Millennials and Churches

This is a guest post by Jeff Wischkaemper, who holds a Ph.D. electrical engineering, and he lives in Knoxville, TN, where he attends a relatively new church plant that is affiliated with Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

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It’s been six years since my wife and I left the Churches of Christ. Shortly after we left, I wrote extensively about some of the reasons for our departure, and some of the problems I thought Churches of Christ faced moving forward. In a recent discussion with John Mark on the topic of what churches (of Christ) can do to navigate multigenerational contexts – specifically those where Boomers are in charge and millennials make up an increasing number of congregants – I had the opportunity to revisit those posts and reflect on how I see connecting with millennials in a somewhat different faith community.

A note before I begin: Jeremy Marshall’s post here is absolutely worth reading. Because he’s already covered a lot of things I would want to say, I’d encourage you to reflect on his thoughts before reading this. Instead of rehashing everything he covered, I’ll try to supplement what he wrote with a few thoughts of my own.

First, a bit about myself by way of introduction: I was born in 1980, a member of the “micro-generation” that straddles Gen X and the Millennials. I spent 12 years earning both undergraduate and graduate degrees at a state university with a large campus ministry, and actively participated in leadership during that time. During my time in college, I overlapped with friends ranging from the college class of 1996 to the college class of 2013. And yes, I do see a significant shift in the social, political, and religious attitudes of people who are just a few years older than me compared to the people who are just a few years younger than me.

Why do they not want what we wanted?

Because the initial question was addressed specifically to congregations with Boomer leaderships, I’ll start with a pretty bold declaration of what I think the problem (still) is not, namely worship styles. I spent a lot of time beating a dead horse on this when we left, but loud, flashy instrumental music will not help you retain millennials.

My sense is that church leaderships have a tendency to look at worship styles as a solution to millennials leaving the church for a couple of reasons. First, they remember the time when they were young adults who thought worship was bland and stale. For Boomers, creating a dynamic worship experience was a major priority, and to be perfectly fair, a lot of the changes they made were both welcome and needed. But believing millennials are primarily interested in instrumental music is, in a very real sense, Boomers projecting their own desires for increasingly dynamic worship onto millennials, rather than an actual groundswell of desire from millennials themselves.

The more practical reason I think leaderships often gravitate to changes in worship style is that these changes are relatively easy to implement. Most changes to the way we do worship are straightforward, so long as the political will and capital exists. Worship services are something we plan and can exert some measure of control over. Consider the relative difficulty between 1) changing your worship service to include “newer” songs or 2) creating a broad culture of hospitality at your church. The first is a matter of planning and execution. The second requires a new imagination about your church’s identity. It’s easier to preach a sermon about kindness than it is to be kind.

Unfortunately, many of the changes I see as necessary for engaging millennials are changes of the second type. They are changes that aren’t easily controlled or executed, take a long time, and require a lot of introspection both from leadership and laity. To be frank, they are changes many of our churches simply aren’t equipped to make.

Keeping millennials in church requires more than turning down the lights and turning up the volume. Millennials are not adolescents who need to be placated with highly stimulating environments – and ironically, treating them that way tends to push them away, rather than drawing them in.

Three challenges

Difficulty connecting with changing demographics

If you grew up in a Church of Christ, attended a Christian college/university, were married when you were 19-21, and had your first child when you were 22-23 (or at least 3 of those things are true), there is a good chance that you feel accepted and at home in a Church of Christ. Churches know what to do with you. You’re likely to have a group of peers in most congregations you attend. There will be people in most life stages whose experience is/was more or less like yours, and the programs of a typical Church of Christ are oriented around being attractive and enriching to people like you. You are, we might say, on the fast track for eldership.

If you are in the 18-40 age range and you don’t fit this template, though, most churches really don’t have a good idea of what to do with you, other than try to get you “back on track.” If you happen to be single, for instance, most singles ministries – where they exist at all – are structured to be dating factories (because obviously singles’ primary goal in life should be to get married). Most adult classes for married couples under 50 in Churches of Christ tend to be oriented around parenting (because obviously all married couples should have children). And we haven’t even started to discuss a lack of awareness of single mothers, or people recovering from a divorce, or any number of other groups that traditionally haven’t been on our radar.

The challenge going forward is that demographic trends are moving away from the traditional template: 1) people are not getting married until later in life 2) married couples tend to be waiting longer to have children and 3) couples, even within churches experience divorce at higher rates than in the past. In spite of these trends, churches continue – overtly and covertly – to message that if you aren’t happily married by 25 with one kid in the nursery and another on the way, there is probably something wrong with you that needs to be fixed.

Ironically, a survey of Church of Christ members isn’t likely to pick up on this. Most churches would self-report as inviting and welcoming for young people, and church leaderships often cite the abundance of young families in their churches, along with the overcrowding of nurseries and children’s classes as evidence that everything is just dandy. And from the inside, this makes sense. People who “fit” this narrow profile and know the secret handshakes find Churches of Christ to be welcoming, friendly places with people who are warm, caring and understanding.

But people who are even a little bit away from an expected template often feel so unwelcomed and unvalued that they leave before they are noticed at all. The result is that many Churches of Christ have become culturally homogeneous, and increasingly unable to understand, care for, or even notice people whose lives aren’t on a similar trajectory.

“Gospel” as “sin management”

The traditional story most churches have told for several generations goes like this (forgive the huge oversimplification): “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God, in the person of Jesus Christ, died so that our sins might be forgiven, and we might be able to live in heaven with God after we die.” The goal of churches, then, is to help people transition in status from “sinner” to “saved,” and then to help “saved people” manage their sin problem until they can go to heaven. (We would never say this so crassly, of course, but I think that’s a fair characterization of how many churches operationalize their purpose and mission.)

Now, there’s a sense in which that story may be “true,” but it’s a story that presents a solution to a singular problem that an increasing percentage of the population isn’t convinced they have. It’s a story that’s only “good news” if you can first convince people they are sinners in the hand of an angry God. Not surprisingly, the first move in the standard church playbook is to convince individuals of their personal guilt before a righteous and judgmental God – an approach which turns out to not work very well with people who didn’t grow up as nominal Christians.

Notice how much Jeremy in his article talks about story (spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about it below too). Think about how the same series of events and characters can be transformed by what Hayden White calls different modes of emplotment. For example, consider how differently the narrative of the French Revolution can look when written alternatively as a romance, a comedy, a tragedy, and a satire.

The story of God – told primarily as a tale of how to be forgiven and go to heaven after you die – isn’t an epic that captures the hearts and minds of many millennials. That’s not to say they aren’t interested in the story of God; far from it. But we need to take a step back and consider the mode of emplotment we bring to the text and ask ourselves whether a different approach to storytelling might resonate more in today’s world.

Justice, equality, hospitality

Justice, equality, and hospitality are words that Christians ought to have no problems with. And yet, if you ask non-Christians, the church is the last place they expect to find these virtues lived out. In an increasingly pluralistic society, faith communities are judged not by their benefits to insiders, but by how they act toward their non-adherents – those who do not believe.

How does your church (and its members) act toward immigrants (documented and undocumented)? How does your church (and its members) act toward members of the LGBTQ+ community? How does your church (and its members) act toward people of other faiths, (e.g. Muslims, Sikhs)?

Unfortunately, if we take an honest look, I think we will all find that our actions and intentions as Christians fall well short of the challenging words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it for me.”

In the wake of World War II, European philosophers and theologians struggled to understand what had gone so horribly wrong with ethics and morality that millions of “good Christian people” in Germany – in a church that was in many ways more theologically articulate than the American church has ever been – could have been quietly complicit in the deaths of millions of their fellow human beings. One French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas – who survived the Holocaust only because he was protected as a prisoner of war – tried to reground ethical discussions not on an abstract notion of human rights or contractual political arrangements, but on our obligations to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger.

I don’t believe churches are at the point, yet, where we have been forced to undertake the same reckoning with regard to our complicity in the suffering of others. But we should be aware that even now, we are judged by a watching world on how we respond to the least of these. To the extent that our religion functions as a way to preserve and extend our cultural power at the expense of outsiders, particularly the marginalized and oppressed, we are weighed in the scales and found wanting.

Three ways we can do better…

If you change your story, you change your life

Alasdair MacIntyre, in his prophetic work After Virtue (1981) said this: “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Millennials don’t need another self-help book. They know how to listen to TED talks. But they are a generation whose apparent life trajectory is not optimistic; they will likely be the first generation in America to not enjoy a standard of living greater than their parents.

