An Invitation to Millennial Christians and Unaffiliated Young People
Thank you to everyone who has contributed or written to discuss the future of the Evangelical Christian church, its Millennial members and those potential members among the unchurched and unaffiliated.
To focus the discussion, we're talking about "Millennials, churched and unchurched" and/or "Millennials who have quietly become unaffiliated and/or who check None of the Above on church preference surveys". For purposes of this discussion "Millennials" means being born between 1983 and 1995 (approx. 80 million people); largest generation in US history.
An OpEd article in the December 16th issue of The New York Times by John S. Dickerson, himself a Millennial and an Evangelical pastor, considers many of the issues previously discussed in this Messiah Scrolls essay.
This author's article makes several key observations about Millennials and Evangelicals, which need sorting out and discussion.
For example, his evidence for Evangelical "collapse" is the outcome of the 2012 election, but he fails to discern the chasm between Mitt Romney and George W. Bush; the latter having clear Evangelical credentials, the former being a Mormon and having none. In 2004 George W. Bush, with Spanish language skills and Hispanic cultural connections, won the Latino vote, supported by a surge of Evangelical voters including Millennials, whereas Romney possessed zero skills in establishing any connection; thereby drawing only a minimum number of Evangelicals. Politics, even if correctly analyzed, cannot be the only measure for a "collapse", if indeed one even exists.
In two paragraphs Dickerson disses most of the evangelical mega-churches gaining converts, including the home churches themselves, their annual conferences, and their most visible pastors, whom he describes as, "coasting, at best, if not stalled or in reverse." Dickerson fails to factor in evangelical gains and advancement, particularly by these megas, in the areas of Old and New Testament based discipleship programs, Holy Spirit led, purpose driven, congregational decision making, missionally clear church plants, and active social justice initiatives, both domestic and foreign.
Note this observation in a Verge Network conference article, "Can Mega be Missional?": "We live in a world of earthquakes ... In my opinion, mega-churches are a direct consequence of the upheaval in our culture, essentially functioning as Refugee Camps for the people of God. As you can quickly see in this scenario, refugee camps can be a problem (or possibly collapse) if people become dependent on the systems of support provided. But they can also be brilliant (Evangelical) if they exist to equip and train people for how life now is and then send them (missionally) out to the other victims of the (cultural) earthquake."
A quote from Chatelain archives:
Evangelicals Understood – How the Mega-Church energizes the Faithful
In the last half of the 20th Century our Lord revitalized an ecclesial entity which would come to be called the Christian Mega-Church; building on the great Commandment to fulfill the great Commission. One primary result in God’s purpose for flourishing a faithful Mega-Church is to finally establish a healthy foundation and opportunity for the re-vitalization of all Evangelical churches; particularly micro-churches “which comprise 95% of all protestant churches, having 200 members or less,” according to Rick Warren.
The Christian Mega-Church, beginning in the 1950s, re-engaged the public square, preserving a Protestant, Christ honoring, "authority" for an inspired set of evangelical beliefs, and supporting structures. Previous efforts to do so, from Protestant denominations, para-church groups, religious media and Christian seminaries, have failed. Evangelical Mega-Churches, with memberships from 500 to 50,000, now have the facility, and choice, to train up believers in the Word, such that with spiritual maturity, individual and small group missional covenants to the world can be authoritatively launched and maintained.
Nonetheless, Dickerson's is a strong article and I appreciate the way it provokes discussion.
If you're part of the Millennial Culture, it may be annoying having politicians, pastors and sociologists describing you and telling you what you think. Nonetheless, since we are focusing on Millennials, here are two links, one tweet and a CSPAN interview with David Burstein. These inputs attempt a more precise description or involvement of this generation:
Supporting the Millennial ethos, the Christianity Today article embedded in the tweet describes a leading Christian Millennial, David Platt and the radicalization of his mega church in Birmingham AL. However. provocatively, both of the links describe Millennials as self-oriented, narcissistic, and paying little attention to the Christian heritage of our society - focusing instead on games, Facebook, and rock concerts, while using social media to collaborate in work and play. Francis Chan and David Platt and their national discipleship effort through MultiplyMovement.com certainly evidence a counter balance to such attitudes described in these links.
David Burstein, founder and executive director of Generation18, a voter engagement organization, has written an upbeat and incisive book on the millennial generation called Fast Future
. [The following quotations are from Burstein's CSPAN interview with journalist S. E. Cupp
.] According to Burstein, millennials care deeply about what is happening in the world, even though they are not usually asked for their opinions. Millennials are "pro-reality", appreciate "authenticity" in all relationships, and understand and welcome the acceleration of societal change. Millennials possess a "sense of service with a generational commitment" understanding that "all generations are deeply inter-related, giving millennials a firm "service engagement that is growing" to deal with these rapid changes. Millennials "have experience in fighting the wars" and easily tire of the military and political antics of older generations.
