Dear Church: An open letter from one of those millennials you can’t figure out


A lot’s been made over the millennial generation and their religious life. Why they go to church. Why they don’t go to church. What they want. What they hate.

I’m going to do something different here. I’m not going to cite Barna. I’m not going to quote Rachel Held Evans. I’m not going to link to any articles or blog posts.

I’m just going to tell you what’s true for me, and what I’ve seen to be true of others like me.

I am one of those rascally millennials, by the way. One of those enigmatic, paradoxical, media-dependent, coffee-drinking young people swept together under this millennial umbrella. Except coffee tears up my stomach, so I dropped that stuff.

I was born when a former actor was in the White House. I was crushed the day slap bracelets were banned from my elementary school. I remember hiding in my room with my five-inch TV to watch Friends and Seinfeld and the Simpsons, and all the other shows I wasn’t allowed to see. I don’t remember what it’s like to not have a home computer. I can barely recall a time before cell phones. I’ve never left home without one.

I’ve always been in church. I’ve never left, though I’ve come close several times. I would have left in high school if I’d had the option, but in my house, attendance at my cool, hip, contemporary-worshiping, youth-group-glorifying, moralism-preaching, theology-eschewing McCongregation was a non-negotiable.

So I went. Through every repetition of “Shout to the Lord,” every True Love Waits commitment ceremony, every rapture-ready dispensationalist Bible study, every sermon series on how to make myself into a good, moral, well-behaved person so that I wouldn’t tick off God and bring condemnation to America.

But I was always a misfit. Always a skeptic. Always a doubter. Always an outsider.

Today, you’re my livelihood, and putting food on my table overcomes the gravitational pull of my mattress on a cold, rainy Sunday morning. Or a hot, dry one. Or any other one. But that pull is still there. It’s always been there. It’s never left.

The truth is, my relationship with you is still love-hate.

I love the theology, but I hate the expectations of pseudo piety.

Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism.

Love the Bible, hate the way it’s used.

Love Jesus, but hate what we’ve done with him.

Love worship, but hate Jesusy entertainment.

And those other kids I went to church with, I’ve come to find that many of them were misfits, skeptics, and doubters, too. Some of them still go, but more of them have left.

Some of them left because they had no desire to conform to an outdated cultural norm that demanded we keep up appearances by parking our butts in our regular Sunday pew.

They didn’t believe, and didn’t believe they needed to pretend that they did.

Others have left because they grew keen to the bait-and-switch tactics. They’ve left because they didn’t fit in, and couldn’t pretend anymore. They left because the Jesus preached from the pulpit didn’t look much like the Jesus of Nazareth. They left because all the bells and whistles and hooks and marketing rang hollow.

They left because they had been constantly catered to, constantly kept busy, but had never been taught how to be a part of the church.

The programs won’t bring them back.

The coffee won’t bring them back.

The show – the lights, fog machine, the contemporary worship that we think is essential –  nope, that won’t do it, either.

But here are a few things that might just work with some of us. They may seem crazy. They may contradict everything you’ve heard. But, as one of these millennials, this is what would work for me, and for a lot of the people I know who have left.

Don’t expect a “worship style” to do your dirty work. Contemporary worship hasn’t worked. The longer we extend the life of this failed experiment, the more we see the results.

In my experience, contemporary worship brings in three groups. Baby boomers who are still stuck in their rebellion against the establishment, parents who mistakenly think that contemporary worship is the only way for their kids to connect to the church, and a small percentage of young adults who’ve never left and who never knew anything other than contemporary worship.

In modeling worship after commercial entertainment, you’ve compromised your identity, and we’re still not coming back.

And even if we did, would there be any church left? Would there be anything beyond the frills, the lights, the performance, the affected vocals? Would we still see a cross? Would we still find our place among the saints who have come before? Would we find reminders of our life-long need of grace?

Or would we have been hooked by something altogether different? Would we merely find your answer key for the great mystery of faith?

