Soon we will be wrapping up the Our Emptying Church blog series and I couldn’t be more grateful for the dialog that has occurred both here and on my facebook page. It’s not too late to join in if you are reading for the first time.
Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 26 year old Assistant Manager who has shown me more grace than I deserve and has profoundly influenced me. When she could have judged, she loved. I am grateful to learn from her the ways of Christ. Her perspective in this interview is quite characteristic of Millennials; I hope you’ll learn from her as much as I have.
–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?
As my mom would say, we went to church “every time the doors were open”. We went to every service, and we participated in most events. And I didn’t go because I had to. I went because it made me happy, and I truly enjoyed it.
–Are you currently actively attending a church?
I am not. When I go back home to visit, I go to my home church, but I have not found one I love in the city I live in now. Granted, I haven’t actively been looking. I do miss it though. I don’t go now, because I have a weird work schedule in which I work most Sundays, and when I don’t work, I go out of town. But I know I could make it work if I really tried.
–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?
I want to find a good church because I love God, and I want to find a place to worship him with others. I want to find a place where I can participate in different groups, and find others who love God too.
But I haven’t tried too hard to find a church. One reason for this (other than my work schedule) is because as I got older, I became a VERY liberal Christian. I believe in the core beliefs I was taught in church, but I stray very far from most Christians when it comes to current events and politics. I feel like they don’t always get those beliefs from the Bible, or the God I follow. They’ve made some things such a big deal that it turns far more people away from Christ than towards him. It is sometimes difficult to go to church when I feel like I can’t talk about those things or I will get yelled at or looked down upon. Or even worse, it is difficult when I know that many people there believe in those things that I feel do more harm than good to the church.
–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).
Until college, church was my life. And it was a very good life. I went to church “every time the doors were open” from the first time I left the hospital as a baby til I left my home town for college. I participated in pretty much everything I could. I was in every choir, praise band, leadership team, search committee, Sunday school, bible study – you name it, I was probably in it at some point. I loved it. I don’t know who I would be today without the church because it makes up a lot of who I am. I would be a completely different person without it. The church never treated me badly. But I also grew up in what I called the “Baptist bubble”. All of my friends were Christians. It wasn’t really until I graduated college that I really made any friends that weren’t. When I went to college, I began to really notice what a negative impact the church made on the country with the stances it took at times. I have friends now that hate the church because of how they were treated, and it breaks my heart, because that’s not what Christ taught. We weren’t supposed to act like this, and show this much hatred. So to make a long story less long, I love the church, I love God, but I hate how the church treats people that aren’t regular church-goers.
–What is the purpose of the church?
To love God, and to make his love known. Everything we do should fall into one of those two categories. All we do should be a way to show him how much we love him – through worship, actions, speech, community, etc. Then we should share that love with others. That doesn’t mean to grab a bullhorn and yell hate from it on a street corner. That isn’t sharing God’s message. Through our actions and speech, we should show his love and how much he cares for all of us. There IS more to it than that, and there are rules we should follow, but I feel like that is something we don’t do until that person has joined the church. We don’t force rules on other people.
–Feel pressure to attend church?
I don’t. One wonderful thing my mother did was show me that she attended church because she loved it. I wanted to be there because she wanted to be there. Going to church brought us joy. Yeah, there were days I didn’t want to wake up and she made me go, but she never made me feel like it was a chore. I don’t think you should feel pressured to be there. You should want to be there, or there is no purpose. Are you truly worshiping God if you feel like your arm is being twisted to do so?
–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)
Christians are really like anybody else in the way that there are incredibly kind people, but there are horribly rude people as well – they can be at both ends of the spectrum. They can be so selfless and giving in times of need. But I think they focus far too much on matters that make them look foolish, hateful, and narrow-minded.
–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?
It really doesn’t. There are a couple reasons for that. One is that the church doesn’t really have a place for people of that age group. In the church I grew up in, there was always a group or class to belong in until you graduated high school, but the next classes offered were couples classes for the newly married couples. There was nothing for anyone in their early twenties. If you were not a kid, married, or over forty, you didn’t belong anywhere. We feel lost in church at our age.
Another reason is that our generation is very mindful of the world around us. I think there is a strong urge to make it better, whether that be through mission work or through stopping the intense hatred. I think our generation feels the church is doing more harm than good on many fronts. They see the negative and they don’t want to be a part of that.
–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?
It’s hard to say. I hope it grows. It has been declining quite a bit in my lifetime. It will be very difficult to grow if an entire generation is turned off of it. But perhaps there could be a birth of a different kind of church. One that is less focused on the rules and church politics, and more on finding the truth the bible has to say. I can only hope for a revival.
–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?
The church has given me a lot in my life. It has taught me so much, it made me who I am, it gave me my closest friendships, and it introduced me to the Christ I follow. When my mother died, the church was there for me. They were my family and my support when I most needed it. I think the church is important. The problem comes when people use Christ’s name to spread hatred, and use it to further their own agendas. It comes when people blindly believe what they are told instead of reading the bible for themselves and seeing what it says. Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God, and to love your neighbor. The problems arise when we stray from those. When the church loves others like it should, it is a wonderful place.
Do you agree that Millennials feel lost at church because of their age? Do you hope for the birth of a new church?
This post is the fourteenth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards, Spirituality v. Religion: OEC Interview #7, When John Speaks: OEC Guestpost #2, Our Emptying Yesteryear Church