It’s one thing to read blogs about the disappearing millenials from Church, it’s another to be one of the few millenials who for some reason beyond their comprehension still goes to Church. It’s just, millenials are not the only ones that are absent. There are a lot of different people who don’t go to church for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes I get the feeling that the elders only recognize two age groups – and the other one is everyone else who is younger than them.
When I look around my church, and the last church, and the church before that – I cannot help but notice very few people my age. Just as few that are slightly older. Just as few that are slightly younger. In some cases – I’ve been the only one. My age group is easily outnumbered by the children still at school three or four to one.
The reasons that people don’t go to church have very little to do with the year in which they were born. They have everything to do with the sum of our experiences in Christianity. The more bad experiences we endure, the less likely we are to want to put ourselves through them. The more good experiences we have the easier it will be to attend.
But it’s still difficult to bridge just a massive chasm when we don’t understand the root of the issues. Some of it is the chasm between the churched and the unchurched – how many traditions can be simplified without losing their integrity? What must be held onto and what is allowable to lay aside? Some of it is the chasm between old traditions and new traditions. What music is best? What style is most appropriate? Some of it is the chasm between practice and image and how one acts as a Christian. What must Christians believe? What must Christians look like? Some of it is the chasm between what is right and what is wrong and just how that distinction is made. Are Calvinists Christians? What of Arminians? Is Complementarianism correct? What of Egalitarianism? Must one believe in Calvinism or Arminianism, or is neither an option? Is Complementarianism or Egalitarianism a requirement? How are single people to live, then? Which denomination is the most Christian of them all? You see, it’s not just the question of hymns vs contemporary songs, but there are much deeper spiritual issues.
Growing up in a Christian church can be quite confusing – one day you’re the center of attention singing contemporary songs to your heart’s content, the next you’ve graduated to the next level and are expected to have mastered singing hymns overnight. Churches do a very good job being fun – thanks to Vacation Bible School they have perfected that skill. They do not do a great job explaining their beliefs – why they do what they do it to children from the start. When my church began a ‘Children’s Moment’ the decided that the end of each session would be a time when the kids would say these words prior to getting their toy and/or candy: “All for one … and one for all!” The problem is that they were never told where that was from or what it means other than “we’re all in this together” which could mean anything. After all, to them they’re all in this school together, or all on this sports team together, or all together in this church. They’re just told to say the words to get the reward. The same thing happens when creeds have to be recited in unison for the adults.
It’s just, it doesn’t feel like there is much of a reward for saying the right words or (trying) to sing the right songs. Children get candy and adults don’t even get that much.
In a world where it’s so easy to get some degree of instant gratification from raiding a castle, conquering the enemy army, finishing level one hundred and nine, or enjoying a book, movie, or song – making it through a church service with no return on the investment of the time spent can be difficult especially when it’s service is optimal for others and detrimental for you due to having different tastes. Imagine what it would be like for you to go to a church that is the opposite of yours – if you do hymns then a church with contemporary music, if contemporary music then hymns. If your preacher is laid back and quiet, imagine one loud and animated. Imagine traditions or customs you don’t understand, or the absence of traditions or customs that you consider to be vital. Imagine that the rules were laid down some time ago and cannot be changed – imagine that you are not fulfilled by the experience but drained. Would you want to repeat such a experience one a week indefinitely?
Even if there was a church that was tailor-made to suit the preferences of millenials, I don’t think that it would be full of them – the issue isn’t always style but substance. Many people are leaving churches because of a lack thereof. Our church thankfully decided to start Bible Studies – unfortunately it’s through books that carry insights like: “Fear is like a shadow, it only seems big when you face it – but it disappears when you turn toward the light.” Replace ‘fear’ with ‘sadness’ or ‘worry’ and the main point of the metaphor holds. Look – if we wanted self-help books, we could help ourselves to them from the library. We come to church for something deeper and it seems like it’s pretty shallow. I think that most churches fear that if church is too deep then people won’t be interested in it. The problem is that it’s not deep enough.
Many churches in my area are in terms of denomination and style clones of each other. They do not offer different styles even in the same denomination. There is no going somewhere else to find what I’m looking for. In church after church after church there’s just not a lot of young people – and in these churches some are contemporary and some are traditional – but both have the same theology that they emphasize: the one that gives greater value to elders than to youth, to families than to individuals, and to certain people over others. This puts us at a disadvantage and we see no reason to exist in a situation where our input is unwelcome, our ideas never make it past the committees, and that our abilities are denied. When we read the Bible we don’t see how Jesus would have arranged things that way – wouldn’t he want everyone to be involved in a sort of ‘all hands on deck way?’ Sometimes I think the people that don’t go to church could run it a whole lot better than the people who do go to church if they were given half a chance.
Which is why the endless questions about the disappearing millenials preference for traditional or contemporary is more or less a red herring. The issues are much more profound, impacting people of all ages and nobody has any ideas about how to make a real lasting change – to turn things around for the better. Well, I have an idea – but it won’t be a popular one: do everything differently. Try to make new mistakes and learn from them. After we’ve made all the wrong mistakes, hopefully we’ll start doing things right.