Because they matter to Millennials
by John Guerra
Hello, my name is John Mark Guerra. I’m 29 years old, recently married, educated, and tech savvy. I’m what many would consider one of those “millennials.” I grew up in the church. I went to Sunday school, VBS, mission trips, and Christian college. Eventually, I realized that what I knew the church to be was nothing I wanted after all. Perhaps I sound familiar to you. Maybe I remind you of many of the people the church wants to reach.
First I’ll tell you the problem: I believe many churches do not understand that the way people like me see church is entirely different from how many “do church.” The fact of the matter is that God and the church have become irrelevant to the lives of millennials. This has nothing to do with either the understanding of the Gospel, or a lack of outreach to people my age. Instead it has to do with how the church defines relationships within itself.
If I were to describe how most churches I have experienced lived out their faith it would look like this:
Each circle represents a person. The arrows represent how an individual connects to Jesus (represented by the Cross). This experience of church would best be described as having a “personal relationship with Jesus.”
While many would say this is right, I would say that it is this very idea of relating to Jesus and to the church that is driving away people like me.
If everything is up to an individual, and if it just comes down to how I pursue my personal relationship with Jesus, then why should I join you in church? Why should I give up my Sunday to sit with a bunch of disconnected, anonymous people, and be told how I should live? Why am I to give up an hour of my day if it has no impact on how I live, or who I live with? Personally, I think if it just comes down to doing the actions of “church” I can do that on my own. I could drink some wine and eat some bread in my kitchen and call that “Communion.”
You and I both know that’s not all there is to the church. But, here’s my question, what else is the church to be about?
Relationships – it all comes back to relationships. In Thom and Joani Schultz’s book, Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore they say, “Faith is not a subject. Faith is a relationship.” And I would add to that by saying, “Faith is relationships.” This faith is revealed in both a relationship with God and relationships with God’s people. [Check out their video and learn about other reasons people are staying away from Christians and your church.]
As I poured over the Bible, it became clear to me: we are to be intimately connected to each other in the very same way we are to be intimately connected to Jesus [John 17; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 4]. But as I experienced the church, these two relationships (one with Jesus, and one His People) were not put together as one and the same.
So, if the focus of the church is to establish my personal relationship with Jesus, I can do that personally and privately. But, if the focus of the church is to build me up in Love, “that I may understand with all the saints (read: church) what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Jesus that goes beyond knowledge, and filled with all the fullness of God,” then I must be in relationship with the church. There’s no way I can do that on my own.
Instead of treating the church as a group of individuals each pursuing Jesus in their own way, I believe what would draw people like me to value the church is if there was a commitment to the kind of love I read in the Scripture being made alive in the church.
Christianity must not be a singular experience; it’s corporate and common, created to be shared within the church – it’s rooted in the family of God coming together for the sake of love.
As you can see in this image, instead of people having their own focus, their own life, they’re tied together because of their relationships with Jesus. It’s shared life, it’s true church, and it’s worth my investment.
So, I invite you to consider this: What would it look like if your church began to call people to know one another in the same way you call people to know Jesus? Can your church exist as a group of anonymous participants showing up at the same time and still be called a church?
Here are some practical actions worth considering:
- Have multiple families come together to regularly share a meal. Not a potluck at church – in homes.
- Have more established members focus their attention on connecting with younger families and singles.
- Consider having families live close to one another – take over a neighborhood. Maybe start by having regular barbeques at a park near a particular neighborhood.
- Instead of speaking of relationships in merely practical ways, speak about the mysterious nature of relationships as shown in Scripture, particularly John 15-17.
- Make forgiveness and reconciliation a big deal, where relationships are worthy of work and not another cost of church life.
If you only do one thing, consider #5–there are so many people who feel rejected by the church. The #1 reason people don’t go to church is because they feel judged. If we have a radical attitude about reconciliation, we won’t abandon or reject people. Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore, digs deep into this principle of Radical Hospitality. It also covers more areas that the church can focus on to heal their church.