More than any living generation, millennials are unchurched and uninterested in traditional religion.
This may explain why they love to preach so much—especially about why they won’t come back to church. Church, you see, is just so disappointing. It never lives up to their expectations.
As a parent, I actually find these pieces reassuring. It’s terrifying raising a child in America today, given our culture’s massive problems and temptations. But reading over millennials’ church complaints, it becomes clear that they don’t understand the point of church. They’re dissatisfied with churches because they’re going for all the wrong reasons, and none of the right ones.
I can’t single-handedly fix the culture, but at least I can explain to my own kids why church matters. For discontented millennials, here are five bad reasons to go to church (followed by a good one).
1. You Want to Help the Poor
Millennials always complain about churches’ indifference to the poor. Why aren’t they serving people? Why aren’t they meeting the needs of the community?
In reply, I would ask: if you’re such an expert on what your community needs, why are you complicating the matter with altars, hymnals, and weird little rituals? Just get to it and start serving people. Why are you harassing these poor pastors?
To be clear, I am not at all discouraging churches from serving the poor. And I’m not suggesting that secular people should be reluctant to work with churches who do, in fact, serve the poor in all kinds of ways. But if you just want to do social work, there’s no reason to go to Sunday service. Cut the middle-man and do what you really want to do.
2. You’re Ready to Turn the World Upside Down
Easy, Tiger. It’s nice to see young people full of do-gooding zeal. But are you sure the world wants to be transformed by the likes of, well, you?
I don’t want to be too hard on you, because this is a rookie mistake. The world is full of problems, it’s true. But here’s the thing: the world is full of problems because it’s full of problematic people. There are many fickle, impatient, confused, self-absorbed, and generally-discombobulated people out there. Sadly, they’re prone to bad judgment and foolish mistakes.
You may assume that the people you encounter at church must be kinder and better than the ones you meet in less godly places. It’s amazing to me how often I hear this complaint: “I tried to go to church, but the people didn’t seem very nice. They were cliquish. They didn’t welcome me. They wore designer clothes and that was such a turn-off when there are hungry people in the homeless shelter up the street.” Wow. These church people sure do have problems.
But when you showed up for your first Sunday service, did the ushers demand a certificate authenticating your uncontested virtue and holiness? No—because you don’t have one, and neither do those other people. Of course it’s nice when church members are welcoming, inclusive, generous, and godly. If you stick around long enough, chances are you will meet some folks like that. Make no mistake though: church is for sinners. Nobody there has made it through the pearly gates. Yet.
3. You Want To Be Mentored, Listened to, and Affirmed
Millennials are huge on this, and we can understand why. They grew up in a world of customer service, confidence-building pedagogy, and social media that offers everyone their own soap box. Why is church the one place were people don’t seem that interested in what you think?
Here’s a possibility: maybe pastors wisely recognize that you aren’t necessarily the one with the great ideas. Maybe church is a place for people who have realized how much they need to learn.
I’m not suggesting that mentorship and understanding are bad things. But if you’ve left church because you can’t find one that “listens” enough, you’re probably the one who needs to do some listening.
4. You Think Jesus Is a Great Role Model for the Socially Conscious
Many millennials reject church because they don’t hear the message they expected. They see the Christian message a certain way, and don’t hear their version preached from the pulpit.
So here’s a question: if you already know so much about the Gospel, what’s the point of church anyway? Is it just a Jesus fan club?
Some people see Jesus as more than a super-inspiring guy who cheers you on while you pursue your life goals. And again, if he is just a great life coach, there’s no point spending your Sunday morning in dinged-up church pews. Get on with The Real Business, whatever you think that is.
5. You Want To Hear a ‘Relevant Message’
You’re not even a regular church-goer, right? So why would anyone trust you to figure out what is “relevant” for a Christian to know?
Christianity is supposed to form believers who are in but not of the world. Because of that second part, much of what you hear in church might seem weird, archaic, uncool, or out-of-touch with the society that you know. But that’s exactly the point.
If you’re thoroughly immersed in American culture, don’t go to church looking for a “relevant” message. Everyone who walks in should at least understand that what the world offers them is not enough. Immerse yourself for a while in the “out of touch.” You may find yourself reevaluating what is truly “relevant.”
6. You Just Need Three Words
On Sunday mornings when they want to sleep in, my kids sometimes ask why we have to go to Mass. I tell them: To worship God. That’s the primary reason.
My family believes that God loves us and has given us everything we have. We want to show that we love him too. That motive never becomes dated or irrelevant. God is eternal. It means the sins of your fellow worshipers and social problems of your neighborhood aren’t the point, either.
If you’re still not sure why you should worship God, that doesn’t mean church isn’t your thing. It’s actually another great reason to go: because you realize that you’re broken and need help. This isn’t just a stodgy church lady giving you a hard time. It’s one of the fundamental, motivating insights of Christianity. We’re all fallen and in need of grace.
Churches are good at helping you find grace. Like everything else, though, Christianity requires commitment, effort, and a willingness to learn. It all starts with realizing that the problem isn’t every church you’ve ever visited. Millennials, the problem is you.