Posts tagged Millennials
Why the Modern Church Has Failed

I grew up in a traditional church that was more interested in hanging on to its formalities than it was in open-mindedly assessing why it was losing its youth. My own youth group was quite large but by the time we had reached 18 the vast majority of us had walked away from the church. As a result of these experiences I have, for a long time, been quite interested in the topic of youth and church.

Enter the modern church. Among many other things, the modern church was an attempt to create a church culture that was both attractive and retentive of its youth. However, after many years of going down that road we are still publishing books on how youth are leaving church in droves. It appears the modern church has failed.

But why? The answers are as complex as the problem, but allow me to present a paradigm that I believe contributes, perhaps more than any other reason, to the youth exodus that plagues churches everywhere.


Before I do so, allow me to dissect the church into three chunks. The first chunk we will call the "heart beat" of the church. This is what gives the church its life, breath and relevance. In other words, the heart beat is the purpose of the church. The second chunk we will call the "muscle". This is what enables the church to live out its purpose. In an Adventist local church this would include- in part - the "business meeting" (most powerful meeting in the church which involves every church member), the "board meeting" (where appointed leaders of the church meet to implement the decisions of the church and to steer the church through representative decisions) and "ministry meetings" (where ministry leaders of diverse ministries get together to plan for the year). In other words, the muscle of the church is its system. The third chunk is the cosmetics of the church. This is the stuff everyone sees like the age of the building, its cleanliness and it's upkeep. But this also involves the church's style like its dress code, its musical niche, its interior design etc. In other words, the cosmetics of the church is its style.

Now that we have divided the church into these three chunks allow me to introduce what I believe is the major problem with the church today. Jesus gave the church a heart beat: the great commission. This task to make disciples of all nations is why the church exists. It is its purpose. The muscle of the church is thus fully employed in bringing this purpose about. And the cosmetics of the church adapt to the different cultures and generations that that particular local church is speaking into. However, at some point in history the church seems to have lost its heart beat. Once it lost its heart beat (making disciples of all nations) it became obsessed with itself. As a result the muscle of the church switched from an outward focused system set up to facilitate the accomplishment of the great commission to an inward focused system set up to keep the church members happy. The end result of this was churches that cared little of how they were perceived in their communities and instead focused on keeping one another happy. The cosmetics of the church thus evolved, not as a tool for speaking into culture, but as a celebration of nostalgia.

Then one day, a well meaning member realized that all the youth were totally not clicking with church. So this well meaning member spoke with another well meaning member and together they decided something had to be done. What can we do to attract and retain our youth? They asked. And the answer was always the same: We have to make church cool.

OK, maybe no one ever used those exact words. But that's what it all boils down to. Most of the modern church is ultimately concerned with being "cool" enough so that its youth feel comfortable and perceive the church as relevant. But it hasn't worked. We are still publishing books and funding research on the "youth exodus issue" and church leaders across the board know that youth are still leaving. In addition, the modern church's attempt has become the object of scorn both in the church and in the culture the church is supposedly reaching. Check out the video below, by Nick Thune, which communicates exactly how many secular post-moderns perceive the church of today.

This video is both hilarious and sad. Hilarious because the dude is funny! Sad because the modern church has become so predictable, shallow and "cool" that it can be so easily caricatured and ridiculed. And the worst part of it all is it hasn't worked.

But why? Well, here is my theory. Remember the whole heart-beat, muscle and cosmetic thing? When the church lost its heart beat its muscle became useless and its cosmetic gradually lost touch with its culture. When well meaning members decided to seek a solution, however, rather than go to the core of the issue and fix that (the church had no heart beat) they simply tweaked the cosmetics. But what do you get when you wash a tomb white? You get a white washed tomb. Its pretty on the outside, but inside its still full of dead men's bones. So what do you get when you take a church that has no heart beat with an atrophied muscular structure and simply change the cosmetics? You get a church that's pretty on the outside, but fundamentally it is still dead, irrelevant and useless. It only takes the youth (who might be initially attracted by your coffee bar and contemporary Christian worship band) so long before they figure out that your contemporary church is, apart from the cosmetics, no different to the traditional church that they ran away from. It's still boring. It's still irrelevant. It's still exists for nothing more than the appeasement of its own membership. It has no lasting, impacting or legitimate reason to exist. And without that heart beat you can change your cosmetics all you want and you will end up with nothing more than a shallow and cheesy version of Christianity that hardly resembles the world changing movement Jesus intended us to be.

