Dear older brother or sister in Christ,
I respect you. Really, I do. I may be young but I’ve seen enough to know that persevering in faith into middle age and beyond isn’t the easiest thing to do. You’ve more than likely experienced heartbreak, fatigue, failure, and pain that have led to others you know walking away from the church or from faith altogether. I’ve experienced pain and heartache in my 30 years and, if my experience is normative, I can’t fathom how much more will come my way in the next 20-30 years that will tempt me to quit, to give up, or to walk away.
But I have this against you: just because I’m only 30 doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I shouldn’t be taken seriously, that I should be summarily dismissed because I’m “still young,” or that I will eventually come to see the wisdom of your position when I get older. This is not the place where I wave my credentials in your face, where I tout my experience that qualifies me to speak into certain matters, or where I logically demonstrate the fallacious nature of the age dismissal. The problem is larger than what I have experienced so striving for personal vindication is petty and fruitless. The problem is that, as older believers, you have become pretty smug in your attitude regarding people my age. We see it and, for many, it is driving us away from church at best and faith at worse.
Ask adults 30 and under about their recent experiences with church and their thoughts about what the church is compared to what it is meant to be. The responses aren’t typically flatering. For every supportive, formative experience a young adult has with a church there are a myriad of others who have felt so marginalized, dismissed, forgotten, or neglected that they have begun what many throughout history have done when experience doesn’t mesh with belief: they have created a belief around the experience that they couldn’t reconcile to what they expected. To say it another way, young adults who actually do attempt to continue on in their faith in college and in the early years of adulthood are encountering environments that are hostile and dismissive more often than those that are interested in forming their faith.
I’m privileged to occassionally have the opportunity to talk with churches or church leaders about the challenges and opportunities involved in reaching millennials. Far too often I hear a version of the following arguments:
- Millennialls just need to grow up. If we keep doing what we’re doing they will eventually come around.
- Why should we be expected to change? We can’t cater to just one generation.
- We’re aready doing what they say they want. We’re obviously not the problem!
The objections bely the conclusion of many in my generation: the church is only concerned about themselves. Doing something different involves risk and usually results in change. The church likes the status quo and, consequently, is losing its relevance to life in a rapidly changing world.
Older brother and sister, I love you. I love the church, but the church often breaks my heart in its arrogant, dismissive attitude towards the critiques and heart-cries of folks my age. Millennalls are far from perfect and no church or organization should bend to our every whim. Outright dismissal is also never a good course to adopt. There has to be a middle-ground that can be reached. There must be a middle-ground that can be reached or, I fear, the church will continue to be marginalized and minimalized and will become sterile and ineffective for the cause of Christ.
So, older brother and sister, this is my appeal to you: for the cause of Christ, for the glory of God, for the continued thriving and expansion of His kingdom, please stop pointing fingers, please stop dismissing the critiques and desires of younger people, pease stop insisting that we “wait our turn.” I fear that if we remain insistent on living in the same patterns that we will miss incredible opportunities that currently exist to impact neighborhoods, communities, cities, and nations for the glory of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Humbly and respectfully,