“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”
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I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
It doesn’t have to be this way! How do I know? For the past four years, I’ve been involved in a mostly-millennial church. While we have our share of short comings, I’ve learned at least seven lessons about how to be the church in the millennial generation.
1. Look (and sound) like your city
When people ask me what kind of church we are, I say that it is “an Austin kind of church.” Austin is known for being the live music capital of the world, a start-up hot bed, the state capital, a world-class university system, a renown restaurant scene with more craft beer than you can drink.
So, when we try to live the church together in Austin, we do Austin things. We go on bike rides and participate in local festivals. We share space with neighborhood non-profits. On Sundays, you’ll hear references to the Longhorns, clips from This American Life, and Sufjan Stevens songs.
When a millennial joins a back yard party or Sunday liturgy they see people and hear sounds that are familiar. They need to know that they can come and learn about Jesus and still be themselves.
2. Be a safe place to come back to Church
When a Jewish friend started giving me a hard time about Michael W. Smith, I learned something about America: in many places, we aren’t un-churched yet, we’re more de-churched. Welcoming Millenials means being a safe place to come back to church. You need an environment that harkens back to good memories.
We have a Sunday morning gathering, practice weekly communion and sing a lot of old hymns. Doing something “outside the box”, like being a house church or meeting in a bar could be seen a stretch. Our gathering isn’t meant to be “attractional,” just familiar enough to be safe.
3. Wear your brokenness
The emotional highpoint of our liturgy is our practice of Prayers of the People. For a few minutes, the mics are open for people to share praises or petitions. The congregation responds with “Thanks be to God!” and “Lord, have mercy.” During these times, people have admitted huge sins, cried for hurting friends and shared a good laugh.
Millenials are thirsty to see authenticity in others. They have experienced judgmental religiosity and want nothing to do with it. When we lead with our own brokenness, others know they know they can be themselves.
4. Structure is your friend
One new visitor described our Sunday Liturgy’s as being “so structured that creative things happen.” We do the same things in the same order every week. This includes prayers of confession, call and response and the Eucharist. This gives us the opportunity to be both sacramental and creative.
5. Everyone has a role
Every Sunday, we begin by explaining that the word Liturgy means “work of the people,” and that means “it is everyone’s job to be a good host.” This is reinforced by constantly shifting who is up front. Different people read prayers or serve the Eucharist. The staff only preaches about 60% of the time. (They even let me speak on occasion!) Small groups are very small, and everyone has the opportunity to speak. If Millenials want entertainment, they have better options than your church. So give them a role.
6. Ask lots of questions
Since the word of God is alive and active, we don’t need to tell people what to do or think. Unpack scripture, and then ask the question: what would it look like for us to live this in our neighborhood? Millenials don’t need to be told what to think. Make space for the word to do its job.
7. Live in proximity
Millenials are thirsty for community. Community requires seeing people throughout the week. That doesn’t happen naturally in our culture. Our church began when 15 families moved together to a neighborhood. We ride our bikes to eachother’s houses. We grab dinner at neighborhood restaurants. We swim in the neighborhood pool. People are welcome no matter where they live. (We have a few who even drive in from Houston!) Reality is that it is easier to be in each other’s lives when you see each other every day.
We don’t have to worry about the “Millenial Exodus” because God has promised that the Gates of Hades will not overcome his church. We just have to decide if we are willing to get on board and be the church for the next generation.
How have you seen churches engage Millenials?
Over at the Reclaiming the Mission blog, I’ve thrown in my two cents in an debate between David Fitch & Ed Stetzer. This disagreement is over Ed’s data about megachurches and sheep stealing. Stetzer claimed that
about 44% of new members at megachurches are from other local churches– not 60%, not 70%, and definitely not 95%. I hear people saying 90% and I agree that’s a myth. (But it is still way too high… just like so many other churches.)
I wish it were 0%, and every person that joined a megachurch was formerly without Christ, but the fact is that people do transfer between churches. Yet, I don’t know of any research or real evidence (beyond “but I KNOW it is true, Ed”) that megachurches transfer more out of local churches, destroying them while benefiting their own growth.
Fitch argued that the data was suspect, but ceded the point that small churches are just as guilty. His larger point was that
The real proof that mega churches are merely playing in a game of Christian musical chairs is the fact that on a macro basis, the percentage of Christians attending a church over the whole country is still on a slow decline.
So in their friendly debate, they could agree that there were too many church transfers. The immediate question I asked is why is it people don’t want to stay? Why are they not so passionate about their community and their role within it that they can’t imagine being anywhere else?
