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The Rev. Chris Thomas The Rev. Chris Thomas

The Rev. Chris Thomas serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Williams, Jacksonville, Alabama

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Another Post about Millennials #sorrynotsorry

November 14, 2014

Millennials are leaving your church. More than likely this is a true statement. But I want you to notice what I actually said in that first sentence: millennials are leaving your church, not the Church, not Christianity, not faith, but your church. How do I know that? Because they're leaving mine, or they're not really coming in the first place.

Now, I suppose I could chalk it up to our congregation being in a rural community, or I could say it's because we don't have a "praise and worship service" (is it still 1997?). I could probably point out that our church still uses the old Sunday School model of Christian education, meeting an hour before worship on Sunday morning, and shuttering at phrases like "small groups," "cell groups," or "family groups." I could say millennials don't come to our church because we still have a relatively "traditional" approach to worship, with a pastor in a suit, hymnals in the pews, and we might say "y'all" more than "thou." There are all sorts of things one can point to and say, "See. That right there is why young folks (or just folks in general) aren't coming." But, as a millennial myself (only 30 years old, having come of age in the first decade of the millennium) I have a different theory, one I think lies at the heart of why a lot of people-especially young people-don't come to your church or mine.

Are you ready? Here it is...you don't really want them there.

Now, I know you're ready to get defensive, but hear me out. Maybe you think you want them there. Maybe you want to want them there, but the truth is a lot of "church folks" don't really want a bunch young, question-asking, tradition-breaking, free-thinking, open-minded young folks coming into their cloistered congregations shaking things up. Most congregations (in my experience) are all about "keeping the peace," protecting the church from anything that can be remotely labeled as "controversial," even to the point of denying the identity of the whole congregation for the sake of a few power-hungry bullies. This leads to congregations that make absolutist statements that say to millennials "you're only welcome here if you've got it all figured out like we believe we do."

Millennials want conversation, not indoctrination. Millennials are seeking openness, not absolutes. Millennials desire a place where they are more than simply filling the slot of a missing demographic. The absolute last thing we want is to be told we aren't allowed to think, and that is what most of our churches tell millennials: "Check your brain at the door, because in here, we'll tell you what to think."

Millennials are growing tired of giving your church a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth...) chance. They know there is nothing keeping them bound to your congregation and the antagonism they feel directed towards their desire to love Jesus more deeply, to love others more deeply. Millennials are tired of fighting about issues that they've settled long ago. They're tired of hearing you complain about how lazy they are, how their generation doesn't communicate like yours did/does, how they're all immature and don't know the first thing about real work or stress (never mind that ours is the most over-worked and over-stressed generation). Millennials are tired of hearing about how much you want them to come to church, but the second they become involved, they are criticized, bullied, and disrespected to the point of being deeply hurt. Perhaps most of all, millennials are tired of being dismissed by churches as if they are some fad, some generational movement that will go away once we all "grow out of it."

Church folks say they want millennials in their church, but what they really mean is they want more butts in the pews, younger families to financially preserve the institutions and crumbling monuments they've built to themselves, and one more member than the church across town.

I'm a pastor, and I'm a millennial, and I know these things to be true, because even I still feel the same way, as if the church says it wants me, but it doesn't really want me. Millennials will come to your church, but they will stay and be a part of your congregation, your community if they genuinely feel they are more than just a demographic you're looking to fill. They will become a part of your church when they feel as if their voices are heard, not simply dismissed. Millennials will stay when we feel as if we're really wanted, as if we matter, as if we're more than simply the next generation of care-takers. Millennials will stay if they feel that something is actually being accomplished for Christ's kingdom besides arguing the finer points of doctrine.

If you or your church doesn't want change, conversation, action, spiritual growth, or thoughtfulness, then you don't really want millennials in your church. The truth is, you're doing everything you can to keep us out.


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