What they want, desperately, is to be part of a community with a story of hope – and we have a story that speaks to that desperation. Scripture tells of a story that says, “God is doing something amazing in the world! God wants to repair all of the brokenness you see around us and set things right again! You have the opportunity to join in a community that is partnering with God to bring about justice and peace and restoration and wholeness?” It’s story that says my identity is not wrapped up in how much I earn, in what my job title is, or in how much I consume; that it doesn’t depend on my gender or race or economic status. Instead, the story of God promises that my identity is grounded in the reality that I am created by God, and that God wants me to be part of something bigger than myself. That’s a story people want to be a part of!

The recently deceased Yale theologian George Lindbeck argued that in a pluralistic age persuasion involving fundamental beliefs and ultimate concerns is not simply a matter of dispensing information but is, rather, an invitation to participate in an alternative story. Part of the reason millennials are so turned off from many churches is that the story most churches tell by their lived existence is basically indistinguishable from the story told by the world. At most churches, “being a good Christian” doesn’t look all that different from a vaguely spiritualized version of “living the American Dream.”

If the “good news” your church preaches is, in the words of one Christian author, “primarily information about how to go to heaven after you die, with a large footnote about increasing your personal happiness and success in God, with a small footnote about character development, with a smaller footnote about spiritual experience, with an almost illegible footnote about social/global transformation,” you are going to have a very difficult time retaining people under 40. You can be hip, cool, and high-quality in your programming while at the same time offering an incoherent and disconnected story. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a Michael Bay movie; possibly entertaining, lots of explosions, action and special effects, but very little substance.

Millennials are looking for a story. The story of God is an epic that has the capacity to animate their lives. But we need to learn to tell that story in a way that connects with their passions and desires, anxieties and fears.

Embracing women

To quote Sojourner Truth, “I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”

Let me pose a hypothetical to you. I know someone who is an expert in couple’s therapy. Literally wrote the book on helping couples get past an affair. They lead seminars all over the world about how to have a better marriage, how to communicate better as a couple, about how to forgive those who’ve wronged you. They’re a past-president of the Division of Couples and Family Therapy at the American Psychological Association. And they are a person of deep faith. And for the cost of gas, I could probably get them to spend a morning strengthening the marriages and relationships of anyone in your church who wanted to come.

How in the world could you say no to something like that?

You could (and many of our churches would) say no, because that person is a woman.

The recent, attention-grabbing Nashville Statement included the following sentence in Article 3: “We deny that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.” One of my female friends replied, “You wouldn’t have to explicitly deny that females are unequal in dignity and worth if it weren’t implied by the entire history of [your organization].”

I know that for this audience, addressing this issue is poking a bear, and I know there are a lot of complementarians who will push back against me on this, but as a husband, brother, and friend of dozens of highly educated women let me make this abundantly clear: when you argue that women aren’t “less than men,” but that they “just have different roles (like teaching children’s classes and baking casseroles and sending sympathy cards),” these women would reply in a similar way to my friend above – you wouldn’t have to assert that women aren’t less than men if it weren’t implied by the rest of your doctrine and practice. 

I want to say that again: you wouldn’t have to assert that women are not less than men if it weren’t implied by the rest of your doctrine and practice.

My wife and I will never attend another church that doesn’t respect her talents and gifts, and the talents and gifts of other women, and doesn’t give women the opportunity to use the talents God has given them in settings where men are present. And we’re far from alone. In my small group, there are two women with Ph.D.’s (one of them a New Testament professor) and one medical doctor. Each of them grew up in small, conservative churches where their talents were dismissed and devalued, or worse still appropriated by boys who passed the girls’ work off as their own. Each of them has a story of hurt and resentment that is not only a barrier between them and most Christian communities, but sometimes a barrier between them and Christ.

You can jump up and down on any verses you like, but I will tell you that the lived experience of an increasing number of women suggests that the way complementarian theology is enacted is frequently damaging, not only spiritually, but on a deeply personal level. If you ignore that pain, or worse still perpetuate it, you will find an increasing number of millennial couples who will be unwilling to listen to you about anything else.