Am I against the cosmetics? Of course not. There's nothing worse than walking into a church and it feels like you just stepped back 100 years. There is nothing worse than churches who clearly have no interest or knowledge of the culture and its language. But here's my point - the cosmetics should be the result of having a heart beat. They are not the thing that causes it. Change them all you want, but it wont revive your church, keep your youth or attract your neighbors. But a church with a heart that beats for the broken and lives to share the gospel to its community by acts of mercy, justice and service is a relevant church that will impact its sphere of influence for decades to come.

Lets be that kind of church.

The Raw Church Movement: Modern VS Traditional
We have finally come to the final installment of "The Raw Church Movement" series. In this series I have sought to interact with the results of a recent Barna Group study which asked a group of millennials to describe their ideal church. The results communicated the kinds of values and elements that millennials value and look for in a church. Through the last five posts I have shared brief thoughts on each of the results of this survey. Today I touch on the final one, "Modern VS Traditional".

This final result is a bit surprising. After all, at this point in the survey its clear that millennials are not big fans of the "modern", "hip", or "cool" church. They prefer a classic faith to a trendy one, a sanctuary to an auditorium and a quiet worship space to a loud one. These are all elements of the traditional church. However, in this final section they vote a modern church experience over a traditional one. What gives?

While I can't offer an expert opinion I can speak, once more, as a millennial. In my experience millennials find it very irritating when older generations act as our "spokes people". What I mean by that is older generations saying things like "today's youth want A, or B, or need C" in order to "stay in church". The reason why we find it annoying is because millennials are, by and large, extremely eclectic. Older generations need to stop pretending like they know exactly what we want because they went to some conference or read some book on how to keep youth in church. Millennials are very complex, "mis-matchy", miscellaneous and have a taste for chaotic bricolage. This is why intergenerational/ multicultural worship is so meaningful to us. This is why we could care less about the worship wars. We like to sing them all. This is why dress code is so dumb to us. We welcome whatever dress code you like. This is why were so put off by modern churches who attempt to dictate, like the dogmatic churches of old, exactly what faith in practice should look like, what sermons should sound like, how language should be used, and on and on. Were into the traditional, as is clearly seen in this survey. But we also have a high regard for post-modern values like community, authenticity and narrative which influence our views on church relationships, customs, formalities and aesthetics.

In the final item on the poster, it is modern that comes above traditional. As a millennial I can attest to my personal love for traditional faith values and my disdain for the attempt to make Christianity culturally palatable (which has resulted in so much shallow, cheesy, your-best-life-now religion). But on the same token, I can attest to my personal disdain for traditional faith expressions and my love for the attempt to liberate Christianity from European cultural expectations, dead customs and practices, dogmatic and irrelevant discourses, and the general uselessness of a religion so focused on itself that it is of no good on earth. In that sense, I love the modern church. Clint Jenkin, VP of the Barna Group, summarized this tension best when he wrote:
"It's tempting to oversimplify the relationship between Millennials and sacred space," said Jenkin. 
"For instance, it might be easy to believe such a place needs to look ultra modern or chic to appeal to teens and young adults. But the reality, like so much about this generation, is more complicated—refreshingly so. 
"Most Millennials don't look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning. 
"There are myriad ways to design sacred and communal spaces that call people of all ages to deeper relationships with God, self and others. 
"No two churches will (or should) incorporate them all in the same way. There is no cookie-cutter, mass-production solution for welcoming Millennials to your space."[1]
I couldn't have said it better myself! So here is my challenge to the millennial generation. We need to stop the "church doesn't get me" stuff. We need to cut the chatter (and boy we millennials love to talk) and get to work. A wise writer once said (this is a paraphrase) that those who critique others for not doing what they should are themselves more responsible for doing that same task for they have been endowed with the ability to see what must be done, an ability that the recipients of their criticism may likely not possess. If we want to see the church change, we must lead it. If we want to see it evolve, we must nurture it. If we want to see it live up to its calling, we must make the calling our own. We must sacrifice, bleed, sweat and suffer to make it happen. If we fail to do this then the day will come when the post-millennial generation will look upon us with the same dismayed and dispirited look we now cast upon our elders and wonder why in the world we failed to accomplish that which we spoke so passionately about. We need to see new churches planted, ministries being born, and lives that exist for more than just the temporal American dream. We need to see a generation that lives and breathes for the kingdom of God, that finances and economizes for the spread of the gospel and that places all - be it career, family or security - second to the task of discipling all nations.

If we are not willing to do this then maybe we should stop talking so much.