"Young people are not running for office," as evidenced by "only one person in congress is under the age of 30. Why run for congress when you can build a school in Africa in one year?" Burstein is particularly eloquent about the Millennial view of community, resisting the older generational model. Millennials live in community, but "are not buying homes, investing in cars or getting married." Although at a high rate, "fifteen percent of Millennials are starting businesses out of college." The Facebook effect of "transforming fundamentals of what to expect" is a strong millennial impulse. Burstein talked about value shifting among millennials, but whether millennials are growing or diminishing their Christian / non-Christian impulses, was not discussed in his booktv.com interview. Nor was the millennial response to "internet evangelism", mentioned or discussed.
Hopefully most older people (including politicians, pastors and sociologists) must realize that those of you who affirm Jesus and God, and those who don't, still have much more in common with each other than either of you do with other generational categories. For example, you prefer to decide things for yourselves.
Again, John Dickerson writes, "Evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict ("quivering " as a result of ground breaking changes) with and in the mainstream culture." In fact, for most evangelicals this is not a new reality
. According to David Platt, what our Lord taught his disciples FROM DAY ONE one was/is "in conflict with the mainstream culture." For a longer treatment of "faith conflict with the culture" issues, see Jonathan Merritt's A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars
In contrast to Dickerson, who ignores the opportunity and effect of the internet, Francis Chan and Shane Claiborne in addition to David Platt, use the internet and social media very effectively. Peter Guirguis believes and describes "internet evangelism", accessed via hand held devices, as bringing the Gospel to all three cultures: Millennial, unchurched and unaffiliated. "More than 55 million people (albeit not all under 30) are searching for God around the world every month. That’s millions of people who are hurting, who feel empty, and who feel like there is no purpose in life." Bursteins' response to this statement would be important to know to help factor in millennial pro-reality at this point. For more on Guirguis:
Top 5 reasons why internet evangelism is the next big thing
It is my hope that the e-book on this web site, The Parable of the Messiah Scrolls
, can be one means of giving younger Millennial, unchurched and/or unaffiliated readers an opportunity to see what Evangelical Christian practice and an understanding of Heaven was like in the first century AD (where the labels "Catholic", "Orthodox", "religious", "denomination" and "church" were completely unknown); allowing you the opportunity to judge for yourselves the claims and life directing benefits of proclaiming, Holy Spirit presence knowing, disciple training, social justice commissioning, church planting and/or Christ re-affirming - personally (e.g. the essence of Evangelicalism) within a community of Christ followers without excess authorially based, earthly church structure between the individual follower and Jesus Christ.
Having staked that claim, it's still likely that most of you have heard older church members blathering about "religion" and other "denominations" for years. Nonetheless, if you are under thirty-five yourself, you may still attend a Protestant church. Or perhaps while you affirm "Jesus" or "God" or "Holy Spirit", these terms "religion" or "(given) denomination" no longer describe your worship; a reality which could still claim you as a believer among the "unaffiliated". I am grateful for those seminaries and Evangelical churches working in a compassionate, humble and non-controlling manner within your age group - and if you're the young lay leader of such a group, my thanks go out to you and my prayers continue in your behalf.
Here's another source dealing with the label issue. The key question it raises: "So fewer people are affiliating with and categorizing within a 'religion,' but does that mean people aren't seeking and following Christ, which is whom (Evangelical) Protestants have gotten religious about?"
Report shows religious decline, but beliefs are tricky to label
To add an obviously hopeful note, the 2012 Justice Conference here in Portland Oregon was invigorated by a majority of advocates and leaders under 35, among the 4300 enthusiastic attendees listening to Walter Brueggeman and Francis Chan. It was a joy to witness their youthful evangelical energy aimed at implementing effective "Social Justice" initiatives.
This article featured on the cover of Newsweek
magazine proclaims, "Heaven Is Real". May it be so for all of us. (One of the issues I have with that piece is that a more accurate, comprehensive Evangelical title would be The Kingdom of Heaven: Now and Forever
- the title of the scripturally based material I'm currently writing. More on this soon. The scientific community is also not happy with this heaven article; but that is a subject for another blog.
Thank you for reading and hearing my deep concern, under all these words. Please contact me with any responses and thoughts you may have about the issues raised here or by these links.