A recent CNN editorial written by Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” explores the reasons Millennials have recently been leaving the church. Contrary to the assumption of some Christian leaders, who, according to Evans, think that this “hip” generation only requires “edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall [or] a pastor who wears skinny jeans” to renew their faith, Evans argues that the issue is rooted firmly in politics and culture.
Young adults often consider the church behind the times in more ways than one. It is sometimes seen as old-fashioned, unwelcoming and unaccepting. Some say the church is too political, while others say it is not concerned enough with social justice issues. The church, said to be built on the foundation of hope and love, is sometimes thought to be exclusive, judgmental and even hostile. Because of these perceptions, a generation of young adults is turning away from the church as an institution.
So how can Millennials find their way back? Evans suggests that the church needs to make more of an effort to acknowledge current events and update sermons to account for the changing religious, economic and sociopolitical landscape rather than simply attempting to add a “cool” factor that fails to accomplish anything. I agree with her. Churchgoers are looking for more than loud music and an impressive light show. They want to use their faith to make a difference, and they are searching for institutions that will not repress or ignore their desire to do so.
Because we live in the age of social media, our generation uses a multitude of methods to share our opinions about current issues. Consequently, our generation feels less intimidated about sharing what we think, questioning things that don’t seem logical and arguing against the status quo. This sentiment directly contradicts the church’s mind-set of belief based on faith and honoring traditions of the past. Many Millennials feel stifled by the Christian church’s way of thinking and yearn to help the church understand and appreciate other mind-sets.
Evans’ editorial brings up a valuable point: the Church needs to make more of an effort to include current issues in the values of the religious community. Young people want the church to express views about life and faith that correspond with their own.
The idea of inclusivity is one of the most important aspects for the church to consider. If the church changes its focus from retaining its members to including people from all walks of life, Millennials may feel more inclined to give the institution a second chance. Giving younger churchgoers an opportunity to share their perspectives through small group meetings or online forums may be a good way to start this process.
Religion is meant to welcome rather than ostracize. It is meant to lift people up and make them feel loved and appreciated rather than unworthy. Our generation expects the church to support a message of love and acceptance. Many Millennials are dismayed by the prospect of having to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. They see a choice between compassion and holiness as an unacceptable component of Christian faith.
I found myself identifying with the majority of Evans’ points as I read her editorial. Because I am not very religious, I often have a hard time accepting the church’s messages, but I see value in attempting to widen the church’s perspective. The transition from tolerance to acceptance requires a change in outlook, which Millennials will be happy to provide if the church gives them the chance to do so.
Nina Hagen ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a women and gender studies concentration.
Graphic Credit: DANIEL BYNUM/MANITOU MESSENGER