But I won't end on that note because it's really harsh. And I didn't set out to write a harsh article. So allow me to end on this note: It's all about Jesus. Our generation can do this and so much more because its not about us. Its about him. Lets focus on him. Lets follow him. And I believe, with every ounce of my being, that we will turn the world upside down.

Jesus to the culture!

Further Reading:

Millennials Should Stop Complaining About the Church and Start a Revolution

Millennials: Let's Stop Complaining and Start Changing the World

What Millennials Want When They Visit Church

5 Things Millennials Wish the Church Would Be



The Raw Church Movement: Classic VS Trendy

Classic VS Trendy
A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:

In the last Raw Church Movement post I shared some thoughts and ideas related to Community VS Privacy. In today's post, I would like to share some thoughts related to Classic VS Trendy. According to the above survey Millennials overwhelmingly prefer classic churches to trendy ones. But what exactly is meant by classic and trendy? Does this mean that Millennials are more into the traditional church than the modern church? Not exactly. All you have to do is look at the final item to see that 60% prefer a modern church to only 40% rooting for the traditional. So once again, what exactly is classic and trendy? And why do Millennials prefer the classic?

While I cannot know for sure how Barna defined those terms I can provide some thoughts from my own culture and experience. If you asked me to choose between a classic Christianity and a trendy one certain concepts would immediately pop into my head.

Bible-focused, Historical, Profound, Experiential, Time-tested, and Authentic.

Fun-focused, Lively, Poppy, Exciting, Cheesy, Phony, Marketed, and Shallow.

Forgive me if my reactions to these two concepts comes across as offensive or insulting of trendy churches. This is certainly not my intention. All I am doing is identifying my own reaction to these two terms. Numerous conversations with millennials, articles, books, and experiences have shown me that I am not alone in these reactions. 

When I think of a trendy church experience I can't help but think of a shallow church experience that leans more toward a cosmetic adaptation of church than an ontological one. I picture myself sitting in a comfy church with a super cool pastor who preaches highly forgettable sermons and smiles all the time. I picture a youth group that has tons of fun, great t-shirts, fantastic slogans, logos, and high quality bands yet lacks in spiritual depth. As a millennial I am not looking for a fun church. I am looking for a church that is willing to get messy with life. A church that is not afraid to explore anxiety, depression and addiction. A church that is authentic and honest about pain and suffering. A church where people don't feel the need to pretend they are OK. A church that encourages activism and justice in the world. A church that gets involved with disenfranchised communities. A church that explores the life of Jesus with astounding depth. A church that goes beyond a "God loves you" talk and steps into a "God loves you" walk. A church that explores the entire God-story of scripture, including its gritty parts. For some reason, none of this pops into mind when I think of a trendy church.

I could be wrong of course. Me and a large percentage of my peers. But most of us feel as though the trendy church is mostly a reaction to the horrors of the traditional church as opposed to a proactive attempt to reach the lost. So if it were me answering the survey I too would have chosen "classic".

However, as mentioned before, this does not automatically mean that the traditional church is the place to be. As bad as a trendy church is in my mind, a traditional church is way worse (more on this in the future). But the concept of a classic church is something I find quite appealing. When I think of a classic church I think more in terms of ontology than I do of cosmetics. And there I see a church that embraces the gospel in all its fullness. It may not be flashy and cool, but it changes lives. It's a church where people find their greatest joy in sharing life together and opening up an ancient book written by God himself. It is a church that is intentional about reaching the lost and helping the suffering. A church that speaks the language of its culture, meets people where they are, and leads them gently toward God's call over their lives. That's exactly what I long for. This is not to say that there is nothing to learn from a trendy church. Nice logos, fun events, and down to earth environments are certainly important. But nothing can or should replace the old rugged cross.
The Raw Church Movement: Community VS Privacy

Community VS Privacy
About two years ago I had to do a University project for the church I was working at. Part of the project involved interviewing members regarding different topics related to the church, including community. One answer captured the problem so well I will never forget it: "Relationships at this church end when we walk out the front door."

I remember reading that answer and thinking, ouch! But harsh as it sounds, its true. The majority of the churches I have attended fail miserably when it comes to community. It seems as if people are content with a private religion. When they come to church they only come for God - which is not a bad thing, but its also not a good thing. While the worship experience is about God in an ultimate sense, there is no denying the element of community. Pious as the proposition may be, church is not only about God and no one else (if that were the case, just worship at home!). Instead, church is about God and others.

