millenial church prayer For at least the last decade a variety of leaders have trumpeted the need to reach young adults categorized as millenials with the gospel. The group known as Generation Y, or millenials, has reportedly been studied more than any previous generation. There are no hard edges on a definition of who is encompassed by this grouping, but it roughly covers those born in the early 1980’s through 2000, and we need to reach them. For those of us who would call ourselves evangelical Christians the response to such trumpeting would surely be, “of course!” We need to reach this generation just as we need to reach people of all ages. We do not have time or space here to go into what “reaching” even means, but it seems to me much polluting of message and ministry has occurred in the methods engaged in the process. Much of what the Church (ekklesia) is “called out” to be in the world has gotten lost, or simply become fodder for something besides its God-intended purpose; most notably for our discussion and focus, worship. So here are four of the myths about millenials and worship.

  1. Church and worship need to be more cool to reach young adults. According to Barna research, out of those millenials surveyed who see church as unimportant only a scant 8% say church is out of date. Writer (and millennial), Emily Underwood posits:

No one is impressed by an older adult trying to “fit in.” Millennials are hyperaware and deeply suspicious of the intersection of church and consumer culture”. We’re still consumers, of course, but we’re skeptical. Making church cool isn’t going to work because we’re not buying it. Millennials want a faith that is real and functional, not a cheap imitation of the culture.

Worship that reflects all generations that are participating offers opportunity for shared expressions and growth. Research shows millenials prioritize rich content, authenticity, and quality that is motivated by a genuinely humble desire to serve. (see Thom Rainer)

  1. Millenials want Christianity convenient and easy. This is largely a myth offered up by we baby boomers and gen-exers, who want these features in our own spiritual quest. In fact, authenticity is at the core of what young adults want and need, regardless of how demanding. In large part they are ready and willing to get their hands dirty in serving and addressing social issues and benevolence needs. Discipleship and authentic self-sacrificing worship and service should be at the heart of the local church.
  1. Worship is best in separated environments. This myth seems rooted in a marketing-driven assumption that smells more of “divide and conquer” than “come together.” Like other myths, its faith seems reliant on polls rather than trusting the power of the very gospel it portends to pronounce. According to Barna research young adults who have experienced an established relationship with an older adult inside the church are twice as likely to stay in church and 59% who stay indicate such a relationship. Intergenerational relationships are fostered and encouraged in the mutuality of genuine worship in spirit and in truth.
  1. Worship music style is a top priority in worship. Like any group of people, millenials have individualized and varied tastes in music and art forms. My own grown children (millenials) have found presumptive attitudes in this regard to be demeaning and often a signature of narrow-thinking on the part of church leaders. One very hopeful sign that I find among millenials

Whatever else some of my Baptist buddies may think of Rachel Held Evans’ journey away from the church and back, surely all concerned with millenials and related worship issues must hear important characteristics in her sojourn that speaks of her generation and spiritual sensitivities in corporate worship.  There is much to be learned.

Anthropocentric (human-centered) worship that seeks experience will at best achieve its focused end, an experience. Even when millenials are reached with such, what are they reached to, but experience? Our need is the Triune God Himself! “Ascribing worth to God arises from how He has revealed himself in scripture and how he has acted in history, not least in his redemptive work.”[1] We meet to rehearse His acts, to sing and proclaim what He has done, is doing, and promises to do. In His Triune Presence mediated by the Holy Spirit, there are real tensions where Theocentric (God-centered) worship confesses the awe and mystery. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts.

What if rather than our overblown insistence of our own certainty we once again embraced the humble walk of baptismal spirituality in which we engage in what Robert Webber called “living into our baptism?” (one of my next blogposts)

What if we all sang with genuine abandon lyrics that make less of us, and all of Him, such as “love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all!” even as we recognize our struggle to sincerely offer our all?

[1] Herbert Bateman, Authentic Worship: Hearing Scripture’s Voice, Applying Its Truths (Kregel Academic & Professional 2002) 174.

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  1. Johnny C Says:

    Great word, Paul. We deal with the age-old tension of style over substance. We all need to be reminded that it’s the Who and the What more than the How!

  2. Mac Says:

    Excellent and fascinating article. What amazes me most is that this is a 180 degree turn from what researchers and church leaders started telling us 20 years ago. I dare say that these same researchers were the ones telling church leaders that they needed to make church more hip and cool. Glad to know that researchers and leaders are beginning to catch on that not everything coming out of the mega-churches was good. No where in scripture are fruits of the Spirit defined as large crowds and large offerings.

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