We have lots of programs—but what are we saying with them?
By G. Connor Salter | Contributor
If effort is the only measure of success in the Church’s attempts to reach millennials, then the Church is doing great. There are plenty of youth group programs dedicated to reaching young people. Christian organizations supply dozens of articles, Bible studies and other resources to help young Christians thrive.
Yet according to research from the Barna Group, the overall picture isn’t very good. Their recently published book “You Lost Me”by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins found that 59 percent of young Christians have stopped regularly attending church. Kinnaman and Hawkins noted that these young people aren’t always rejecting Jesus, but they’re rejecting communities that would keep their faith strong.
If a lack of effort from the Church isn’t why millennials are leaving, the new question is what we as members of the church are communicating with all these resources for young people.
The Barna Group’s study found that millennials often criticize the Church for being out of touch. The young people polled described modern Christianity as overprotective and scared of the secular world. Kinnaman and Hawkins summarized these attitudes by saying “This generation does not see a divide between the sacred and the secular, at least not in the way their parents do.”
Several notable Christians (including VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer and recent Taylor chapel speaker Amy Peterson) have noted that many Generation X Christians emphasize the difference between the sacred and the secular. Generation X includes people born between 1961 and 1981. To Generation X members, full-time ministry work, such as pastoring or missions, was the most holy activity a Christian could pursue. Being a good Christian was about going abroad or contributing to an individual church. Serving God in the secular world, a lifestyle many millennials value, wasn’t even on the agenda.
Generation X’s attitude had a negative effect on how Christians use their resources. Christians, especially evangelical ones, have their own sub-culture of Christian products, entertainment and even news outlets. But until recently this sub-culture always focused on Christians making religious resources, emphasizing the divide between the sacred and secular that millennials dislike. Christian artists or entrepreneurs working in the secular world tend to be ignored.
So, the Church has plenty of structures and resources for reaching millennials. But millennials want to know how to deal with society’s problems, and most Christians avoid that topic unless it involves full-time ministry or perhaps politics.
The good news is that the situation is slowly changing. New Christian publications, such as RELEVANT magazine, focus on how Christianity intersects with American culture. New Christian organizations, such as the Verge Network, teach people how to spread the Gospel in their neighborhoods. As pastor Alan Briggs said in the title of his recent book, staying is the new going.
The ground is shifting under the feet of the American Church. We’re moving from a view that was all about dividing the things you do for God and things you do in your regular life to a view where those two can mingle. If we support this change, the Church can attract millennials. If we fight it, the millennial exodus from churches will likely continue.