Many are reacting and responding to Rachel Held Evan’s piece on the CNN Belief Blog called, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.” From my vantage point, majority have resonated with Rachel’s big picture assessment. Of course some have been critical (that’s good), some have been uncharitable (that’s never good) and many are continuing the conversation as it is worth having (thats me – thanks for reading :)
The church is losing Millennials. Further the church has lost and is losing people from all the generations. And yes, many are finding their way to and back to church but we’re talking about this for the same reason Jesus gives the parable of the shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one lost sheep. And that reason is because everybody matters.
Yesterday’s post sought to explain why churches making style changes rather than substance changes (I argue because it is significantly easier). In the previous post’s comment section, my friend Dianna wondered if that was an unfair dichotomy (thanks for commenting sister). As I am one also likes to throw the false dichotomy flag, I think I understand where Rachel was coming from since I find her piece to be written with broad strokes but to be fair, I’ll do my best to avoid that false dichotomy.
In any case, I really do think RHE gets the problem. Millennials are leaving the church because they are not finding substance there. The overall message is not compelling to many of them. Further Rachel says Millennials have highly sensitive BS meters and this is what I want to unpack in this post.
First, I think everyone has a BS Meter and we all like to think ours is pretty sharp. Mine works most of the time. It works when I’m talking to people, it works in church, out of church, and sometimes it works when I look in the mirror. How is yours doing?
Second, I am not convinced BS Meters of Millennials are any more accurate than those of previous generations. The “BS Meter” aka our susceptibility to be gullible versus our ability to critically assess what is true and real is somewhat physiological and somewhat environmental. Thus, I’m just unconvinced it has evolved this quickly in an entire generation in such a short amount of time.
Third, that said, I don’t think Rachel is interested in who has the better BS Meter but rather (I think) what she’s really saying is Millennials are reacting differently when theirs goes off.
Fourth and finally, my suspicion is the BS Meters of Millennials is going off more frequently than in previous generations.
As our culture becomes more pluralistic and more post-Christian, each generation’s individual and collective assumptions and values will change as well. And the starting point of every generation will be relevant and thus we will have different individual and collective assumptions and values. If the church does not adapt to Millennials, there will be a greater chasm. Thus, Millennials generally will have no choice but to be more more critical.
Add to this, Millennials are more informed of what’s going on because of technological advancements and because of the financial incentive of the media to inform the public. We also now have the ability to broadcast whenever our BS Meter goes off and arguably no one does that more and/or louder than the Millennials currently (but we should watch out for Generation Z, who will likely not only broadcast louder and more often but will start at even earlier age).
As Rachel is saying, many Millennials’ BS meters go off towards some churches’ convictions of science and faith, the treatment of homosexuality, and the ever-growing skepticism of organized religion and if cheap consumerism in evangelical churches. Add these to the normal list of the hypocrisy we find, the racist attitudes, and not finding a sense of community in church or personal identity in Jesus, and you have an issue that is getting bigger and more complicated.
Further if the research and findings of the research of Christian Smith and Melinda Denton are accurate, many Millennials are inheriting a similar nominal or non-faith of their Boomer parents. We find the problems of one generation continuing to compound that of another generation.
So what can be done and how should the church respond?
One of my favorite Jesus stores is after he fed the 5000 in John 6. As you may remember the next day, many found Jesus on the other side of the lake. Some were looking for more food, some were looking for another sign, some probably had no idea of what they were looking for. Jesus began talking about how he was the bread of life and as we read John’s account, it was so very confusing to so many of them that they left. Their BS Meters were going off. And Jesus let them leave.
Jesus does not let them leave because he was unable to rephrase his words to be more understandable. Rather Jesus is a respecter of free-will and on the substance of His message was enough. It’s interesting to point out that Jesus would end up spending a lot of time in that area. I suspect that many who left would end up bumping into Jesus or his message later. I suspect that some believed His message later and some continued to disbelieve it.
It’s especially telling however that there is John 7 and 8 and 9 and so on meaning Jesus continues his ministry and as you read the book of John, you find the BS Meters of more listeners going off, especially that of the religious establishment, and sometimes even the disciples themselves. We would make the case that in Jesus’ ministry, He continues to give more and more without falling into the traps of being coercive, apathetic, overwhelmed or lazy. Every generation, every individual has their own story. Some will stay away, some will search longer, some will return and thrive.
The application for me is that no one wants to be duped and in our best moments, everyone wants to be careful to believe in things they find true, noble and worthwhile with this one chance they get to live at life. This is why we pay attention to things like BS Meters. I, and many, think the compelling narrative of Jesus to be the most true, the most noble and the most worthwhile. What I am not certain is if we as a church are sharing this narrative in “the most Jesus way” possible. And that’s part of the reason I like RHE’s piece here and it’s also part of why I do what I do. These are conversations worth having and sharing the hopeful, life-giving, redemptive message of God is worthwhile work.
May we seek the wisdom and leading of the Lord to be faithful with the message and love we have received from God so we can share it with all people in all generations.