Monday, May 30, 2016

Pondering - Millennials and the church

Ok, this blog follows hot on the heels of a clergy day, and also a young adults evening looking at what does church look like for young adults held in the diocese.

What follows wasn't what was discussed  but what  has  been sparked in my own thoughts following the event. It's on my blog simply to hopefully provoke some more discussion and what could and should be within the church.

So, what's with the title?

I dislike labels immensely - I really, really do as it put things into boxes and I don't like boxes, life doesn't fit into boxes - but I'm going to run with the the label anyway - because it's handy to do so According to people :

The term Millennials generally refers to the generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Perhaps the most commonly used birth range for this group is 1982-2000. The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y, because it comes after Generation X — those people between the early 1960s and the 1980s. 

So, Let's suppose we can label a generation - what 5 features define a generation, or let me be personal - what 5 features define MY generation

According to Forbes (

1. Millennials expect technology to simply work–so you’d better make sure that it does.

2. Millennials are a social generation—and they socialize while consuming (and deciding to consume) your products and services.

3. They collaborate and cooperate–with each other and, when possible, with brands

4. They’re looking for adventure (and whatever comes their way).

5. They’re passionate about values–including the values of companies they do business with

Do these ring true as I sit here on a Monday morning - yeah they do - but what of church ?

At our clergy day we were presented with some startling findings from Barna research in the States

Taylor Snodgrass of Church of the 20somethings offers some firsthand insights: “Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media,” he says. “Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, people in their 20s will see through this. This causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying to us.”

Having been pointed to as a place of research I discovered an interesting piece 

Why Millennials stay connected to the church 


Millennials are craving depth—a need the Church is uniquely poised to meet.

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

This again is true ... 

Isn't it?

So ... what can be done?

Within the church, Ok Church is as big a term as Millennials ... so let me be personal ... within The Church of Ireland, again a big term but it'll do for now!

We have the opportunity to begin to re-think what church is for, and begin to ask the questions of what needs to be done as the way its being done in many places ain't working - or at the very least is not working the best it could be.

Do I have the answers? nope! do I have lots of questions? - you bet I do! So let's start with those and see where this journey goes to!

1. Where is the church interacting well with the Millennial Generation? 

We as church leaders need to get past labels ... we're very good at labels - we like them immensely - Evangelical, conservative, liberal, inclusive, Charismatic - labels are useful for identification but actually we're called to be Body together. Can we find ways to share what's working well together? without the non-sense of thinking 
a. "I don't want to stick my head above the parapet" 
b. "who do they think they are"  
 c. its only a really small thing I'm doing in Ballycorner parish - it really doesn't matter. 

I really do believe that there are some great examples of simple things happening - we need to find ways of sharing best practice between parishes and churches - not as a way of copying each other but sparking creative ideas and showing that this stuff is not rocket science!

2. Please ... don't set up another committee/department/council to look at this problem! - so how?

We in the church like our committees and our departments.  There is a problem - the figures show that there are only 6-7% of our  20-30's in church on a Sunday. Could this be the impetus we need to make changes that are long overdue - because if we get this right for this generation then possibly, just possibly the church might turn a corner and grow? 

What this isn't is a call to contemporary music, throw out the pews, and ditch the robes call. NO!, NO!  NO!

This cuts across all of our styles, preferences, urban - rural, churchmanship, theological and whatever divides we can name.

For me, its a fundamental shift in our thinking at local church level that's needed - The local church ... not at diocesan, or central church but at LOCAL CHURCH - Where members of this generation turn up to on a sunday morning - our front doors!

The Millenials are seeking authenticity and as I talk to those older than me  - so are they! . Paradigm shifts have occurred in our society over the past 20 years and we as the church need to figuring out what those shifts mean and how do we speak gospel into our market places, into our places of influence. 

A good place to start this conversation I believe is to look Look at the 5 things listed above (and now here) at what research has shown this Millennial generation who have stuck with church sees as reasons why they have done so. The great thing is that these 5 surely aren't so far removed from what any generation of the church has been longing for - are they? but perhaps other generations need to be challenged? 

1.    Make room for meaningful relationships.
2.    Teach cultural discernment.
3.    Make reverse mentoring a priority.
4.    Embrace the potency of vocational discipleship.
5.    Facilitate connection with Jesus.

Meaningful relationship - In our Un-scientific, round the table discussions on Saturday evening this was spoken about time after time - and this blogger wouldn't be where he is now if it weren't for the relationships of mature Christians at home and away from home. 

