OK, I know what you’re thinking…well, she broke her promise again to keep writing. I’m terrible, I know! But I had a good reason, y’all: POTTY TRAINING! We started potty training on February 29, 2016 and I had all of these plans to write all about it. Well, we did it, but it was much more exhausting than I thought it would be! So I have a post started with tons of info for those who will go through this at some point, BUT I haven’t finished it yet. Yes, almost one year later. It was THAT EXHAUSTING!
Today’s topic is much more serious. We are church-shopping right now. And I was asked to give my opinion on an article about millennials turning away from the church. I decided to make it my returning post, because this article is fantastic and I agree with it so much. I wanted to lay out my many, many thoughts to go along with the numbered points in the article.
1. Nobody’s Listening
At a recent church we attended, this was pretty big. The church asked for opinions several times from the members and there were two problems: A) As a frequent singer on the worship team, but not technically a member, no one ever stopped to ask me what I did or didn’t like about the church. Nobody from the church administration ever asked why my extended family chose to become members but we did not. Nobody stopped to ask why my husband and daughter stopped attending. Nobody ever asked. We got asked a few questions about kids’ programs, and the Youth Director seemed to be trying hard to make improvements to those programs. But my kid doesn’t drive herself to church. And unless you say key words like “Mickey Mouse” and “Daniel Tiger” during the sermon, she’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. B) When I finally did have an opportunity to express my feelings via an anonymous survey, I was already done. It wasn’t even the church admin’s idea for the survey–it was the Worship Team Director’s idea. And the church hadn’t cared for the two years that I had been attending, so why would they care when I was about to leave?
2. Values and Mission Statements
Words mean nothing if you don’t have any action behind them. NOTHING.
3. Helping the Poor
Every Wednesday, I take my daughter to a local museum. And every week we would see Mike. Mike played the saxophone near the museum parking lot. He never asked for money, but he had a jar in his saxophone case nearby for anyone who wanted to give some. His specialty was playing, “Amazing Grace.” But whenever he saw a child, he would switch to “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Monkey loved it! So every week, I would raid our coin jar and pull out $2 in quarters. I put them in a zip-top bag and took them with us to the museum. When we saw Mike, I would have Monkey go put money in his jar. He would thank her and call her “Ladybug.” He was the first person she ever shook hands with and learned to greet. This went on for months. One day, shortly after the city announced they would be clearing out the homeless in downtown, he told me he was going to Las Vegas to play saxophone and take a vacation. He never came back. Now I’m not saying that we all need to teach our kids to hug every person they see on a corner. No way. But our kids need to be shown how to respect and care for others. And if you want church to be someplace they enjoy and go to learn, then you need to show them how to help the community. Set the example. It doesn’t matter if you set out colorful eggs for the kids the day before Easter. There are kids who could care less about that. But offering a spaghetti dinner for anyone in the community one night a month? That’s helpful for the family with 4 kids. That’s helpful for the single mother living paycheck to paycheck. That’s helpful for the person living on the street who has to decide whether to use their last $5 on 3 candy bars to fill his belly for 1 day vs a baggie of meth that will take away any feeling at all. And if you want millennials to care about the world, show them you care, too. They know what issues are plaguing society today–show them you’re more than just the words, “Love one another.”
4. Blaming the Culture
…I agree fully with Sam Eaton (the author) on this point. There’s not much else to say. Our generation isn’t exactly the only problem here. If you think it is, please look up the 1:100 Law and its history. I call “not it” on behalf of all millennials on that one.
5. Church Cliques
We all know there are assigned seats in church, right?? Of course! It’s the #1 unwritten rule! We visited a church last week that challenged their young adults to sit with their youth. It was funny to see how uncomfortable everyone was sitting in a new place! But they did it and they survived, and it showed them it was OK to sit with the teenagers–they would be OK. But being uncomfortable about church is about more than sitting in a certain place. It’s being comfortable with who you are. I especially applaud those attending church who “look” different than what you expect to see in most churches: those who wear a headscarf, which, to some people, automatically makes them Muslim (even though several religions and cultural traditions support them). I wore a rainbow shirt that said “Love Wins” to pick my daughter up from her religious preschool awhile back, and you should’ve seen the looks I got! It’s a rainbow, people (even though I did embroider it in honor of the Orlando nightclub shooting).
In some areas, just having a certain color skin can make you stand out. And personality traits further divide us. While it’s great to have a team of greeters that focus on talking to visitors or guests, there are those who are worse after. We went to a church once and really enjoyed the service, but we were overwhelmed by people trying to greet us and introduce themselves afterward. They threw lots of facts and history of the church at us and a group of couples asked us every week if we wanted to go to dinner with them, until we finally gave in. While they were nice enough people and we enjoyed dinner, we felt more duty-bound to do it vs having an honest desire to go out with them. We didn’t know them. We only saw them at church and didn’t have a whole lot in common with them. And being the type of person who can act very social for an hour at church but secretly loves her quiet space and alone time, this made me pretty uncomfortable. And can we talk about social media for a minute? Please don’t preach to me on Sunday about loving all of our neighbors, no matter the race, religion, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation and then post a diatribe of memes about certain races being criminals, religion going to hell, countries that should be banned, glass ceilings that should/should not be shattered, or how marriage is defined by the Courts. Until God puts you in charge of His Court, you can go ahead and stop playing Judge. Social media can be a huge tool for churches to get the word out about events or special groups that they are catering to, but it can also quietly tear apart your congregation and send your millennials packing, lest they feel ever-judged.