Don’t give us entertainment, give us liturgy. We don’t want to be entertained in church, and frankly, the church’s attempt at entertainment is pathetic. Enough with the theatrics. Enough with the lights, the visuals, the booming audio, the fog machine, the giveaway gimmicks, the whole production. Follow that simple yet profound formula that’s worked for the entire history of the church. Entrance, proclamation, thanksgiving, sending out. Gathering, preaching, breaking bread, going forth in service. Give us a script to follow, give us songs to sing, give us the tradition of the church, give us Holy Scripture to read. Give us sacraments, not life groups, to grow and strengthen us.

Week after week, season after season, year after year, let us participate in the drama of the gospel. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to produce intense emotional response. It’s a microcosmic, disciplined, anticipatory remembrance of who we were, who we are, and who we are to be. We need this. We need these heartfelt rituals in our lives to keep us returning to the fount of grace, to mark our way back home.

Be yourself, and you just might shake us out of our technology-induced, entertainment-craving slumber. Keep giving us Jesusy versions of mainstream entertainment, and there’s no hope. You can’t compete. You’ll lose every time.

Don’t target us. In doing so, you’ve marketed and advertised yourself into oblivion. We’re left with homogeneous congregations of approximately the same ages and backgrounds who are just there for what they can get out of the church. No wonder we’ve left. Just be the church. Be yourself. Use your regular old liturgy. Offer your regular old sacraments. Sing your regular old songs. Cast a wide net, and let whosoever will come. Trust me, we’re more likely to show up when we don’t feel like fish snapping up the bait.

Be inclusive. Tear down silos. Save us from ourselves. We don’t need more youth group lock-ins, more Sunday School options for each age group, more senior adult outings on beekeeping and genealogy. We need more of each other. We need to look into the faces of old and young, rich and poor, of different colors, races, and ethnic backgrounds, so we can learn to see Jesus in faces that don’t look like us. So we can remember that the kingdom is bigger than our safe, suburban bubble. That’s right, we need community, not bound together by age or economic status or skin color, but wrought with the hammering of nails on a wooden cross.

Our internet connectivity is just fine. The rest of our lives is a different story. We are hopelessly disconnected. Church, you can be a powerful remedy if you stop posing as a Fortune 500 company scheming to sell a product.

Welcome the toughest, deepest, grittiest, most desperate, most shocking questions.  We have lots of questions. More and more, what we see in the world doesn’t jive with what we grew up hearing from the pulpit. You have done more damage by requiring politeness, by refusing to engage, by brusquely rebuking honesty and vulnerability. You’re better than that, church. At least you should be. You should be a safe place for struggling, grappling, doubting.

Allow us to be real with each other, to avoid the temptation to gloss over the crap going on around us with easy, tidy, Jesusy clichés‘. You’ve always taught us how the world is black and white, just like The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy. But, and excuse us for noticing, the world is mostly gray, gray like Ricky Ricardo’s dinner jacket and Barney Fife’s nightstick. Let’s embrace that grayness together.

So no more three points and a take home. No more self-help. No more marriage and parenting advice. No more anger management pointers. We don’t need you to be our therapist, we need you to be our church. We need you to grapple with us, to push back. We need you to show us how to be the hands and feet of Christ, to struggle with us in making it more on earth as it is in heaven.

It’s not too late, church, but your tactics aren’t working.

It’s time for a new strategy.

It’s time to be uncool. To be radical. To be different.

It’s time to be yourself.

Your Friend,




Photo: Flickr, Joe Martin, creative commons 2.0

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About Jonathan Aigner
  • Janet Jarriel

