When I first left home for college seven years ago, I was finally able to search for a church on my own. I'd attended a single church up till then, and I was anxious to find a new body of believers. I quickly found a college group at an established church, but I was shocked by how detached the group felt from the rest of the body. In the years since, most of the churches I've attended don't know what to do with my generation, the Millennials. As Millennials leave the church in droves, church leadership scrambles to find ways to retain the few that stay and hope that the rest will eventually return on their own.
David Kinnaman and a number of guest speakers address this very issue in the conference series, You Lost Me. Live!, presented by the Barna Group. I attended the conference in Chicago and found myself in the company of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and many Millennials. Here are a few points that stood out to me:
The world is becoming more complicated. We've given people a cultural vision of Christ, but not the tools to live in this increasingly complex culture. Millennials are coming of age in this new culture, so it defines them in a unique way. While Baby Boomers are constantly astounded by new ways to communicate and access information, Millennials were born connected.
Boomers may have learned about Paul's tent-making side-job in seminary, but many Millennials fully expect to hold multiple jobs at once and change careers throughout their lives in pursuit of a single calling.
They may not automatically return. Many people assume Millennials who have left the church will come back as they get married and have children. But research shows that people are taking longer to settle down, get married, and have kids than in previous generations. Are we really willing to wait until a young adult is 35 to reconnect? It's also a bit presumptuous to think that marriage and babies will automatically bring young adults back.
It is different ministering in Jerusalem than in Babylon. As the West continues moving in a post-Christian direction, churches must recognize that our culture is starting to resemble Babylon more than Jerusalem. But Christianity has flourished in many cultural contexts. As we acknowledge the changing world, we shouldn't fear it.
This generation is creative and entrepreneurial. 52 percent of Millennials are interested in science-related careers. However, when youth pastors were surveyed, less than 1 percent claimed to have taught on science-related issues in the last year. Perhaps this is the type of disconnect that leads many young thinkers to conclude that the church is anti-science.
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