Apparently, the church is close to meeting its end. At least, that is what anyone who has even the slightest presence on social media might think based on the countless articles about millennials leaving the church. You could also be led to believe that one or more denominations are about to meet their demise due to their willingness or unwillingness to embrace traditional worship, contemporary worship, (insert name here) theology, church coffee shops, small group structure, gay and lesbian membership, or any set of “demands” by one generalized age/race/culture demographic. It appears to be a bleak, bleak world for the life of organized religion, especially Christianity.
I’m calling BS (This is the moment where some people stop reading this because I used “BS”). It’s fine if you stop reading at this point, I’m still calling it and I have several reasons. I’ve been in the church my entire life. I was born into it. I grew up in it. There were times in my teenage years and adult years since that I’ve doubted it. There were times I wanted to leave but didn’t. There have been many family members and friends I’ve watched walk away from it. Some have come back to it, some haven’t. There have been many family members and friends I’ve watched come to it for the first time. Some have stayed, some haven’t. All of these people have different ages, races, careers, socio-economic statuses…there are a lot of differences.
And ultimately, that’s the point. Even if they are the same age and race, they might have different preferences. Even if they have the same preferences, they might be from completely different walks of life. So with that in mind, here are my 4 reasons you should stop reading or writing these articles.
1) No two people are the same.
Stop generalizing. As a millennial, there is nothing I am more tired of seeing than articles generalizing my entire generation. It’s asinine to believe that everyone in such a wide range of ages has an overwhelmingly strong preference towards any one thing in the church. Technology? Sure. I would concede that a vast majority of my generation likes their smart phones and Macbooks. But there is no way I could be convinced that there is one style of worship that is overwhelmingly preferred to another.
I know 14 year olds who love “I’ll Fly Away” and I know 70 year olds who can’t wait to hear new songs from Hillsong. I know people in their 20’s and 30’s who feel the need to say the Apostle’s Creed and take communion every Sunday and I know 40 and 50 year olds who would be confused if you asked them to “pass the peace”.
It’s 2015. The world’s population is massive and people are living longer each year. Individuality and conformity are simultaneously preached to the masses. Information is readily available at the literal touch of a button. People can come to their own conclusions and develop individualistic preferences better than ever before. If I have worked so hard to think for myself and be my own person, why would I be attracted to your church when you lump me into a cookie cutter mold with other people just because they share my birth year? The answer is, I wouldn’t.
2) Contemporary worship isn’t necessarily irreverent and traditional worship isn’t necessarily irrelevant.
As I said before, I’ve spent my entire life in the church and thus, spent my entire life in worship services. In that time, I’ve experienced a wide variety of traditional and contemporary settings. I love both. I see value in both. I don’t like people bashing either. I have felt God’s presence in an auditorium filled with 5000 people, intelligent lighting, huge LED screens illuminating the words, and yes, even smoke machines. I have also felt God’s presence leading a choir accompanied by a grand piano and organ in ornate and intimate sanctuaries. And to hit my first point even more, both have involved a wide array of every demographic previously mentioned.
I’ve been moved by songs written in the last two years and I’ve been inspired by the the words and music of 15th century monks and 19th century composers. I can’t wrap my mind around this terrible misconception that one is “better” than the other. I’m not saying you can’t prefer one, but that doesn’t give you the right to disrespect the other. Liturgy can be nice but so can informality.
3) People named John don’t have all the answers.
John Calvin, John Wesley, John Piper, not even John the Evangelist. And neither does any other one person living on this Earth. I enjoy reading material by all of the above. I frequently study works by C.S. Lewis and Francis Chan and I’ll even read stuff by the likes of Joel Osteen and Rachel Held Evans. But none of them have all the answers.
They may not agree on interpretations but (almost) all of them are brilliant theologians. If they don’t have all the answers, if they don’t have the secret formula to universal success, what makes us think the contributors at Relevant Magazine hold the keys? Take everything you read about the church and about generalizations with a grain of salt, even this article.
4) You don’t need coffee stands or bookstores to attract people but having them isn’t sacrilegious.
This is a complement to my second point as they often times coincide but they aren’t exclusive. Coffee stands and bookstores in churches are a growing trend and personally, I love them. They’re convenient and provide great opportunities for fellowship while supporting the church financially. Basically, they are an excellent missional resource. That being said, churches don’t need them nor are they “selling-out” by having one.
In the same way that we can’t generalize people, we can’t generalize churches. Are there contemporary services that don’t seek to glorify God and rather seek to aggrandize themselves? Of course. But we can’t assume to connect the two automatically.
We have to get to the heart of why we do what we do. Anytime I am working with others in ministry, the number one thing I say over and over is “This isn’t about us.” Whether you’re leading worship, participating in worship, going into the mission field, teaching Sunday school…I don’t think it’s something that can said enough. This isn’t about us at all. These articles attempt to lead us in a false belief that there is a secret formula but there isn’t.
What there is though, is God and His people. His diverse and beautiful creation. Stop looking for the secret formula. Put down the articles and appreciate individualism. Put down the articles and respect diversity.