I love statistics. When I was growing up I had a borderline obsession with memorizing my favorite player's NFL stats. At one point I could have told you Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison’s touchdown count, passing yardage, and receiving yardage for every season they played together for the Indianapolis Colts.
In 2013 I was sitting in chapel at Point Loma Nazarene University to hear a guy named David Kinneman speak about church trends. David’s a brilliant researcher and speaker; he leads a company called the Barna Group. The purpose of his organization is to do research and gather knowledge to navigate a changing world. His topic that day was “why millennials are leaving the church.” You can read a snapshot of his research findings here: (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/12/barna-survey-on-young-adults-leaving-the-church/). David spoke about church trends, what millennials desire in church, and what the Church has missed in incorporating this generation.
In the last few years there has been a lot of research and writing on how churches can engage with millennials. Some of the best resources have come out of The Fuller Youth Institute and The Barna Group.
The broad point of the leading research is that the Church is shifting and, in many ways, declining numerically.
There is truth to the research. As with any generational change, the Church is changing. Millennials want different things in church and have different core values as a generation.
Numbers don’t lie but they don’t tell the whole story.
As we move forward and more millenial-aged people are stepping into leadership we have to ask: are we accepting the present status quo - thereby resigning ourselves to manage decline of the Church, or are we going to work for a future that’s better than the research paints?
There are some who would like to say that this is a “millennial thing.” Those same voices would say that we are an over-saturated, entitled, and idealistic bunch.
At the risk of sounding evasive I argue that it’s not a generational problem. It’s a family problem. Our ancestral generational sin is that we have allowed church to defined by our consumption rather than our participation.
This is really about identity.
In a lot of ways we are like the Israelites - they had been told who they were - the people of God, but for forty years were wandering in the wilderness struggling to live into their identity and reach the promised land.
We know who we are. The Church is the bride of Christ, partners with God in the renewal of all things, and messengers of reconciliation.
Despite our knowledge of who we are we often miss the point. We consume information so frequently through podcasts, blogs, and tweet-able sermons that we have forgotten how to participate.
When we participate in church rather than consume church, we are living into our identity - we are being who God made us to be as apprentices of Jesus in the world.
Another way to think of this is the movie Nightmare Before Christmas (tip of the hat toDr. John Wright - Bib. Theo. was still the best class I’ve taken). In the movie, Jack Skellington is the leader of Halloweentown - a place dedicated to all things ghosts, ghouls, and goons. Halloweentown, as a community, tells a crystal clear narrative of Halloween. Jack Skellington has created an environment where every resident is an active participant in making Halloweentown what it is.
For Jack’s friends, Halloween is their lifestyle, not a Holiday that they show up for.
Does that sound anything like the Church?
We, as the Church, are participants and image bearers in the story of God in the world. We are invited into active participation that leads to the flourishing of other image bearers and the renewal of all things. This means using our time, talent, power, and privilege to partner with God in the ongoing work of creation in the World.
Is that how you think about Church? As a place, or as a narrative you participate in with your life?
As our generation moves forward we must recognize that we need the Church. The Church also needs you - not to show up to an event, but to participate with your life.