Remember when it was all the rage in mainline churches to write and preach about how different it was to try to reach Baby Boomers, then Gen Xers? Now we are faced with the same challenge to reach Millennials. It seems that things never change for mainliners – we are always behind the curve, looking out at the independents going about the business of relevantly sharing the Gospel, while we sit in our stain glass buildings, using our church calendars, building our sermons around Lent, Easter, and Epiphany, all the while wondering why when we look out over our congregations we see a sea of gray. We have met the enemy and it is us.
And what gets me is that the average mainliner believes the problem lies with the young people who aren’t in worship rather than the problem lying with us. It’s as if all the church has to do to grow is for the unchurched to change their ways. We never stop to think that we are the ones who must change our ways.
I’m part of a church that is full of Millennials. I watch them fill the auditorium from the front to the back because, like a concert, they want to be where the action is. I see their tattoos, their crop tops, their flip flops, etc. and I watch them lip sink the songs. They are engaged. So why aren’t they found in most mainline churches? The answer is simple –
Want the answer? Most mainline churches aren’t relevant. We don’t understand that we are living on a mission field. On a mission field you must understand the language, technology, and the culture of the people in the mission field. That means leaving behind most of what mainliners consider important like liturgy, hymnals, archaic words, and above all, a phony atmosphere.
The church I attend is full of young adults under twenty-five. It uses hard rock music and talks about things like sex in worship. The pastor spends most of his time outside the four walls of the church. And he wouldn’t know what a Lectionary was if it bit him. He has a Board of three people who aren’t members of the church and has few meetings to go to other than staff meetings and meetings with non-churched individuals. But our church is full of young adults. And yes, I regret to say it’s not a mainline church.
So, yes, it’s harder to reach Millennials. Yes, they don’t like the hypocrisy of church people. Yes, they don’t see the need for organized religion. But so what? None of that changes the Gospel and the mandate for us to “go make disciples,” emphasis on GO. The key to reach Millennials is the same as it was for reaching Gen-X only harder – you have to walk and talk the Gospel in their language and not the language of the church. They don’t know the Gloria Partri; they don’t know what Lent is; they don’t care about religious holidays. But they do care about grace; they do care about taking care of the world they live in; they do care about fun holidays; they do care about honesty and transparency. And they aren’t going to come to your church on their own. So like the father in the Prodigal Son Parable, we must meet them half way instead of waiting for them to come home.
So here is my suggestion. Get over the fact that they don’t like your worship and you sermons and start acting as if you are actually on a mission field where you are the odd person out. You must learn a new way to communicate the same Gospel just like Paul did at Athens when he told them about the Unknown God. Close your office; throw away your Lectionary; quit using an order of worship and canned sermons; and take the colors off the altar. Better yet, get rid of the altar. I read somewhere that Jesus ascended from the dead and sits at the right hand of God. So why the altar? It’s time we began to walk the talk if we want to reach