Our churches have to find ways of recognizing, valuing and listening to the talents of all members of God’s family. Spiritual wisdom, teaching Christ, and congregational leadership are not the sole domain of humans with a Y chromosome. Or at least they shouldn’t be.

Stop trying to be relevant. Start thinking about formation.

Too many churches get caught up in a never-ending quest to be “relevant.” If you want to connect with people under 40, think instead about how your church changes the people who are in it. Klyne Snodgrass writes: “[W]hen people asked Jesus ‘What do I have to do?’ he asked in return, ‘What kind of person are you?’ The answer to the second question answers the first.”

Stories are identity-forming. They are how we organize the world around us. Again – if you change your story, you change your life.

MacIntyre’s phrase for people who live without a grounding story is “anxious, unscripted stutterers.” Because of a long series of choices I don’t have space to go into, many churches have lost their organizing story, leading many of their members to become anxious, unscripted stutterers.

Imagine if you asked your church the following three questions:

1) Who do you/we believe God is?
2) What do you/we believe God is up to in the world?
3) If God is doing something in the world, what should your/our response be to that?

My guess is that regardless of whether your church is “conservative” or “progressive,” your members would have a difficult time answering those questions without resorting to “Sunday school” answers (e.g. “God is love!”). These questions are a good baseline for understanding the direction that your church is headed, and the direction your members are being formed. James K.A. Smith has written extensively about how all of us are constantly being formed. It’s worth asking in the context of this question, “What is the direction of formation in most Churches of Christ?” Or, as I asked myself when we were in the process of leaving, “If I take the values and beliefs of this church to be my own, what kind of person am I going to be in 5 or 10 years?” Ultimately I didn’t leave because of personal disagreements, ineffective leadership, or vapid teaching (though those things were all present). I left because when I took a hard look in the mirror, I didn’t like the person being formed by the values of that church.

Wrapping up

I was listening to an interview with the CEO of a tech startup a couple of weeks ago, and he made a very interesting statement: “You get the investors you deserve. … If you’re trying to attract investors by going around saying, ‘We’re going to blow it up on every street corner!’ then you’re going to get investors who have those expectations of you. On the other hand, if you say, ‘We’re trying to build something that’s going to survive for the long haul,’ you’ll get investors who are more patient and willing to let you take time to do things right.”

My general observation is that many times, churches get the members they deserve. If your church is trying to attract people based on your flashy worship service, it shouldn’t surprise you when you lose members to a flashier worship service. If you’re trying to attract people because you have good preaching or children’s programs, it shouldn’t surprise you when those people jump to the next church that comes along and “out churches” you. But if you’re building for the long haul – and if you’re really taking the time to create a community around an identity-forming story, a story that changes the world – then you have the potential to not just weather the storm, but thrive within it.



10 Responses to “Millennials and Churches”

  1. Profile photo of Adam Metz  Adam Metz Says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your thoughts here and that is much of what needs to be said and heard. I will offer my two cents here as, though I am in agreement with you, I still think there are some other considerations that should be brought to attention.

    Much of what you highlight, we have put into practice in our church over the past decade or so. It has made no difference in our attendance figures or overarching trajectory of our church growth – and I’m not necessarily saying that this was your claim, but it should be noted because I don’t think it’s a far jump to conclude that in addressing these matters, more people might be drawn to your church. For us, that has not been the case. Rather, we are constantly bobbing our heads just above the line of critical mass and viability. As a matter of fact, every Church of Christ that I am familiar with in our general vicinity struggles beyond any kind of transfer growth.

    I believe there are a few additional factors that you do not mention, and I see them often ignored in these conversations. First of all, we are not in the South and, second of all, we are in a large metropolitan area. Churches of Christ in northern cities are some of the smallest and least significant in our tribe. It’s like two strikes against us – North and over a million people.

    I’ve been here 15 years and am still trying to process the implications of this, but here’s my best try. We seldom include voices ministering in these contexts in our broadest discussions in the Churches of Christ. Every conference I’ve attended I always feel like an outsider. Largely, we are having different conversations than everyone else is. I even attended a conference at Rochester College a few years ago and nearly every panelist was from Abilene, TX. I don’t think anyone should ever be limited by their contexts, but I also think that we have to become more inclusive of voices from outside the Southeast.

