Have you ever been sitting in a room while your mom and dad or teacher or someone sit there and discuss you and your future and the decisions you should be making and you just want to raise your hand and jump in? Something like, “Hey guys. Right here. I can hear you talking about me.”
This feels like that.
The local congregation I’m a member of generally has a Sunday morning crowd of around 300, depending on time of year, what holiday it is, and whether or not it’s raining that day. Of those, a fair number were born somewhere in the 1982-early 2000’s timeframe and would technically qualify as a millennial. Within that group, there are all sorts of people with their own sets of flaws, strengths, personalities, backgrounds, and favorite flavor of ice cream. There are Type As, Type Bs, introverts, extroverts, ambiverts (for those special snowflakes who need their own category). Some are wealthy, some aren’t so wealthy. There are parents and recent high school graduates. Redneck and posh. Social media addicts and abstainers. And everything in between.
Why does this matter? Because every single day, there’s a new article, a subtweet, a study done that’s discussing millennials. What we want. Our likes and dislikes. Our work and study and entertainment habits. And a whole awful lot of “how they’re destroying the world” and “why we’re fixing the world”.
And, far be it for me to speak on behalf of an entire generation, but let me speak on behalf of this one millennial. Can y’all please stop talking about us? We can hear you.
The majority of millennials don’t even identify as one, and with good reason. We’re far more likely to identify our peers with words like “self-absorbed”, “wasteful”, and “greedy” than anything positive. Not ourselves obviously, but the rest of the millennial clowns. Who wants that? And confirmation bias abounds. A 22 year old flakes out? Those darn millennials just weren’t raised with the proper values. A 72 year old behaves immaturely? Well that’s just them and it would be silly to pin it on their generation.
Regardless of age, there are hardworking, selfless, giving individuals. Regardless of age, there are self-absorbed, lazy jerks who put themselves first. There are just people – good, bad, and everything else.
But the term ends up bandied about daily and one gets used to rolling their (my) eyes and going on with their (my) day. But it’s not just a cultural phenomenon; the spotlight on millennials is occurring in churches as well. There are articles about what millennials want from the church, how to get millennials in the church, what millennials need from the church, and so on and so forth until you’re so far down the rabbit hole you’re wondering if the church can be saved and if these needs can ever truly be met.
And I get it. People want to know how to reach this generation. That’s good. It’s good for us to become “all things to all people”. It’s good for millennials to want to use their voice to make a difference. But I think the best thing would be if we just quit talking about us altogether. Or at least toned it down. For our sake, and the church’s sake, I really think this is a good idea. (And yes, I get the irony of this article.)
Why? As already mentioned, we’re all different. There are exceptions to every rule, but in this case the exceptions and the rules seem pretty evenly matched. There is no possible way to form a strategy that will equally reach the millions of people that fall into this demographic because it’s just too diverse a group. A 20 year old college girl in Tuscaloosa and a married 30-something in Seattle just aren’t going to be reached the same way and it’s silly to pretend they can be.
But more importantly, this spotlight shifts the focus. The church is a body and it’s beauty exists in uniting different parts, different people, that are completely unique and diverse in every other possible way. Prioritizing one group over another puts an unhealthy balance in place. We all have a lot to offer. We all have a lot to give. Everyone has a role. Everyone should be working. Serving.
Let’s quit making one group feel like they matter more than they should at the expense of ignoring the others. When one party gets all the focus, it’s easy to get an inflated sense of self. It can make people feel like they matter more, like things can and should be done their way if they want to be kept around. You start to believe the church relies on your generation in order to survive, and as such, you should be in charge of how things are. This mentality (that has nothing in common with the teachings of Christianity) doesn’t happen every time, but it can and it does exist out there.
But emphasizing one group also neglects people that are already overlooked as well. It overlooks the contributions of those inside the church who have been quietly and humbly serving for years. It ignores their wisdom. It devalues the souls of those we don’t even attempt to reach because it’s just not as exciting. Coffee shop evangelism is romantic. Nursing home evangelism? Not so much.
Every person matters.
You want to know how to grow the church? Preach Jesus. You want to know how to reach every generation? Live like Jesus. You want to know what people are looking for? They’re watching to see if you look like Jesus. You want to know how to get people excited about being part of the church? Teach them how to follow Jesus too.
The church isn’t about millennials. And we don’t want it to be. We already have Netflix and Amazon Prime and Target and Starbucks. There are plenty of things dedicated to making us happy, but none of them are worth committing your life to. The church is about Jesus. It’s about God and the kingdom He established. It’s about knowing His love and showing it to others in every way we can. That’s what we want.
That’s what we all want.
The church will never grow if we try to build it around the followers. Those change. The church only grows when it’s built around the Founder. Let’s talk about Him instead.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”