Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18
I had coffee with Stacy Rinehart today. He’s one of two men that I have met with weekly over the past 25 years. He is facing retirement from his ministry next year and spending a lot of time thinking about the upcoming transition.
He commented that he thought the most difficult trials of life involves coping with transitions. I reminded him that the Holmes-Rahe stress test gives points for events of life in order to determine how much stress you have.
Most of the events in the Holmes-Rahe test involve a transition of some sort – moving, change of job, change of marital circumstances, etc. Retirement is one of the highest with 45 points on a 100 point scale.
Reflecting on our conversation, I have to say I agree with him. Transitions, by their nature, means going from your comfort zone to the unknown. I have always thought that our biggest fears in life are dealing with the unknown.
Christianity, in a way, is also facing a transition as it addresses reaching the next generation. As someone once said, the Church, throughout the ages, has always been a generation away from extinction. Yet it has survived for over two millennia.
When it comes to reaching the next generation (the millennials and Generation Z), the church has some creative thinking to do. The next generation is different from prior generations, primarily due to changes in technology which has been a game changer as to how they communicate.
One commentator went so far as to predict the demise of the American Christian church on one single cultural issue: sexuality. He may be on to something because the changes in public opinion over same-sex marriage has occurred at breathtaking speed.
I believe the millennials are responsible for this rapid change in opinion. Most of them are unmoored from biblical principles and their attitudes towards same-sex relationships have occurred by observation, and to them, they seem to be OK.
Generation Z will take this even farther. As described by James Henry White in his recent book Meet Generation Z, “Generation Z are relationally and sexually amorphous.”
Kristen Stewart, an actress, recently was quoted as saying: “In three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you are gay or straight. It’s like, do your own thing.”
Another pop star said: “[I don’t] relate to being a boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.” Those attitudes are not unique according to a recent U.K. study which found that nearly half of the young people don’t think they are exclusively heterosexual.
“The YouGov study in the U.K. revealed that 49% of the people between 18 and 24 identified as being something other than 100% heterosexual.” That is despite consistent studies show that only 4% of the population is homosexual.
These comments are stunning to older generations. The reason for this new attitude? Well, it’s “because the greatest value for this generation is nothing less than individual freedom.” James Emery White goes on to identify 12 categories of sexuality other than homosexual and heterosexual. The list is daunting and includes terms I had never heard before including Digisexual and Pansexual.
How does the church reconcile its biblical stance on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman with these trends? I think the short answer is that you don’t, but you do have a responsibility to interact with those that do. It’s something I had to learn on my own some 30 years ago when I became part of the management of an international law firm.
Our San Francisco office had non-lawyer staff which was approximately 80% male, and a large percentage of them were homosexual. Intuitively, I knew that taking a strong stance against their sexuality would be detrimental and counterproductive.
So, I learned to forge relationships with them – love them where they were, if you will – yet not sacrificing my values, nor change who I was. Being right was less important than doing right. It involves treating people in everyday life with kindness and compassion.
Churches that learn to do this will learn to transition and embrace the millennials. Two illustrations of churches making these transitions recently came to my attention, and both were in Kansas City. One was a black church, and the other a predominantly white church, and both have differences on the transition as it affected their traditions.
The first one, Parkway Baptist Church, started its transition with a young 21-year-old pastor who started by telling the elders at their first meeting that “the entire dynamic is going to change.” His first decision: “Stop wearing suits on Sunday.” That was just the beginning. Services would be shorter and start later (accommodating late sleeping millennials).
The early result of the change was an immediate drop-off of attendance from 300 to 85. The church changed its name to the City of Truth, and now has 1,000 in attendance with a high concentration of a younger audience who were “freaked out by the rules and rituals of traditional religion.”
As another pastor noted: “When you talk about the ministry and trying to resonate with younger folks, you’ve got to meet them where they are.”
As I read this story to the City of Truth, I could mentally place myself in the shoes of the leadership of the church, particularly as they watched 2/3rds of their attendance disappear. This was a major transition for this black church. They even shortened their service to one and half hours, which, by most black churches, is quite short. Again, a tribute to the short attention span of the millennials.
Another church plant, The Cause, was started in 2009 by a pastor and his wife who felt a call to start a church for younger people. Today, it has an audience of 1,400, mostly millennials. They attend one of 5 one hour services and gather for church, coffee and community.
