I have seen a great load of studies, articles and critiques lately on Millennials and the Church. Usually the article highlights a study that points to the reality that those between the ages of 35 and 13, who grew up in church ministries (kids programs, youth groups) are leaving churches and many leaving faith. Along with those studies are the articles that highlight how the modern-day evangelical church service with the latest music, hip-est preachers, and most gadgety of technologies are having little effect on attracting or re-attracting Millennials.
As an urban church planter/pastor in a University city, I share the angst. I don’t like the stark truth of many of these studies or the ‘church is failing’ tone that many of the articles have. Frankly, many of the offered solutions seem incredibly weak and just as gimmicky as the last wave of church growth offerings.
The church God used my family to plant is LAME! That’s not the name of the church it’s a descriptive. I preach long and directly out of the Bible, usually study through whole books. Our church has a directed liturgy which includes times of confession, quiet, a public time for questions and comments, and weekly communion. Our worship is not flashy. Usually just one guitar, sometimes we have a keyboard or a second guitar. We sing theologically rich songs, many of the old hymns, and we actually ask our congregation to sing louder so we can hear each other sing gospel truths over each other. On top of this we meet at a 90plus year old cathedral style church that still has a load of stain glass windows. If you were to open up the ‘attractional church model dictionary’ and look under ‘lame’ you would probably read PAXnorth. You would think that our whole set up would act as Millennial-repellant. Why then has so many broken or disenfranchised believers and unbelieving skeptics between the ages of 35 to 18 identified us as their church? Why are they willing to make commitments such as going through six weeks of doctrinal studies before they can join a small group and six more weeks of study before you can become a member?
The missing mission of family in the church
One thing that I think we are grabbing hold of, something I understand that people in our culture, like millennials, are craving because of its absence is family. Genuine family. In a narcissistic, consumer society one of the first victims of the ‘me-first’ life has been all that family was designed to bring. The help, the bearing of burden, the laughing together, the fighting together, the crying together, the loving and sharing together.
I want to suggest that maybe the church needs to begin to figure out to what degree we live out genuine Christ centred family as a means to grounding our missiology to the disenfranchised. The disenfranchised includes the next generation who will tire of whatever gimmicks the present generation comes up with to hold their attention.
Start with your theology of family
The family is God’s idea. Oh boy, I almost can hear the groans from the culture I live in everyday. I know it’s hard to hear those words if you believe that the family is just some social construct that happened because of sexual urges that produces either a wanted or unwanted inconvenience of a long-term relationship or a kid. Sadly the church reflects, by its divorce rate and broken families, a similar belief about family. I want you to know that for all the baggage that we have tied to the family there is a true, deep, lasting and needed beauty to family as God designed it. I don’t have the space here to lay out the theology of family (family as God designed it) but let me give you the keynote version:
Genesis 1 – God makes creation. He exclaims,”Oh you are good in your design, function and purpose” Psalm 19
Genesis 2– God makes man and woman. He declares words of righteousness over them, “You are very good.” The design, function, and purpose of humanity unfolds with the relationship that they enjoy with the Triune God. Made in the image of God to reflect the image of God. So they are given authority, creative work, and deep love for God and each other. This all reflects the glory of the God who made them. But there is more….
Even though Genesis 3 happens, sin does not thwart the purposes of God. He still intends to use creation, marriage, family and a people together to show His glory.
Move to your missiology of family
They were to fill and subdue the earth with family who were to image God. This expression of family under covenant love with God and each other is a great mystery of God. Ephesians 5 breaks wide the great mystery. The marriage of husband and wife as the powerful illustration of God’s commitment to pursue, woo, die for, serve and love a bride. Our marriages are supposed to be little expressions that speak loud the sacrificial love of Christ to our kids, a face to face reality of the Gospel lived out. Our families are supposed to be larger expressions of God’s grace at work that speak loud this sacrifical love to our neighbours.
Then Jesus, like he always does, takes it a step further with this statement, “Who is my mother or my brothers or sisters?! He who does my Father’s will in heaven.” Matthew 12:48-50
Our churches are supposed to be the billboards that identify to our longing city full of millennials, and others, that we have been so affected by the covenant love of God, conferred to us only by the death of His Son, that we live out the overflowing principles of Christ-like love in family. “And they shall know you by your love”- is how Jesus sums this up.
The missiology of the Church is the family of God overflowing in genuine Christ filled relationship into our cities for the purposes of God.
I think we are on to something here
It’s been 9 years of seeing our little church minister to many disenfranchised singles and young post grads, starving artists, streetlevel and a few families but I think we are starting to get it? Last year a group of roommates decided to start having a Sunday soup every second week. A place to invite those who are on the peripheral into the experience of family. So as they talk about God, their faith, their church family together. These ‘outsiders’ might get a taste, a glimpse of God’s purposes and love for His Bride. So that they might feel invited in. A young family mentioned to me last month that they have started asking at least one family over every second Thursday night. Purposely they are choosing those who might be perceived as ‘hard to hang out with’ or in some form of relationship crisis. In this way they will go through their family time of sharing food together, praying together (cause that’s what they do as a family), cleaning up together asking questions, offering help, having kids play with each other- so that they might demonstrate honestly the areas they are struggling and offer the solution of Christ-saturated lives that is causing them to mature and grow.
Church want to reach Millennials? Let me offer an OLD but missing illustration of God’s great grace to us. Make a shift back, as a means to go ahead, to a family that pours over in seriously following Christ and inviting others into the mess that is your family. Churches 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 so that your homes would be invaded with those who others can’t stand to be around, or are disconnected from authentic love. Then offer them the love of Christ.
Thanks for reading,