The author of this editorial cites, in a few paragraphs, recent statistics and compelling thoughts and quotations, no doubt drawn from and expounded upon in her recent book, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church”, which forcefully suggest that, far from drawing people to the Church, CGM is actually driving them away from the Church. Using the same recent statistics, along with elements of her own story of leaving and returning to the Church (and those of others), the author further points out that, if Church practice is any aspect of drawing the unchurched, especially Millennials, into the Church, then “what works” is simply what the Church has been doing for the past 2000 years: “What finally brought me back... was the sacraments... you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the Church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained...”
Some excerpts from this editorial follow. Headings and emphasis are all mine. Hyper-links appeared in the editorial. Readers are encouraged to read the editorial in full. Noticing, of course, how some of the political concerns of the author may have colored her judgment and influenced her choice to join the Episcopalians, notice also how (in the editorial, at least) this is separate from the influence of the sacraments.
[NOTE: And I see now that Dr. Gene Veith has picked up on this article today (5/4/2015), too: Church growth tactics don’t work with Millennials. And again, today (5/5/2015): “The sacraments are what make the church relevant”.]
Disillusionment continues to Skyrocket, Church Growth Gimmickry continues to Fail...
“Church attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the United States, 59 percent of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those of us who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation at all, making my generation significantly more disconnected from faith than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as baby boomers were as young adults.
“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse... [A]ttendance among young people remains flat.”
Are Millenials leaving the Church because of Church Growth Gimmickry?
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a ‘classic’ church over a ‘trendy’ one, and 77 percent would choose a ‘sanctuary’ over an ‘auditorium.’ While we have yet to warm to the word ‘traditional’ (only 40 percent favor it over ‘modern’), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town. For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of ‘inauthentic’ is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials ‘are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion,’ argues David Kinnaman, who interviewed hundreds of them for Barna Group and compiled his research in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church... and Rethinking Faith...”
Insightful Quotations from Millennials
“I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly ‘relevant.’ I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community...” (friend of author and blogger, Amy Peterson)
“When a church tells me how I should feel (‘Clap if you’re excited about Jesus!’), it smacks of inauthenticity. Sometimes I don’t feel like clapping. Sometimes I need to worship in the midst of my brokenness and confusion — not in spite of it and certainly not in denial of it.” (millennial blogger, Ben Irwin)
“When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity... I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.” (the author, Rachel Held Evans)
Church Growth Gimmickry: Announcing to Prospects that you Think they are Shallow.
“While no two faith stories are exactly the same, I’m not the only millennial whose faith couldn’t be saved by lacquering on a hipper veneer. According to Barna Group, among young people who don’t go to church, 87 percent say they see Christians as judgmental, and 85 percent see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that ‘only 8% say they don’t attend because church is “out of date,” undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship “cooler”’... Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”
What “works” now is what has always “worked”: Authentic Christianity
“If young people are looking for congregations that authentically practice the teachings of Jesus in an open and inclusive way, then the good news is the church already knows how to do that. The trick isn’t to make church cool; it’s to keep worship weird.
“[C]hurch is the only place you can get ashes smudged on your forehead as a reminder of your mortality... [C]hurch is the only place that fills a sanctuary with candlelight and hymns on Christmas Eve... [C]hurch is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water... [O]nly the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.
“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.
“Church attendance may be dipping, but God can survive the Internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”