    In the experiences I’ve had with ministers and pastors from other denominations, it seems clear to me that those in the Churches of Christ (myself included) are among the best prepared to preach, teach classes, and have theological conversations. However, when it comes time to actually do ministry, particularly at the city level and partner with other Christian groups, we are terrible. I mean, only the Amish are worse. We are at a complete loss for how to engage our local contexts if there aren’t already well established relationships – often with other Church of Christ cultural capital (again, of which we have zero around these parts).

    All of this to say, when someone who is interested in the Christian faith or begins poking around at churches to be a part of, churches like ours seldom are in the consideration. Over the course of 15 years, nearly all of our members have been Church of Christ folks who have moved into the area. At the end of your article, you say that churches get the members we deserve – I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read that, but the challenge is, most of what you have proposed to do in addressing this, we already do.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I have been spending a great deal of time thinking through this and trying to help our church figure ourselves out. Thanks

    •   Jeff Says:

      Adam –

      Thanks for your comment. A couple of thoughts in reply:

      First, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that simply doing these things will “fix” a church’s problems. I would look at these suggestions more as “necessary, but not sufficient” conditions (that is to say, if you *don’t* engage these issues, you’re going to have an increasingly hard time going forward. If you do address them, you’ll still have some serious challenges reaching millennials, but you’re not going to be treading water while carrying lead plates in your backpack).

      Moreover, I certainly wouldn’t suggest that doing these things will automatically lead to growth. To paraphrase Chris Flanders, Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not attenders; too often we equate size with success, but as I’m sure you know from your context, bigness is not always a virtue.

      I think you’re 100% correct regarding the disproportionate weight in Churches of Christ given to voices from the south. I think this largely blends with one of the things in my first point: if you didn’t attend a Church of Christ University (most of which and the largest of which are predominately located in the south), you often have a difficult time fitting in to a local Church of Christ. If you went to Harding, Lipscomb, ACU, or Freed-Hardeman, you have bona fides and social connections that matter in most churches. The lectureship circuit at each of these schools is dominated – almost exclusively – by people who either attended or taught at one of these schools. The social networks formed in these places are strong; almost impenetrable.

      I also agree with you regarding the typical propensity for our churches to not be very good at engaging in local contexts. I was space limited in this post (and blew past the word limit… sorry JMH), but I think you’re absolutely right about the need to move into local contexts being critical for reaching millennials. One of the things we emphasize (where I am now) is coming alongside various local organizations to partner with them on projects where we see God doing important things in the city. We do this both on a corporate level (without overextending ourselves), but especially encourage and mentor people in our community to do this in their own lives. Essentially, we don’t see faith as an “us against them” proposition – whether the imaginary “them” includes people who simply go to a different church or people who don’t yet believe in God. As far as we’re concerned, if we can find something that helps with our core values of restoration and wholeness, we’re on board with that. We don’t care whose name is on the project or who gets the credit. There is no “them” – there is only “us” (and, sometimes – as a byproduct – some of the people we walk alongside actually become a more active part of our community).

      Thanks again for your feedback – I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. I’d be happy to listen if you ever want to bounce around some ideas.

      • Profile photo of Adam Metz  Adam Metz Says:

        Good stuff, Jeff. Your observation regarding the socializing agency of attending a Church of Christ school is especially astute. I’ve been in Columbus for 15 years and I’ve probably seen 30 or 40 students come through our church – almost none of them have gone to one of those schools. Most of them who do go end up remaining in the South, and the few that do meander back usually end up as a contributing core member of the church. And, it’s been that way for a long time. I think it’s often seen as a matter of doctrine, but I’m inclined to agree with you that it’s a socializing context. I went to Lipscomb and part of what I learned there was to allow for church to be a central part of my life – and somehow that happens even if you don’t involve yourself with a church. It’s that broader influence of chapel and Bible classes and peer influence. This is absent for most of the students we’ve sent off to state schools. This is only one factor, but an important one as you mention.

        A tertiary implication has to do with the inability of our churches to connect with those folks who didn’t have that experience. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but many other denominations have a better ability to connect with many of these younger folks. I’m just not sure what it is. There’s something in our blood – even the most progressive of us – that still acts as a barrier for those who are not from within our traditions. I see this as very similar to Catholics – who are much more prominent in our context. We have so many friends who are “Catholic” in that they grew up that way, were married by a priest, attend Easter and Christmas, and get their kids confirmed. There are exceptions, obviously, but I think that cultural Catholic is similar to what I saw in the South. It was more within the cultural fabric of the community, so there were many more people with an affinity and comfort for this church culture.

