “reproductive choice.” I shared this idea with many of my friends as a “Christian” one.
I remember feeling great conviction when I toed the line of premarital sex, and I felt even more confused and frustrated because of the conviction. After all, as long as there was no “actual” sex, it was ok, right? That was what I had heard in church anyway. Why would God convict me? Was I just feeling legalistic condemnation?
Where my church remained silent, the culture was loud and clear. In fact, hearing about “taboo” issues in church was such a rarity that I remember actually being appalled when my pastor finally mentioned abortion from the pulpit—he only ever did once—calling it “killing babies” and encouraging the congregation to vote against it. I thought, “I came here for church, not to hear your political agenda!” In fact, his statement did seem to be merely political since he never referenced scripture to support it.
Little did I know, God’s word calls us to stand up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves (see Proverbs 31:8).
Had someone explained that fact to me, I would have gladly defended it. Instead, I was living with one foot in the world and one in the Church, being deceived by my leaders’ silence into thinking that I was all in for Christ.
Fortunately, I found a campus ministry that does speak out on these issues. My Bible study leader lovingly corrected the errors that I had accumulated through years of culture-appealing church, and my church family confirmed his instruction. I now love and respect my leaders and am confident in what scripture says about hot button issues.
So church leaders, I earnestly ask you to tell your congregations to stand up for God’s idea of marriage, to speak out against the murder of the innocent unborn, to teach that all sexual relations are made for the appropriate, covenantal context of monogamous and heterosexual marriage. People need you to stand firm on these issues, and God calls you to do so!
The Church must be a place of steadfast conviction as well as compassion. If I want to get my opinions on the tough issues from popular culture, I can get them at home. I can get them from Tylenol and Wells Fargo ads and from most of daytime television. I beseech you, on behalf of all those who are at this very moment searching for answers, please speak out!
Speak out because it will keep others from dealing with the baggage of confusion, grey areas, and “going too far.”
Speak out because others are right now leading their friends astray like I did.
Speak out because the culture’s idea of love is shouting louder than the message of the perfect love of Jesus Christ.
Ashby Neterer (another silly millennial)