I hope you are enjoying this series, Our Emptying Church, as much as I am! On a personal note, I have been completely humbled by the stories I’ve heard in doing OEC interviews. I am indebted to these beautiful and brave men and women for their vulnerability. In the days leading up to the presidential election, I’ll be continuing to post about why Millennials are leaving the church. Stay on this journey with me.
Today 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 27 year old man who has dedicated his life to helping folks. I’m so grateful to be able to see his story unfolding.
–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?
Yes—Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and most Wednesday nights
–Are you currently actively attending a church?
–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?
Connection to other people who are searching for the same things that I am—meaning, love, hope, & community.
–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).
I have had good, bad, and neutral, and I might add crazy, too… several times.
I grew up in a very traditional Baptist church where it seemed, as I grew up, that most of the people there were fighting any kind of modernity. Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the church was HUGE from the 1950’s to the early 90’s and then the membership roll dropped off drastically. I think a lot of the generation that saw the “hay-day” and then experienced the drop off blamed it on modern thought—everything from the adoption of Contemporary Christian Music to people not wearing 3 piece suits on Sunday mornings. So, as the side that wanted tradition and the side that wanted church to be relevant got more entrenched, the situation got meaner and meaner and more and more people got hurt. I was 13 when my family left the church, and, while it was a real wake up call for me about the amazing things that the church could be, it was also an immensely hurtful and damaging experience. For quite a while I was turned off completely by anything that had to do with church tradition, history, or doctrine.
I’ve also had several good experiences—life altering experiences—with the church. I’ve also had more let downs and some straight crazy stuff.
–What is the purpose of the church?
The purpose of the church is to carry on the work that Jesus started—to reap what he sowed. Our job is to recklessly love all people and be a safe place where literally everyone is welcome. We are to be Christ’s body on earth—feeding the poor, caring for the widow and the orphan, celebrating with those who celebrate and mourning with those who mourn. The church exists to lead people from being the prodigal son, through being the bitter son who stayed at home, and ultimately on to becoming like the father who puts his own dignity down and runs to embrace those outside its walls.
–Feel pressure to attend church?
I did for a long, long time, but quite frankly I don’t care enough anymore about other people’s opinions on the matter to make me feel guilty about attending or not.
–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)
Many (I hesitate to say most at this point in my life) of the Christians I’ve known know everything and are rarely if ever wrong about anything. I’ve known many Christians who are far too political (and I know that I’ve been guilty of this myself) and judgmental (I put myself in this category as well) and are focused on defending their personal beliefs at the expense of others. I have also known many Christians who would give you the shirt off their back without hesitation. Some Christians that I know are the most loving, the most humble, and the most generous people I’ve ever met.
–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?
Not one bit. I don’t think necessarily has as much to do with people being out-and-out atheists as it does with the fact that a lot of Millennials don’t want to be associated with one organized religion, because often they don’t want to be associated with the people who practice it. In many ways I would put myself in that category as well. I am completely comfortable calling myself a Christ-follower, because I want to be known for what Jesus stood for, but I certainly don’t want to be known as a Baptist, Protestant, Catholic, or whatever, because I don’t want to be immediately branded with the negative connotations that many of those labels carry.
–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?
For much the same reason, I think we’ll see a decline in the number of people who want to identify themselves with a particular religion, but as the church learns to love better I think we’ll see an increase in the actual population of the church (which may not be quantifiable).
-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?
The church, like almost every other gift that God gave us, has tremendous potential for either good or bad. I think the reason I haven’t given up on the church altogether is that I still believe in what God promised the church could be if we would just check ourselves at the door. I believe that the church is in many cases, and can continue to be the strongest force for good on planet earth. I can’t completely quit on the church because I believe too strongly in God’s intention to make it a place of healing, deliverance, and true community. Ultimately, I continue to hope in the church because I continue to hope in him.
Do you have a similar story about nearly leaving the church?
This post is the sixth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Interview with a Millennial #1, Interview with a Millennial #2, OEC Interview #3: You’re Losing Us
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