        I’m rambling a bit but those are some thoughts that you helped spark. We haven’t concerned ourselves too much with the larger conversations taking place in the Churches of Christ . . . and yet we still face many obstacles in localizing and partnering. There’s just something in our blood that makes it difficult. Thanks again! We are definitely speaking the same language.

      •   Mark Says:

        Northern, urban, and cofC do not go together. For starters, I am Southern and saw this for a lot of years. In the South, there are a lot of Christians in various denominations and people are pretty much the same. Yes they are educated, but they aren’t up on other faiths and ideas. Also, churches in the South don’t have a lot of transient members except in university towns and then the university students are second class. Northern churches tend to be urban and space constrained with no parking. However, fewer people even have a car. Northern churches and synagogues have transient attendees who may be there for 6 weeks, 3 months, or 5 years and may not even be great at English. From DC to Boston, you have people like me who are ultra-educated. When you look at what is being done here in terms of high tech and intricate, it is amazing. Here people’s good friends may believe in anything from eastern non-Christian religions to atheism. The cofC would not know how to relate to these or even the Christians who ask about bioethics or how much transcendental meditation is permissible. These topics don’t come up on the Southern lecture circuit. Other non-discussed topics are preachers (are they pastors or not) getting their hands dirty. It is one thing to talk to a church member about an aspect of the faith. It is another to talk to someone who knows how to and can/has genetically re-engineer(ed) a human being about how ethical it is to do it. For some reason and similar to Adam Metz’s comment, priests and rabbis seem to have learned something at seminary about how to relate to people without being terribly judgemental. Perhaps it is because they aren’t afraid to say let’s think about it instead of trying to deliver a concrete yes/no answer. The cofC also doesn’t partner with other Christian groups because they still have in their mind that anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% is not a Christian.

  2. Profile photo of Bron Gibson  Bron Gibson Says:

    So spot on, all of these observations re: Churches of Christ and the specific categories of people repelled by their basic attitude. Kinda scary that these attitudes are still alive and well 20 years after I departed. As well, it’s curious to me that I very much relate to the reasons for leaving/not returning, and I’m 59. I wonder why that is the case?

    Great post and observations. The frank honesty–okay, *bluntness*–is refreshing and much appreciated.

  3. Profile photo of Adam Metz  Adam Metz Says:

    [JMH – sorry if this is duplicate, I got caught in a timeout and wasn’t sure if it submitted ;-)]

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your thoughts here and that is much of what needs to be said and heard. I will offer my two cents here as, though I am in agreement with you, I still think there are some other considerations that should be brought to attention.

    Much of what you highlight, we have put into practice in our church over the past decade or so. It has made no difference in our attendance figures or overarching trajectory of our church growth – and I’m not necessarily saying that this was your claim, but it should be noted because I don’t think it’s a far jump to conclude that in addressing these matters, more people might be drawn to your church. For us, that has not been the case. Rather, we are constantly bobbing our heads just above the line of critical mass and viability. As a matter of fact, every Church of Christ that I am familiar with in our general vicinity struggles beyond any kind of transfer growth.

    I believe there are a few additional factors that you do not mention, and I see them often ignored in these conversations. First of all, we are not in the South and, second of all, we are in a large metropolitan area. Churches of Christ in northern cities are some of the smallest and least significant in our tribe. It’s like two strikes against us – North and over a million people.

    I’ve been here 15 years and am still trying to process the implications of this, but here’s my best try. We seldom include voices ministering in these contexts in our broadest discussions in the Churches of Christ. Every conference I’ve attended I always feel like an outsider. Largely, we are having different conversations than everyone else is. I even attended a conference at Rochester College a few years ago and nearly every panelist was from Abilene, TX. I don’t think anyone should ever be limited by their contexts, but I also think that we have to become more inclusive of voices from outside the Southeast.