6. Distrust and Misallocation
While I do agree that we want transparency by the church, I’m not quite as concerned about where every penny is going vs how you’re making it available to the community. Are you paying for a bounce house? That’s fine with me, as long as you make it a point to visit neighborhoods and surrounding parks to invite those who don’t attend the church. Don’t tell me you’re saving money by not paying the outdoor recreation fee to host a BBQ, and then do the BBQ inside the church, where many non-church members will be too intimidated to venture. Spend the money so it can be outside and inviting to those driving by or walking down the street with their kids! And make your youth room or young adult meeting areas inviting. Don’t take Mrs. Hatcher’s 25-year-old couch with the springs sticking through and the pillows with unknown sticky substances on them just because they’re free. Spend the money to make your meeting rooms a welcoming place for young people to bring their friends, relax, and open up their hearts and minds.
I’m involved in an amazing organization called MOPS–Mothers of Preschoolers. We’re a group of women who are mothers of children 5 and under. We get together to eat, pray, and do crafts and discussions a couple times a month. But one of my favorite things about MOPS is having Mentor Moms. Mentor Moms are moms who have older kids–either school-aged or adult–who attend our meetings and are there to help us solve our endless mom riddles. It ranges from marital advice to child discipline tips to fast food tricks! At our last meeting, our Mentor Mom imparted knowledge about how to upgrade the chicken nuggets at Chick-fil-A to a chicken sandwich for those little-kids-who-can-eat-more-than-dad (and still want the toy). Genius, I tell you! (FYI, apparently only the “cool” CFAs do this). This is what churches need. Forget groups of young adult couples. Forget the college age groups. Find people from the older generations to mentor the younger ones. A church we visited created an intern position for a college-aged girl to mentor the high school youth during the summer. What a fantastic idea! And with everything happening on high school and college campuses right now (clowns, football players being offered young females as recruitment perks, political protests, etc), this is an amazing opportunity for high schoolers to gain knowledge and advice from someone they feel is still connected to their world. But in the same way, have your older parents meet up with your newer parents. Have your older married couples meet with younger couples. Have millennials who have graduated college and are working in the real world meet with your college kids. Pair up your high schoolers or college kids with the older generation that need help using email. Have them set up a DVR or just sit and listen to stories over a cup of coffee at Starbucks (or McDonald’s, which my Granddad swears is better). That’s how you create a church family vs a church full of cliques. And that’s how you make millennials feel connected and cared for.
8. Feeling Valued
I realize that churches highly rely on charitable giving–either monetarily, through volunteers, or other tasks/skills. But please don’t assume that I can afford to spend my time or money on the church. Present various opportunities to me. Tell me what you need. And if I help you, then say thank you. But a church has to serve people as much as the people serve it. I helped organize the music for a Trunk or Treat event last year. I did it all through email, which is pretty doable with Monkey around. Suddenly, I’m on the email list for every church funeral reception that needs food. While I would love to help out, I have some issues: A) I never sign up to bring food for anything because I have a 3-year-old who hardly gives me time to microwave her a hot dog, B) The church is 20 minutes away from me and I have Monkey with me every day except about 10 hours a week (during which I’m working from home), and C) We’re not members of the church. While I don’t mind helping out a church that I’m not necessarily a member of, it’s frustrates me to no end that because I volunteered to send a few emails, I’m suddenly being pressured for a totally different task that requires a completely different amount of time and money on my part. Millennials these days are paying higher-than-ever prices for student loans, mortgages, and preschools. A high school diploma and hard work doesn’t get you a corporate job anymore. It takes a college degree, a slew of extra-curricular activities, membership in various community groups, and an impressive resume to be considered for a job now. So don’t assume we can all jump to serve the church in whatever way you need. Ask us what we can do and work with us to balance it all. And say thank you. That’s always nice, too.
9. Controversial Issues
This goes back to mentoring. Mentors can’t talk about the fun, clean topics. They have to address the issues that millennials are battling: sex, designer drugs, societal pressures, finances, bathroom bills, immigration issues, and more. You have to be willing to talk about it all. And as a minister, you are there to remind your congregation of God’s love. You are not there to cater to those your congregation wants to love. When the Orlando shooting happened, I saw an email sent from a pastor that said in part, “This particular attack stirs up already difficult topics throughout our nation: The sins of discrimination and hate; the threat of Islamic extremist ideology, so easily spread over the internet far beyond the geopolitical reaches of its sources; and the reality of pervasive gun violence in America.” Did you understand all of that? Or did you have to read it twice? Other than being too wordy (my paralegal research professor would’ve had a heart attack), it completely avoids saying something important: gay. Yes, the attack involved a gun. Yes, the attack involved an Islamic extremist. But summing up LGBT issues with “the sins of discrimination and hate” is so incredibly disrespectful to those victims. They were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, and yes, some were straight. And they were all people who were loved by God. He created each one of them in their mothers’ wombs. And they should be loved equally. As a minister, you must be willing to stand up for all of God’s children. Not just those who fit the church’s traditional system. You will lose all credibility with millennials, as we all have some connection with that community.
10. Public Perception
I agree 100% with Sam Eaton and couldn’t put it any better.
11. Planning and Following Through
I agree that we hear everything you say and expect you to follow through. But the problem I’ve seen in many churches is a lack of any plan or communication to the younger generation, not the problem of saying something and not following through.
12. Adapt and Overcome
I agree with Eaton’s outlined solutions here: look at the data and then reach out to millennials. Go to the colleges, reach out to young graduates through alumni programs, go to the high schools to help offer programs to those joining the work force right out of high school, reach out at preschools and daycares. The millennial generation is expansive and has a variety of needs. Reach out and find those who are struggling to have their needs met and talk to them about how you can help.
So there you have it. My opinion on a very serious topic plaguing my generation these days. If you read it all, you’re amazing and wonderful and I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.
Now, I promise to get back to recipes, shopping at Target, and…eventually…a potty training post. Eventually.