At The Cause, Kyle Turner, the pastor, says the emphasis is not on a judgmental exposition on why God may be angry about you, but rather a focus on a relationship with God. A relationship with Jesus is first and foremost. “For people to change [their behavior], they need to see that God is good, not a tyrant.”
“We have to authentically care about people. I’m not worried about your sexuality right now. I’m not worried about what you did Saturday night. I’m worried about what do you know about Jesus and how can I tell you more about him. Not let me tell you why God is upset at you.”
City of Truth replaced the weekly “droning” Church announcement with a 5-minute crisp video which is entertaining affable with shop talk and takes about 20 hours of staff time to prepare each week. Again, a method of reaching millennials where they are through technology.
The amenities might seem to be the draw (music that features Hillsongs, etc.), but what brings millennials back again and again is the genuine connections. “Free coffee isn’t the answer to people’s problems, but it does invite community.”
As for difficult topics, these churches address them directly. According Lady J, the pastor’s wife in City of Truth, the church really blew up “when we started teaching on love, sex and relationships and did a sermon series when we spoke on those topics candidly.”
“Millennials want to address these issues; they’re seeking answers to the tough questions and wanting to have the tough conversations. They are inquisitive and want to know answers to certain questions” continued Lady J.
“We have gay and lesbian couples who aren’t always on the same page as us. And they tell us that,” Lady J says. “They’ll tell us, ‘We don’t all the way agree, but I can tell you’re coming from a place of love, and we love that.”
They discovered that the best way to address sex, orientation and other controversial topics is “head-on” in a “respectful and gracious” manner. Good stuff, and a model that should be followed elsewhere.
Takeaways are plentiful:
- Millennials are inquisitive and want answers to difficult questions including sexuality
- Churches that adapt to using new technologies (i.e. the short entertaining video replacing announcements) will have more appeal to a younger audience that grew up on YouTube
- Shortening the services is essential. Professional sports are trying to speed up games to keep millennials in the stands.
- Creating a genuine community is important. Coffee (or tacos) becomes a social lubricant for discussion
- There is a flip here – the traditional church looks for attendance and then engagement; the new model seeks engagement and then attendance
- Embracing all who come regardless of their situations is important.
- Behavioral change is up to God and the individual; the key is engaging them to be connected to God first
- Millennials crave authenticity and transparency
The challenge here is for churches to creatively adapt to the seismic cultural change that is going on in America. At every stage of the church’s existence, it has found a way to be relevant in its culture. As Carey Neuhoff says: “The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.”
Christianity in the next century may be simpler, and attendance at church may seem less important than developing spiritually through other means, according to Carey Neuhoff. Authentic relationships – especially mentoring – are always be available, and are effective means of connection and community.
Not every church has to make radical change, but they do have to pay attention to these cultural trends and adopt models that work with the next generation. The churches that fail to embrace the next generation are, unfortunately, doomed to do out of existence.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Millennials are seeking authentic relationships, and mentoring is an easy ministry to develop in the church. It requires no space and few resources.
The Holmes Rahe test is an older model which associates stress with events in life. It is instructive as to how transitions affect us. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_82.htm
A review of Meet Generation Z by a millennial: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/meet-generation-z/
The article in the Kansas City Star entitled “Bucking the Trend – these two churches figured out how to bring millennials back to worship” http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article188544194.html
Read James Henry White’s article on the Rise of the Digisexual: http://www.churchandculture.org/blog.asp?id=12035
An article by Carey Neuhoff on 10 Predictions about the Future Church: https://careynieuwhof.com/10-predictions-about-the-future-church-and-shifting-attendance-patterns/
Another Carey Neuhoff article on Why Church Attendance is Diminishing: https://careynieuwhof.com/10-reasons-even-committed-church-attenders-attending-less-often/
RESOURCES: James Emory White’s book is a good read for any church serious about reaching the next generation: Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.
Another excellent resource is Tim Eller’s book entitled “Marching off the Map” available at Amazon or his website at https://growingleaders.com/store/marching-off-map-inspire-students-navigate-brand-new-world/#sthash.qSHyskg9.dpbs
WORSHIP: Hillsong’s rendition of The Power of Your Love reminds us that God’s love can overcome everything. Power of Your Love – Hillsong – YouTube
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