For the Millennials, the simplest solution to the tension is to disconnect from the church that they perceive to be inauthentic and irrelevant, and quietly hold on to faith, privately sorting out what they believe. To a great extent, we have sent them searching in the wrong place. It is not that beliefs, doctrine, denominational creeds are not important – but Christianity is not merely a creedal system. It is not essentially a set of propositional truths. It is faith in a person – Jesus Christ. There are, of course, principles that illuminate our understanding of the person. Yet, it is so easy, to reduce Christianity to a set of principles and lose the person, Jesus, in that process. It is the person this generation needs, not merely beliefs about him. That means that churches must work on being Christocentric, not merely sharing Christian principles and furthering institutional goals. Millennials appear hungry for God’s Presence, more than religious perspectives. Nine of ten Millennials, who are currently unchurched, feel they can achieve a good relationship with God and learn about Christianity without being engaged in the church. Sixty percent are turned off by the church for one reason or another.
Older conservative Christians and their churches have already distanced themselves from the culture, as it has grown increasingly hostile to Christianity. Millennials don’t want to be a part of a culturally irrelevant church. They have to live and work, converse and interact in the anti-Christian culture. They do not want a once-a-week exercise in supposed godliness. They want Jesus, if he is real, on their job and in their lives. They do not want faith as an enriching additive; they want a holistic faith. They want a church or peer-group that allows for participation. Involvement, activity is a priority for them, but it has to be offered on flexible terms.
This doesn’t mean that they are faithless. According to Barna’s research, 60 percent pray, at least weekly. Among the general population, about 80 percent pray to God at least weekly; and 27 percent read their Bible, weekly. Among Millennials, one in seven volunteer at or around the church, weekly. Twenty-eight percent go to church, Sunday School, volunteer or participate in some small group, weekly. For them, a small group is church! They tend to prefer small, more intimate venues. Small churches do not need to feel inferior to the mega-church. They have something to offer this generation.
Above all else, Millennials are seeking a vital, personal relationship with Jesus that is alive and fresh. Those who have persisted in faith believe they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit – Jesus talks to them, Joy Behar aside! Sixty-eight percent are tethered to church and faith practices, not by the church or tradition, but by their relationship with Jesus. That’s impressive. Deeply encouraging.
The blog is an excerpt from the upcoming book by P. Douglas Small, Millennials: The Young Adult Harvest That We Dare Not Miss.Pre-order your copy today>