    Thank you. This resonates deeply with me. Thank you for putting this in words – words I might not be able to find. Thank you for finding them. I suspect this also resonates with my 16 and 12 year old. They abhor contemporary worship and tell me it’s because they don’t like someone screaming songs “at” them and preaching “at” them. Yes, they are 12 and 16 and would prefer to sleep on Sunday mornings. But because they are going to be in church somewhere on Sunday, they do gravitate toward the traditional services and avoid the others like the plague. They have had the luxury of being a part of churches who value authentic worship and don’t avoid those hard questions you mentioned and don’t pretend to have all the answers. They have had the luxury of witnessing tough, tough life situations dealt with in the church by people who cared, cried and stood by each other in joy and desperation. And, they have had the luxury of hearing hymns of our faith on a weekly basis sung by congregations and choirs (children, youth and adult) that value musical excellence with texts that can carry them through difficult and joyful times, helping to express those emotions. I wouldn’t deprive them of that in lieu of some pretty songs and coffee and doughnuts. Nope. However, I am happy if contemporary worship speaks to someone differently than to me and means something to them and helps them through life’s journey. I am grateful that there are still churches dealing with the ugly truths and questions and loving each other through it while embracing authentic music and worship traditions that make us think and wonder and “ponder anew.” Thanks!

  • Lance

    Exactly right. Thank you for writing this…as an old baby boomer myself, I have seen this exact attitude and response from your generation, and I thank God for it. Perhaps this will be the generation that moves us back to real worship, away from the programs and the transgressions of “new” ideas.

  • Timothy Michael Powell

    Spot. On.

    1) You and I must have gone to the same youth group and not known it.

    2) I went to school with Matthew Turner, so it was fun to see you reference his book.

    3) I remember, viscerally, the first Maundy Thursday service that I attended outside of my childhood denomination. I remember the frightening scenario of having my feet washed by a priest (a woman! gasp!) and the absence, for the first time in my life, of any piano music to fill up the silence – only the sound of water being squeezed out of a towel into a basin. This is just an example of the textured, connected, deeply theological experiences that seem to be missing from so much of modern worship. I wonder about the path that the church is on, where we dwell in darkened “worship centers” where you can’t see the faces of folks around you, but are blinded by the lights and the mega screens that show the words to the songs. The music is so loud that its thunder drowns out the still, small voice of God. The theology is so watered down that Jesus seems more like someone’s boyfriend than the maker and savior of the world.

    Let’s aim higher: “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.” -John Wesley

    • Tony W

      I like the JW quote!

  • Evan

    I agree with everything except the continuing rant against “contemporary” music. All hymns is just as bad unless they are theologically deep. Not all “hymns” are and not all p&w music is devoid of deep theological truth. Maybe we just want music that speaks to us regardless of “style”. Banging the anti-contemporary drum is just as tiresome as the dog machines and misses the point just as much. Depth is what matters, not style.

    • Jonathan

      There’s a difference between a contemporary song and contemporary worship as made popular by the megachurches of my youth (and which still persist today, with a lot of smaller copycats). It is, however, about style, when that style is commercial; that is, mimicking a commercial product, and being marketed as a commercial product itself. When all music sounds like something you would hear on Top 40 radio, well, I’d say there’s marketing going on right there. “We’ll use this music because those young people like it.” It’s not that I’m against anything new, and it’s not that I wouldn’t use a carefully, judiciously selected contemporary song every now and again, but I think it’s a undeniable problem when it’s the predominant sound in the church.

      With all due respect, I think it’s you that may be missing the point.

      • Evan

        It is the first time I’ve heard anything positive about contemporary music here. Regardless, why do you get to discredit music because it sounds “popular”. There are plenty of hymns that were influenced or taken from “popular” music styles of their day.

      • Arn W.

        What should the predominant sound in the church be then? A millenial myself, I go to one of those churches that has both traditional and kinda-contemporary worship. Thinking I wanted something more, I tried the traditional worship and it was not for me. You don’t like the booming music of a praise band, try an overpowering organist that thinks they’re in a cathedral when they’re really in a small sanctuary (but guess what, they control the volume, not a sound technician). The traditional service had a choir, and while pretty, the music was performed. They weren’t leading us in anything, they were just singing at us and we the congregation were just supposed to sit there. I wasn’t being led or inspired, in fact I could barely understand the words they were singing. Finally, what turned me off the most- group recitation. I could help but feel like a mindless drone while being asked to recite with the monotonous crowd prayers printed in a bulletin, Psalms, Creed and other prompts. There was no joy. Worship felt like a funeral.

