Hi, I’m Emily, and I’m an anomaly. (Hiiii, Emily.) I’m a Millennial who’s staying in church. I understood (and believed) the gospel when I was just 4, and I’ve been going to church ever since. Sure, I’ve thought about leaving more than once. But let’s just be honest—we all have, haven’t we?
So what’s keeping me, a Millennial—The Generation of Lost Sunday School Boys and Girls—in church? Three things, really. While I can’t speak for all Millennials everywhere, I can tell my story.
Here are the top three reasons I’m staying in church as a Millennial.
1. I’m staying because I love Jesus and Jesus loves the Church, and He isn’t finished with us. When I went to Bible college (Clarks Summit University), I learned a lot about Jesus and the Church. He loves us each individually and He loves all Christians collectively—the Universal Church—as His bride (Eph. 5; Rev. 21). He’s working right now to make us a beautiful bride to present to Himself someday. He loves us, and I work—somedays it’s harder than others—to love the Church because Jesus loves the Church.
When you love Jesus and your heart gets tangled up with His, you start to love what He loves. So despite my frustrations with the local church—a lack of general awareness, a lack of compassion in social justice, a lack of practical love for those struggling or who are different, and a lack of authentic community—I’m still going to a local church because we’re part of the Universal Church, whom Jesus loves.
2. I’m staying because I believe in storytelling in the Church. Let’s face it: we can know a lot of theology and doctrine and have memorized many Bible verses, but when it comes to actually putting all the knowledge into practice, we need people, not just content. And people come with stories. Stories push us to grace in a way content does not.
Storytelling is powerful, especially in the information age when I can get great content all hours of the day or night. Storytelling (and listening!) is what brings content alive in our churches. I’m staying because I need relationships in which to live out my faith. The iron-sharpening-iron proverb speaks of needs both for content and community. Storytelling is an amazing force for spiritual growth in the Church.
3. I’m staying because we’re all in the middle of our own stories. None of us have arrived, and none of us will on this side of Heaven. We all feel the effects of a sinful world; we make mistakes and are mistaken-against, and we all need grace for each other. When we share our stories with each other, we can say “Hey, me too!” or “I understand you better because of your story.”
When I share my story with someone older than me, that person can help me because he or she has been where I’ve been and can help and encourage me along the way with his or her story. In turn, I can do the same thing with people younger than me. I’m still going to church because I need people to share their story with me and to listen to mine—to help me in whatever chapter I’m in, and to love me in the middle of it. And I’ll do the same for them. I need your story and you need mine.
That’s maybe not what you were expecting from a Millennial in church. And I’m okay with that. But let me clear up some misconceptions I’ve heard from some folks who aren’t quite sure what to do with us.
The cool-factor is a myth. Millennials aren’t looking for skinny jeans and fog machines at church, and it’s somewhat insulting to assume such superficial standards. It’s not about how cool you are. It’s about authenticity—real, honest, humble relationships—in addition to solid content.
We don’t feel wanted. We’re not all following the traditional high-school-college-job-marriage-house-kids-retirement plan, partly because we aren’t able to, and partly because we don’t always want to. This leads to an awkward hole in church ministries, and we often feel pushed into a square-peg-round-hole situation. Couple that with the cultural shame Millennials are getting lately, and it feels like nobody wants us around. But we want to be here—we want mentors but we’re afraid to ask, because it often feels like everyone’s annoyed with us.
Just because Millennials aren’t at your church doesn’t mean they’ve forsaken church. The Early Church met in homes to cultivate meaningful community. Acts doesn’t mention a specific day of the week, a dress code, or preferred music genre. Many Millennials are plugged into Acts-like groups where both content and community are at work. It just might not be your church.
So there you have it: a Millennial who’s still going to church because (1) I love Jesus and Jesus loves the Church, (2) I believe in the power of storytelling, and (3) we are all in the middle of our own stories and we all need each other’s stories.
Pro-tips for welcoming Millennials in your church:
- Connect with a Millennial and affirm him or her
- Listen to our stories and share yours
- Be friends with us; don’t believe stereotypes or hide behind assumptions
- Have grace for us when we don’t do things how you’ve always done them
- Pray for us—we’re all in the middle of our own stories
Find and listen to more Millennial stories. I might not be as much of an anomaly after all.
Emily Gehman is online managing editor for Shattered Media and a freelance writer. She’s written and edited articles and stories for various publications, including Shattered magazine, Baptist Bulletin, Today’s Christian Woman, and her own website, emilygehman.com. Emily holds an M.A. in English from the University of Michigan.