    In the experiences I’ve had with ministers and pastors from other denominations, it seems clear to me that those in the Churches of Christ (myself included) are among the best prepared to preach, teach classes, and have theological conversations. However, when it comes time to actually do ministry, particularly at the city level and partner with other Christian groups, we are terrible. I mean, only the Amish are worse. We are at a complete loss for how to engage our local contexts if there aren’t already well established relationships – often with other Church of Christ cultural capital (again, of which we have zero around these parts).

    All of this to say, when someone who is interested in the Christian faith or begins poking around at churches to be a part of, churches like ours seldom are in the consideration. Over the course of 15 years, nearly all of our members have been Church of Christ folks who have moved into the area. At the end of your article, you say that churches get the members we deserve – I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read that, but the challenge is, most of what you have proposed to do in addressing this, we already do.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I have been spending a great deal of time thinking through this and trying to help our church figure ourselves out. Thanks

  4. Profile photo of Darryl Willis  Darryl Says:

    Thank you. Well said and articulated.

    It seems Dr. Jean Twenge has said a lot of negative things about Millennials (and now iGen) and totally misses the point. They are not narcissists who want everything to go their way. They have listened and observed and they see a major disconnect.

    I was a youth minister for 18 years and I tire of my tribe flagellating itself over the rise of the “nones” (not affiliateds) as if they were powerful enough to cause an entire demographic to emerge. What I am seeing is a group of people who have listened and paid attention to the Bible. They want to be part of a church that is engaged with the world around them. They want to be part of a community that takes seriously the call of Jesus to be light, salt, and a demonstration of “kingdom come”. My “kids” were Gen Xers and Xennials. They ask for a chance to make a difference and one hour a week is not what they are talking about!

    Blessings and peace.

  5. Profile photo of Darryl Willis  Darryl Says:

    “I was listening to an interview with the CEO of a tech startup a couple of weeks ago, and he made a very interesting statement: “You get the investors you deserve. … If you’re trying to attract investors by going around saying, ‘We’re going to blow it up on every street corner!’ then you’re going to get investors who have those expectations of you. On the other hand, if you say, ‘We’re trying to build something that’s going to survive for the long haul,’ you’ll get investors who are more patient and willing to let you take time to do things right.”

    My general observation is that many times, churches get the members they deserve. If your church is trying to attract people based on your flashy worship service, it shouldn’t surprise you when you lose members to a flashier worship service. If you’re trying to attract people because you have good preaching or children’s programs, it shouldn’t surprise you when those people jump to the next church that comes along and “out churches” you. But if you’re building for the long haul – and if you’re really taking the time to create a community around an identity-forming story, a story that changes the world – then you have the potential to not just weather the storm, but thrive within it.”

    Well said. Well said.

  6.   Mark Says:

    I know what you are talking about when you mention being accepted. I belong to Gen X. Being single means that nothing will be done for you mainly because you aren’t understood or deemed a first-class Christian. There are multiple classes of people within most churches. In the cofC, one’s age, marital status, gender, and/or political persuasion usually determines your level of acceptance. I would ask God why, if he considered all people equal, did the church not?
    That said, pastoral care is only extended to old people in hospital or at home and widow(er)s of the deceased and the children if the second parent has died. No one else gets any. When your friend gets killed accidentally in jr. high school or you lose a grandparent, you don’t get any. It is almost like they are stuck in the past in learning how to be there for people who are in shock or mourning except the select few. This isn’t even talking about knowing how to help someone whose ostracized gay friend has committed suicide in the middle of the night.

    My leaving the cofC occurred over a period of years. To begin, I needed a liturgy fix once I discovered what the liturgy was. There is something to be said for the chanting of two Psalms, the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. They are as Biblical as anything that could be sung. Partly because the Catholics would, the cofC could not. There is no accepting of any type of service other than their official order of worship. Secondly, I could never understand a cofC sermon. All the proof-texts and jumping around led me to just read the song book. Jesus never was mentioned. The Psalms weren’t even read. The gospel was to be obeyed but the teachings of Jesus never showed up. This was something I never understood. There were other reasons but this was the biggest. I found a place to go in the Anglican church where the homily focuses on Jesus and the applicability of his teachings to modern life most Sundays and litmus tests aren’t administered.

  7.   darrylrlewis Says:

    May I ask the name of the book written by the woman “who literally wrote the book on helping couples get past an affair”?

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