The Church Every Generation Needs
By Jim Tune
I keep coming across articles about millennials. Most of them are written by millennials (those aged 20–35) about why they’re done with church. A recent article advised churches to start listening to millennials, to ditch vision and mission statements, to stop preaching at people, to disclose on the church’s website how every dollar is spent, and more. “Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know,” it concluded. “In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts.”
Articles like these make some valid points. Many millennials aren’t part of a church. It’s obvious to all of us, no matter what our age, that previous generations suffer from blind spots, as we all do. Instead of being defensive, we should listen to critiques and look for kernels of truth.
I was struck, though, by another article I read, this one by Brad Somers, a nonmillennial preacher in Halifax, Canada. He describes the church he planted as “lame.” The church’s worship is not flashy. “You would think that our whole set up would act as Millennial-repellant,” he writes. And yet many broken, disenfranchised believers and unbelieving skeptics in the millennial age group are part of their church community.
Why? Because attendees invite people into the mess that is family. They don’t offer gimmicks. “Churches,” he writes, “STOP spending more money on your presentation and preach the ancient truths of God’s overflowing love into His people so much so that you will make every effort to be a genuine covenant family in Christ.” When this is done, churches will have something to offer the disenfranchised: genuine love.
The issue isn’t about millennials. The issue is all of us, regardless of our age. We have a set of preferences and demands we make of God, life, and the church. Nothing new here. We’re all essentially the same. Most of us could write a compelling list of demands the church should meet if we’re going to be happy. Some of these demands would even be right.
In the end, though, God, life, and church aren’t about us. We’re called into something bigger, something beautiful, and yes, something that’s often disappointing and broken. There’s no such thing as a church community that would satisfy our desires. There are only flawed churches led by broken leaders and filled with sinful people who are desperately loved by God.
The task of the church isn’t to make changes to satisfy each succeeding generation. The millennials will one day join baby boomers and Generation X, who also made demands of the church, in reading the demands of Generation Z, also known as postmillennials.
We need churches to love people of all ages, to lovingly remind all of us (no matter how young or old) that it’s not about us, and to invite us all into the nongimmicky embrace of family. We need churches to embrace the cynical and disenfranchised, even when they rail against us. That’s the kind of church every generation needs.