That headline got The Motley Monk thinking. If conventional wisdom is accurate as it concerns Millennials and their interest in practicing religion, what turns them on are cool bands, edgy programming, and technological wizardry. In short, they’re very much into audio-sensory stimulation and gratification. Of course, that can easily morph into hedonism, where an individual worships whatever gives pleasure. For a hedonist, life is “all about me.”
Responding to the Millennial’s interests, many religious leaders have concluded “If the Church doesn’t change its methods, it will become irrelevant.” Catering to the Millennial’s desires over the past decade, many of these religious leaders have revamped worship and the space in which worship transpires. They’ve cast aside the age-old aphorism “through the stomach to the heart” with “through the senses to the soul.” After all, it’s about being “responsive.”
Today, some megachurches feature religious metallica generating dithyrambic bass to create earthquakes in the worship space that rock spectators out of their seats in a frenzy of delight. Jumbotrons feature shimmering LED images that bedazzle the eyes and heighten the spectacle of it all. Worshippers are comfortably seated in the kind of plush chairs normally reserved to high-end theaters. In some places, prizes awarded at the end of the service, for example, iPads and, yes, even automobiles.
However, despite all of these “enhancements,” data indicate that church attendance among Millennials is very low. As the author of the op-ed observed, Millennials smell something of a fraud in those megachurches where “right and wrong” is preached—churches that are “judgmental” and “exclusive”—yet do so in the hippest and coolest of worship spaces.
According to David Kinnaman, although 60% of Millennials would prefer worship to be “modern” rather than “traditional,” 67% of Millennials prefer a “classic” church to a “trendy” one. Moreover, 77% of Millennials prefer a “sanctuary” to an “auditorium.” In his book, “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church . . . and Rethinking Faith,” Kinnaman observes that Millennials “are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.”
That protein is found in the sacraments. The sacraments make the Church relevant because they are outward signs instituted by Christ to provide the grace that human beings need if they are to live meaningful lives in any generation. Could it possibly be that Millennials perceive those religious rituals as “irrelevant” and “disconnected from reality” because the sacraments speak directly to what their souls need if they are to be nourished spiritually?
Given the Millennials’ distaste for “judging” and “excluding,” the data suggest that religious leaders should explain the sacraments in a classic sanctuary but in a way that’s loving, authentic, and inclusive. It’s that last term, “inclusive,” that’s critical for Millennials and for whom Jesus’ dictum, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) appears to be the defining characteristic of religion.
But, consider this: What kind of honest relationship exists when either party isn’t allowed to share one’s thoughts, ideas, and yes, judgments and, then, to work through all of the thickets as well as avoid all of the landmines in a way that’s loving, authentic, and inclusive for fear of being labeled “judgmental”?
Jesus made judgments. Consider what he said to chief priests and scribes who followed the letter of the law but didn’t live its spirit, all of those folks who looked out only for themselves and cared less about others and their needs, and entire groups of people as well. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!”, Jesus judged (Luke 10:13).
The data indicate that many Millennials have concluded that traditional religion is irrelevant, disconnected from the reality of their lives, not loving, inauthentic, and exclusive. Those Millennials have also concluded that unless religion makes them feel good about themselves, it’s preaching something they don’t need to hear. Lastly, Millennials have concluded that hip and cool churches that preach what Scripture teaches—veritable wolves in sheep’s clothing—should be rejected.
Are not those Millennials who make these conclusions being judgmental?
Is worship and the practice of religion “all about me”? If they are, then worship and the practice of religion are not “all about God.” Catering to Millennials and their desires may be doing the majority of them a spiritual disservice, evidencing one form of pastoral malpractice.
Let the discussion begin...
To read the Washington Post op-ed, click on the following link: