I discovered a series of articles today on why the millenials are leaving church. Its fascinating. If you have not see them, start with Rachel Evans post on CNN, and then follow it up with responses from Brett McCracken and Trevin Wax. Or you can just use your favourite search and engine and be overwhelmed by responses. While I will not respond directly to much of what is being said in these three articles, a couple of things have stood out to me.
Firstly, it is fascinating that this topic garners so much attention. While folks like McCracken and Wax feel the need to correct statements Rachel Evan’s the whole discussion at least shines a light on something important. Belonging to a faith community and keeping people engaged in this faith community is important and relevant. I would like to argue that this should not be a discussion about numbers, but about discipleship. In the end, Evan’s piece has hit some nerves and at the very least, it is becoming harder to ignore good conversations about the church.
Secondly, I enjoyed Evans comments about aesthetics. She seems to argue (and at times she is misunderstood in this) that millenials look for depth in relationships, conversations and community rather than aesthetical changes . While I do not agree with all the details she spells it out, nevertheless I once again see this as a challenge of discipleship. Are churches today focusing on entertaining or on discipling? While the opposite is also true (see below) the challenge remains to stop seeing belonging in faith communities as an act of membership to an act of participation. In other words, if Evans is correct the millenial’s challenge to the church could at the very least be a demand to be discipled, to be invited into participation and to not just be entertained (this is why Evans wants to invite church leaders to sit down and listen to young adults).
Lastly, while this seems to a large extent what Evan’s proposes, both McCracken and Wax make a valid point, namely, that discipleship becomes entertainment if it is done to please, to appease and attract. The Gospel at times is imperialistic, uncompromising and demands commitment. Discipleship is an invitation and a command by Jesus, not a program to attract others. It demands self-sacrificial love, it promises suffering and it stands opposite to the world’s demands of loyalty. While Evans’ statement that millenials cannot find Jesus in the church anymore must be an invitation to self-reflection for the churches I cannot but wonder what makes me (and all other millenials) great enough to question Jesus presence anywhere. In the end, the church does not present us Jesus on a platter, it invites us to seek for him.
Where does that leave me? In the middle, probably. At the very least, I think questions of the sort millenials raise are good. While these questions are not always asked humbly they invite us to a valuable exercise of questioning church boundaries, theologies and ideologies. And precisely because they often come from worldly concerns, it provides a ground for the church to point back to the Bible and to re-identify its space in a world of shifting loyalties. To be completely insular, removed from this world, does not seem to be an option. To be fully “relevant” is not one either. In the end millenials invite us once again into the discussion about discipleship in a world of consumer soteriology. For this at least we should be grateful.