Millennials: A Shot of Adrenaline

Millennials could be the greatest thing that happens to the Church.

Maybe that’s an over exaggeration, because there are a lot of pretty great things that happened to the Church. The conversion of the Apostle Paul, for one. DC Talk, for another. (Okay, I jest.)

I’m tired of all of the blogs and articles which talk about what millennials are doing wrong and why they’re leaving the Church. One recently trending (which had some good points) referred to the possible “death of Christianity.” Death of Christianity? “On this rock I shall build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Poorly run youth groups do not mean the demise of Christ-followers.

Millennials are leaving the church. I have seen this to be true among my peers and the younger millennials I know. In many churches, there are not fellowship groups for young adults when they get to college, or less still right after they graduate. We are a part of an entitled generation and culture that believes we should be consumers rather than contributors in our local congregations. We are a part of a generation and culture that seeks community on social media rather than dealing with the conflicts that arise by life-on-life fellowship. We are a part of a generation and culture that worships comfort. If my current fellowship doesn’t meet my needs or makes me uncomfortable, I can join a new one. Or I can leave this one. We are a part of a generation and culture that does not know how to suffer.

But there is a remnant. We see this pattern over and over again in Israel’s story; God keeps for Himself a remnant. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah speaks to God about his generation: “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.” God responds with instructions for His servant and a promise, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal.”

In a challenge to a stadium full of Christian millennials at Liberty University, Johnnie Moore said last year, “God has equipped your generation with the desire to serve the poor and share the Gospel.” It’s true, I’ve seen it.

At the 2012 Urbana conference, I was a mission agency representative.  Students came by our booth to talk about going overseas, giving their lives to spread the name of Jesus, to love people as God loves them. They’re passionate, they’re willing; they’re not satisfied with only sitting in the pew because they desire to embrace the technology of this generation by going. I asked some of these millennials what their dreams are: working with refugee communities, getting women out of the sex trade, going to the parts of the world where the name of Jesus Christ has not even been heard.

There is a remnant. There is a remnant that is willing to learn to suffer, to be uncomfortable, and to contribute to the needs of the Body. There is a remnant that God is raising up who know that the reason there are places in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ is because the least reached is the hardest to reach. There is a remnant that is bold enough to act, to go, and to serve.

But millennials, some of what they say about us is true. We need humility and grace within the church. We need to bring our desire to serve the poor and to share the Gospel into submission to Christ and other believers on a daily basis. We cannot run off and do it on our own. “For just as the body is one and has many members, all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free [millennials, boomers, or those in between] – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We cannot succeed without the body, but maybe we are the shot of adrenaline the Body needs to keep its heart beating.

This post was developed out of a conversation with my friend Carrie Givens. Some of the ideas and phrases in here are hers. She was awesome enough to let me use them. 

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11 thoughts on “Millennials: A Shot of Adrenaline

    • Mair – I agree. It is possible for someone to leave the church without leaving the faith, but I would take issue with that person’s choice. See Christine’s final paragraph above about submitting ourselves to the Body. For better or worse, the church – flawed, loving, human, comfortable, erroneous, challenging, disappointing, communal – is God’s established system for His people on the earth since the ascension of Christ.

      The remnant doesn’t leave. The remnant are the ones who join Nehemiah to “rise up and build” the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). The remnant are Hannah and Elkanah who continue to go to worship the Lord at Shiloh, despite the state of the priesthood (1 Samuel 1-2). The remnant are the priests and carpenters and builders and masons who followed Josiah’s command to rebuild the Temple, found the Torah, and turned their hearts to God when they read it (2 Kings 22).

      My friend Julie wrote a letter to her church on her blog, and she captures what I see as the role of the church – and the role of the people of the church – doing life together as a body. She writes, “Despite the disappointments, we continued to meet. Week after week. Preschool Christmas pageant after Thanksgiving Eve communion after Maundy Thursday after crowded Easter morning. We didn’t give up on one another. We kept coming back – at times running and at others limping. Our relationship changed. We became family.” (I encourage you to read the whole thing here: http://greenertrees.net/2012/10/17/a-letter-to-my-church/)

      Church isn’t about me. Church isn’t even about other people. Church is about Christ. He is the Head of the Body. And yes, some of us are in lame bodies, but leaving them should not be the first answer. Instead we should look to where we can serve, where we can work to strengthen the weaker parts, where we can rebuild walls, point worship to Christ, and turn hearts to God through the truth of Scripture.

      In Micah 2:12-13, God says, “I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. He who opens the breach goes up before them; they break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king passes on before them, the Lord at their head.”

      The remnant has the King going before us, the Lord at our head. He set us to be His Body on the earth in this age. We should not abandon that.

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post! For missions agencies or non-profits looking for the “remnant,” how would you encourage them to find them and then engage and empower them??

    • Jolene, this is a key question, isn’t it? Here are some of my initial thoughts –

      — On finding them: God knows where they are and He’s calling them. I see faithful millennials on college campuses, at churches, and at mission conferences like Urbana. They’re taking missions trips, they’re doing internships with non-profits, they’re going to Christian and secular colleges or not going to college at all. Many are involved with their church and some are working with new house church plants. They’re volunteering in their local communities, teaching ESL, tutoring, working in soup kitchens, helping in crisis pregnancy centers. They’re in seminary because they know they need a firm educational foundation in the word of God and they’re in the workforce because they know they need to pay off loans and want to contribute to their community. For agencies and non-profits – be at the conferences, be in the churches, put ads on Facebook, be on twitter. Market, blog, represent, but most of all – be where you are.

      — On engaging them: In a way, it’s like cross-cultural ministry. How do you engage someone who thinks differently from you? (1) Be a learner. Ask questions and really listen. (2) Be a servant. Be willing to work with us to shape the big ideas we have into meaningful actions that will meet the mission of your organization. (3) Be yourself. Millennials value authenticity and vulnerability, and we want to know your struggles and mistakes.

      — On empowering them: A friend commented on this blog on Facebook and said: “The Bible says that life and death are in the power of the tongue and there are far to many people speaking death over this generation.” Don’t speak death. Don’t dwell on what is wrong with our generation. Yes, call us out on sins, but also speak life. Let us dream and then speak truth from your own experience. Remind us that we’re in this together. A friend of mine is a boomer in ministry and we meet at Starbucks a couple times a month because we like working together. She empowers me because she wants to work with me and because she believes that we both have something to bring to the table. Millennials have some crazy ideas and they may rock the way that things have been done. For this, organizations need a balance – we need of the history and experience of the older generations, and we also need and the fresh ideas and perspective of this generation that’s grown up with technology changing faster than ever before that we can keep up with. We need each other.

      [And a great addition from Carrie:] Encourage them – Know that some millennials do have a mountain of debt from college and won’t be able to go into non-profit ministry right away, encourage them to get involved where they are, to invest in a church, to volunteer in a community center, to build skills that will help them when they are able to join your organization. Remember that millennials are relational, but many have few pictures of healthy relationships in their lives, encourage them to keep in touch, to build a relationship with you and your family or families within your organization.

      • Thanks, Christine (and Carrie!)…
        Great insights! I love your points about God calling Millennials (He is!) and speaking life over this generation! God is sovereign in His placement of generations and people for “such a time as this!” I feel blessed to be called to serve and empower this cohort of Kingdom workers we call “Millennials!” Thanks for your thoughtful response…looking forward to more conversations on this essential topic!
        Blessings!
        Jolene E.

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