        Like you, I speak only for me, but where you fault contemporary aspects for not working, I’m not sure how going back to liturgy that has been in place for hundreds of years- which some denominations use exclusively (Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc.) and also face decreasing numbers, I don’t if you really expect this to work.

        What’s missing for me is actual impact– not that a service has to impact me, but I want my church to actually make one. Not just put on activities and studies for ourselves, but really serve. I think more people- not just millenials- will get more involved if they actually see a concerted to make a difference.

        • Stan

          in many “traditional” churches (I hate that term) a choir sings an anthem, but the congregation also sings hymns. It’s part of a tradition that goes back to Martin Luther and the Reformation. Luther had a “place at the table” for both choir and congregational singing to offer praise, proclamation and petition to God in worship, but mostly it’s congregational singing. Was there congregational singing at the “traditional” service you attended? You don’t mention that. But yes, the congregation doesn’t usually sing along with the choir during the choral I’m not sure of what point you are trying to make.

          • Evan

            Her point is traditional isn’t necessarily better or more focused on God. The only guarantee is that it’s old. She’s right.

          • Arn W

            Yes, there were two or three hymns sung to the over-zealous organ, and looking at the hymnal, the author of the hymn had been dead for at least 500 years.

            I guess my point was that I don’t understand how a choir performance fits into worship. To me, it’s not engaging, it’s not entertaining, it doesn’t deliver any message. If there must be a choir (must there be?) I’d rather have a choir LEAD the congregation instead of perform for it. A performance-only choir feels entirely self-serving.

          • Chris Lucas

            I don’t like the term”traditional” either. Everything you do in a church service, if repeated enough times, becomes a tradition. That’s just the nature of being human. Contemporary worship is now awash in it’s own traditions. There are carefully studied ways you do it, and ways that you don’t. They methods whereby it is structured and performed are carefully adhered to, quickly becoming traditions in themselves.

        • Stanley

          Okay, I might be one of those organist that has played too loud at times; and maybe the choir (which I don’t direct) sang “at” you, but has it ever occurred to you that you could JOIN the choir? That’s one way of service. And reaching out to the world with charitable works–donating money (if you can afford it). I’ve been on both sides of this, but reading from bulletins and reciting from prayer books keeps an ORDER of service that could get out of hand if not planned. It’s a sort of discipline that doesn’t necessarily focus on the human leaders, but on the way YOU as a congregational member can be a minister! “Praise bands” aren’t that bad, either, as long as they can be balanced with the more traditional.

          • Rebecca Wood

            Stanley, I liked your comment. I’m not an organist but a choir member. I don’t agree with some of the comments that I just read that were critical of choirs and churches. I agree that the person could join the choir. I enjoy the praise bands, too. My church has several praise groups that

            alternate singing. The adult choir sings most Sundays, but my church has several groups that sing on occasion. So it’s a mix of different groups presenting the uplifting music in my church on Sundays.

        • Mommalion

          Perfectly put!

          We’re missing an experience of the Holy Spirit.

          Liturgy will not give that — they forget that was WHY contemporary worship was introduced in the first place.

          Going back to it will only put another generation to sleep.

          We need LIFE GIVING presence of God! Following a liturgy or a certain kind of worship is the formula. We need to follow a Person.

          • Jonathan

            Pardon me, but the Spirit is with God’s people. We don’t worship so that we get an extra dose of happy feelings masquerading as a movement of God.

            And I must say that the suggestion that the Spirit doesn’t work through liturgy may reflect a weak pneumatology I would actually suggest that there is a freedom in liturgy that you cannot find in a non-liturgical setting, where people are depending on being made to feel a certain way about God. And for the church, that’s a pretty tough row to hoe.

          • Arn W

            I can’t reply to Jonathan’s reply, but this is intended for that. Jonathan wrote “I would actually suggest that there is a freedom in liturgy that you cannot find in a non-liturgical setting” but I just don’t understand. Liturgy, especially hymnal liturgy offers no freedom. It is the same thing, week after week after week. The order of service, what is said, how it is responded to is prescribed and can not change. How is that freedom?