Fitch and his team over at the Reclaiming the Mission blog have been kind enough to post my thoughts on “Three Ways to Keep Your Sheep From Getting Stolen.” Here’s a slice:
It would be easy to write off church hopping as a cultural phenomenon. You could even cite the individual for a lack of spiritual maturity. But churches have a responsibility as well.
Imagine if your sheep were so deeply committed to your church that it would be hard to accept a job offer in a new city.
Imagine if there was such a level of commitment that they would be willing to put up with poor preaching and bad music.
Church hopping and sheep stealing doesn’t have to be inevitable. But it will require doing at least three things differently.
(Read the rest here.)
What about you have you ever left a church? Why did you leave? What would make a church worth staying at?
Updated: The article was reposted here by churchleaders.com, which inspired a great discussion.
Seth Rogen has made a name for himself with a series of comedies that prove to be both thoughtful and raunchy. 50/50 ups the ante, by taking on a subject that may be one of the last taboos in our society: cancer. It follows the story of Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is diagnosed with spinal cancer in his late 20s.
Cancer simply serves as the catalyst for the movie’s real focus: adult relationships in the 21st century. Rogen plays the same foul-mouthed-over-sexed manchild that he plays in all of his movies. Gordon-Levitt’s character is a likable, nerdy, introverted guy who tries to “fix people.” The movies is a series of awkward moments focusing on people’s inablity to deal with the elephant in the room: impending death.
The charm of the movie is also it’s fatal flaw, it introduces a number of difficult issues, without really dealing with them. Gordon-Levitt is cheated on, yet bounces back with a sweeter girlfriend. His estranged relationship with his parents ends in him learning to pity them, rather than reconciling.
But most of all, the movie somehow fails to address it’s premise, the tragedy of mortality. Gordon-Levitt never tries to set his house in order, and barely grieves over his lost dreams. In choosing to make the movie about winning the fight against cancer, it fails to reach the depth intended. The movie reminds me of those pink “I ♥ Boobs” bracelets, that may be a great fundraiser, but also make light of a heartbreaking reality.
The movie’s shortcoming fits well into a generation that has left nothing sacred. We convince ourselves that sex is just about fun and commitment is out of fashion, yet we find ourselves alone. When we choose to run away from roots and families to hip cities (yes, I know I’m blogging this from Austin), yet we struggle to find solace in communities based on hobbies or partying. And death? Don’t worry about it. We’ll beat that eventually.
Philosopher Stanley Hauerwas talks about how, in a secular world, we have replaced spiritual communities with “churches” of sports or television or beer. These “churches” may provide distraction and relationships, yet they don’t have the ability to deal with the realities of life and death. And despite being the fact it’s probably the funniest movie ever mad about cancer, neither does 50/50.
It’s true that life is tough. And when you realize that it’s tough, it gets a little better. It’s hard not to get lost in the darkness. Suffering is immediate rich and important in a way that our small daily joys pale against.
Which is why it is essential to remember that life is good.
As I was leaving the Emmanuel Orphanage in Delhi, Lakshmi, a six year old girl with piercing blue eyes clung to me and cried “Uncle, Uncle!” She, and all those around hre had been abandoned and persecuted their entire young lives, but they still knew how to love deeply, in a way I struggle to remember. Life is good.
I know a guy who begrudgingly gave the keys of his car to a single mom he barely knew for two weeks. They are good friends now. Life is good.
A friend of mine has often thought that he could ever get a “good girl.” He felt like the only ones interested had different values and would treat him poorly. Then he met a girl, and has been attached to her at the hip ever since. Seeing them together is life seeing something that was always meant to be. Life is good.
Another friend of mine went to a foreign country to work with an NGO. His work was interupted when his teammates were captured, and he had to spend to next few months there negotiating their release. As heartwrenching as that was, he also sees it as the most important thing he has ever done. He took a furlough to recover, and is returning calmer, closer to God, and more excited about discipleship than ever. Life is good.
I get depressed sometimes. This summer was one of those. In the midst of that, I got a small, unexpected gift that helped shake me out of my myopic viewpoint. Life is good.
The scriptures teach when God created the world he called it good. When he created man, he called man really good. Then, sin wrecked all of that. Twisted and misshapen, like a fun house or a computer photobooth. But when we look behind the brokenness, we get to see that there is a heart wrenching beauty to it all.
The scriptures teach that this is not the way it was meant to be. Life is meant to be good. God has restored, is restoring and eventually will restore in full.
In time, the heartwrench will be over, and all we will see is that Life is Good.