A recent study by Barna Group collectively asked the question "What is your ideal church?" to a group of millennials. Here are the results:

Millenials Share their "Ideal" Church
Image by: Kah-Wai Lin

As you can see, the very first item on the list relates to community. A whopping 78% of those who were surveyed said they preferred a church that has community over a church that is private. But what exactly is community? Why is it missing from our churches? Why do millennials crave it so much? And how can the church move in the direction of community?

Community is a very simple concept that can be defined as "a group of people doing life together". Profound relationships, intimate connections, raw conversations and an authentic experience of "withness" are all elements that make community what it is. Community gives a sense of security and identity. It provides a strong foundation for people to embark on the often scary journey of faith that Jesus calls us to. Community helps us to belong.

Why is this missing from our churches? It's hard to say. I suspect the answer is complex, but the concept of individualism is what I would consider to be the main culprit.[1] Individualism is a predominantly western concept that basically states that the individual is supreme in life. In other words, nothing is more important than me. Anything beyond that is not really my concern. This concept of individualism leads us to invest our lives primarily in the pursuit of self-gain. Relationships are thus sacrificed at the altar of success. While such a worldview is perfectly in line with secular mentality, the oddity is that it has made its way into the church. What do you get when your churches are filled with people who are individualistic? The answer is simple: individuals who prefer a private religious experience to a communal one.

But the culture is beginning to change. Individualism has been exposed as the dry and lonely way of life that it is. As a result, it appears that younger generations are increasingly resistant toward it. Today, more than in recent times, people are craving real relationships. Millennials want to be a part of something, they want to do life with others. Sadly, when they come to church in search of this communal experience what they encounter is the individualistic culture that they are longing to escape. But the problem is worse than this for not only is the church individualistic but it pretends to be communal! People speak to you as if they care - and they do - but not enough to walk through life with you. There is a facade of community present in many churches. It feels like a family when you walk in, so you keep going hoping to eventually become a part of this family. But the longer you attend the clearer it becomes: there is no family. At best its a Sabbath morning club that repeats itself each weekend for a period of 1-4 hours and then its "see you next week". Visitors and members alike exit this place called church where they have just collectively worshiped God only to face six entire days of lonely warfare. They then reconnect the following weekend with shallow conversations that pretend everything is fine. Then they re-exit the church and are immediately confronted with another six days alone. How overwhelmingly tragic.

This is not what millennials want. In fact, I don't think any human being honestly wants this. It's terrible! But for some reason, this is what we have and we can't seem to break free from it. So what can we do to change our culture? How can we create community in our churches? While I don't know all the answers, here are some suggestions:

1. Confess: All change begins with admitting where we are. The first step is to admit that we are individualistic. Any attempt at justifying this must be rejected. We need to own our mistakes - even the unintentional ones.  
2. Repent: The next step is choosing to turn away from where one is currently headed. But we must do more than turn away. What we need is for God to give us the gift of repentance which includes sorrow for sin. We cant change by simply saying "bad idea. Sorry God." What we need is to experience true sorrow for what we have done. We need to hate individualism, not just dislike it. But this can only come from God. 
3. Believe: God alone can change us. We can't change ourselves. Individualism is so ingrained in our psyche we do it without noticing. We need a miracle to change and this God can do for us. Any ideas of self-help or self-improvement must be put away. God doesn't want to improve our churches. He wants to uproot them and plant something new. This cant be accomplished through human effort. It is by faith that we can experience this. 
4. Cooperate: God wants to do amazing things in our churches. Let's move out of the way and let him do his thing. This includes abandoning our comfort zones and being intentional about creating strategies to help foster a community culture. 
5. Repeat: The above process is not something we do once and move on with life. It needs to be constantly repeated even if we feel as though we have "arrived". We will never truly arrive and the battle to become a community focused church is an uphill, counter-cultural, battle. We need to constantly seek God for more grace to accomplish it.
Over the next few months I will be blogging on this, and other issues raised in the survey above. Through it all, I hope to give more practical strategies and methods that can help us turn our churches around. I call this process the Raw Church Movement meaning the pursuit of recapturing a vision of church in its most natural state. I hope the series gives lots to think about and engage in. But never forget, culture takes a long time to change. So don't be discouraged by slow movement.

Jesus to the culture,

[1] Individualism: Dominant feature of the Western societies that encourages individual freedom at the cost of traditional family ties and social cohesion, and stresses individual initiative. It relies on the belief that individual freedom forms the basis of entrepreneurial (capitalistic) culture which is the best guarantee of an ever expanding economy. [Source:]