            Sounds to me like you actually want a contemporary service that is more liturgically based, yet flexible, with absolutely no Chris Tomlin. Is that it?

          • RevGreg

            Huh? The Holy Spirit can’t use the liturgy? Why are you limiting him?

          • Sue

            The Word of God is the life giving experience. Hymns that resonate that do the same. I spent 33 years trying to “feel” or “experience” God in the contemporary evangelical churches and what a waste of time it was; total frustration. Give me God centered inspired Word over contemporary hymns touting all the wonderful things I as a Christian will do for God any day. His Word does not return back to him without accomplishing what it was sent to do; (Isaiah 55: 8-11) man’s words usually tout his own greatness. And the term liturgy simply means public service. And the evangelical church has a formula. Start with upbeat music followed by a few slow songs that tell all the wonderful things “you” feel and “do” for God. Then a little word on how to manage your budget or be a better parent. I can get that from any talk show. End with an open time to let people tell what they have heard from the lord. (small L intended because we really don’t know who was speaking unless it is in the Word of God)

        • Anne Benson

          I take offense at the comment that “church choirs sing at you”. As a lifelong choir member and sometimes director (with a BA in music), it was important to me to worship with my music. The words were meaningful, as was the diction and expression. I feel sorry for anyone who does not experience that aspect of worship!

      • Rev. Tom Beaty

        In a few weeks I will be retiring after 25 years of pastoral ministry. I go all the way back to the Jesus Movement of the early 70s. I appreciate your insightful comments but your suggestions and criticisms are exactly like those who have or are being expressed by five generations. What you and millions of others are asking the church to “do it my way and I might come.” I have observed that the experts on how the church ought to be are the ones who don’t come and help the church grow and change. As one millennial told me “our generation wants church to be like Walmart where there is an abundance of what we want at a price we are willing to pay and is always open when we feel like shopping.” This millennial is my beloved son and I think he is spot on. I love the United Methodist Church and I plan on remaining faithful. The faithful few are helping the struggling millions inspite of unpopular music, bad preaching and confusion about how to be the church Jesus calls us to be. After 25 years of an amazing and difficult journey I am accepting that I am not as smart as I used to be and Jesus is the Savior of the church. Blessings on your journey. I honestly pray that you will be more fruitful and effective than I have been.

        • Alex Hugo

          Tom that is a phenomenal insight to the reality of Jesus teaching on the “narrow path.” It is truly narrow, because we live in a church culture of converts and not disciples. I can be honest and admit that the God who is, is not the God I want. I would rather have the reward without the personal sacrifice. This is not a new problem, not one that is unique to me, and it will not go away. I think that Bonhoeffer’s depiction of community and discipleship was correct. What I want, and what I assume that other people want, is to truly be shown the joy of the Christian life. That is one of discipline, failure, forgiveness, and unity. As for me, I know the biggest thing worth fighting for as far as church reform goes, is unity. To fight for that, I must fight for unity in my own life and relationships. I know it will be hard, but to truly be a disciple of Christ means to lose my life. I must aim to serve the image bearers of the God, who defines Himself on His terms, through a deeply rooted, cognoscent, and ineffable love for Jesus that only comes through discipline, struggle, and surrender. With that attitude my only option his be a faithful steward of the oppurtunites a provided for the Spirit use my work as a contagious pursuit of excellence and attack on mediocre conformity.

    • bill holston

      Evan, good points, although I want to go the the church that has ‘dog machines’. :)

      I love that image, and it makes me think the church should definitely try that!

      Kidding, If I had a nickle for every typo, I could by myself a couple pounds of artisanal coffee.

      Seriously, count me as a baby boomer, very tired of ‘praise’ choruses’ and very happy to sing the more classical hymns in my Methodist church.

      • Marsha Marsha Marsha

        baha – just loving the dog machines will keep me smiling all day.