Church at its very best is where relationships are worked on, that go beyond the trivial and where deep things of God, life in all its mess are discussed and where you know you belong.  I have lots of questions around this ... including 

  • where do we cultivate relationships? do our relationships go beyond hello? relationship building takes time, where do we have the time? how do we foster in our congregations meaningful relationships? 
Teaching Cultural Discernment - 

For a generation that already laments the complexity of modern life, the Church can offer valuable clarity. Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. In many ways, pop culture has become the driver of religion for Millennials, so helping them think and respond rightly to culture should be a priority. 
Although, such development must also take care to avoid the overprotective impulses that are driven by fear of culture. Rather, Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective. This idea of finding a way to bring their faith in Jesus to the problems they encounter in the world seems to be one of the most powerful motivations of today’s practicing Christian Millennials. They don’t want their faith to be relegated to Sunday worship, and this desire for holistic faith is something the Church can speak to in a meaningful way

This is huge ... in terms of the world around about us today - the time spent unpacking some of the big themes of our culture needs to happen. Also giving us the tools to link faith and life together. 

So questions I have in this area include - how does the 10-15minute  sermon on a sunday do this? ... where can questions be asked? are we as preachers listening to culture as we apply scripture? where else does teaching happen? how can we be more culturally aware of those we have responsibility for? is the church at large discerning the big questions of our culture? 

Reverse Mentoring 
This one I say AMEN, AMEN and AMEN to ... 

is that young people want to be taken seriously today—not for some distant future leadership position. In their eyes, institutional church life is too hierarchical. And they’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they’re want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present—not future—tense.
The term “reverse mentoring” has come to describe this kind of give and take between young and established leaders.
We as the church need to take this one very seriously - we need to empower our young adults and dare I say my generation - Not simply so that we get new titles nor are on the right committees - but that we engage gifts and skills in the local church

Where does change need to happen?, where are our under 35's on vestries, synods, wardens. So many of our 18-30's are leaders in their work places, in schools and when they come to church are we telling them they have to wait? how do we as leaders empower our young adults ... not only in leadership - as if leadership is the only thing that is to be desired but in using their gifts, skills and abilities for the building up of God's Kingdom and the church? do we spend time learning from them and inviting them to teach us as leaders, mentoring us in new ways to lead and new insights into the culture around about us?

Vocational Discipleship - At the minute around the church Discipleship seems to be the buzz word - intentional, missional, vocational discipleship. Great but what does it mean? for me its quite simple - It means having our 'L' plates firmly up - I've talked about this many times and have preached many sermons on the topic.

The question is am I, are we doing it?, are we living out what we're preaching?, are we modelling discipleship and good discipleship? I'm not convinced - "speak for yourself" you might say and I say - I do - very much so!

To me life as a disciple is a call to learning, its a call to reaching out with the gospel, its a call to journey with God. It's not a call to build an institution (although institutions are important), Its a call to live lightly, to be on the move.

“vocational discipleship - a way to help Millennials connect to the rich history of Christianity with their own unique work God has called them to."
How do we help this, my, generation connect the treasures of the gospels / The whole of scripture with their unique work where God has them today?  In the parish we're calling this "This Time Tomorrow" - based upon work which the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has been thinking about.
What good practices are there in helping our young adults connect with God, Scripture and discipleship? what help do they/we need to do this more effective?

   Facilitate connection with Jesus - ultimately this is what the church is trying to do ...
Of course, many church leaders are already trying to connect biblical authority to a personal relationship with Jesus for their young people. So what is happening to thwart these efforts?
Kinnaman explains, “In part, it is a failure of not connecting Jesus and the Bible to the other outcomes identified in this research—relational, missional, vocational and cultural discernment. In other words, the version of ‘Jesus in a vacuum’ that is often packaged for young people doesn’t last long compared to faith in Christ that is not compartmentalized but wholly integrated into all areas of life.”

This is possibly where the failure occurs - where does this happen? - the integration into the whole of life. Everything points either to Jesus or away from him. Thankfully God is a forgiving God and he knows that we are human, he knows our failures, our faults, our limitations BUT and its a big BUT, he also calls us to repentance, turning and moving on. If connection with Jesus is not happening, if fruit is not being produced we might need to look at the processes that we're using and see if there are certain variables we need to change.

When we look at the culture in Ireland today - it is changed hugely from what it was 10, 15, 20, 50 years ago. As has been pointed out we're living in a network society where we might not know our neighbours but we do know what our school friend who now lives on the other side of the world had for breakfast and where they went for a run this morning. In this rapidly changing world the church needs to do things differently. What those things are - I don't know - I don't have an agenda about this but my heart is that people would have a connection with Jesus - It's the only thing that will last!

The church has this ultimate riches that is Christ Jesus ... how do we share this with the generations that are alive today that we have responsibility for? Its a conversation we need to have ... and quickly!

On the other hand ...

Do we need to have this conversation at all? are we OK? will it just work itself out and they/we'll all comeback to church if we keep going the way we've always done things?

Very Happy for comments and dialogue on this - either on comments via Facebook or on Blog ... or even better over a cuppa somewhere, sometime :-)

Lord of the church, we pray for our renewing:
 Christ over all, our undivided aim.
Fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
 wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
 the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labours, all but unavailing,
 to bring us nearer what a church should be.

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