    • LAJ

      I agree that not all hymns are alike. If you want hymns with substance; theology and comfort, look up the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Bethany Lutheran College bookstore) Or look up Paul Gerhardt hymns. You will find hymns that far surpass anything in “contemporary” music. Blessings.

    • Jonathan

      There here is a great book I read in seminary called Beyond the Worship Wars. They talk about choosing music on the basis of depth rather than style. I think you make an excellent point .

      • RobbyD

        I completely agree with this comment about depth and substance of praise music being important. I do think we also need to guard against hymns being held up as sacred or “better than” contemporary music only because they’ve been sung in church for a long time. Some of those old hymns were actually contemporary secular songs at that time and were adapted to bring in people from that culture. (The very thing that proponents of hymns only approaches contend they don’t want now). For example, the song “O sacred head now wounded” is actually beautifully written deep theological words set to the tune of the secular song, “My heart is distracted by a gentle maid”

        • Jonathan

          There’s a difference between commercial music and 16th-century folk music. Also, the tune we recognize as PASSION CHORALE was reworked and reharmonized by J.S. Bach, whose arrangement is normally found in hymnals. The suggestion that such tunes were used to “bring people in from that culture,” well, not really. They were chosen because they were good tunes that fit the text well. It’s not like singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the tune of Pharrell’s “Happy.” I write more about this in my post about Martin Luther’s supposed use of “bar songs.”

          That being said, no one here is arguing that we should use only old songs. In fact, I say the opposite quite often in posts and comments. We shouldn’t use only new songs, though, and they shouldn’t need to be in the American commercial style in an evangelistic attempt. In that sense, I think we are relying on music far too much in our corporate worship.

          • RobbyD

            Commercial music’s familiar tunes set to Christ-focused words sounds a lot like 16th century folk music as a well known tune reworked by Bach set to Christ-focused words to me. But it sounds like we’ll have to agree to disagree there.

            For my part I am a millennial who loves contemporary Christian music and has personally seen its ability to connect with people and be a thing that God can use to help to bring them into a saving relationship with Jesus. I’ve also seen youth come in to a youth night and immediately be able to sing along because a praise song was the same tune as a secular song they knew.

            I love your respect and inclusion of the sacraments in your ideal service. All I’m saying is let’s not limit what God can do and what he chooses to work through.

    • Joan of Argghh!

      It’s not really any music that’s the problem, it’s the music that doesn’t include the congregation. It’s the mistake of thinking if we cram enough chord changes and words into a song it will seem more intellectual; no matter that no one can sing it after hearing it four times.

      There is a snobbery in some of the best worship leaders that feels a four-verse, five-chord song in common time or gasp! 3/4 time is a sell-out. I didn’t come to church to worship the music or music leader, or a pastor and his sermons. Make sure that you don’t mistake noise for anointing.

    • Sue

      A.W. Tozer once pointed out the difference between the hymns of old and contemporary music. The former extols the greatness of God and what he has done for us whereas the latter usually speaks of what we do for him. I always hated singing “I” will love, praise, live for, worship…when in reality I knew I wasn’t doing a very good job at any of that. I so much prefer singing about what the Lord has done for me in the hymns. Have you ever seen this; I think it’s a hoot.

    • Sue

      Having changed from evangelical to Lutheran, I see a big difference between hymns and contemporary songs. Hymns convey the idea of what God has done for us while the latter conveys what we will do for God. The “I’s” fill the pages of contemporary lyrics. “I will” worship you , praise you , lift up your name, love you etc… this is a hoot in my opinion and very true:

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  • Larry

    I share your article on my Facebook timeline, and a noted Episcopal clergyperson commented as follows:

    “Oh good grief this is tiresome. Such judgments these free spirits make! “Baby boomers stuck in their rebellion…” Everyone gets judged but this oh-so-precious group. Let’s just be ourselves in all of our sincerity and complexity (which this ignores) and they can join us or not. Enough courting….”

    • Fr. Aaron Orear

      “Enough courting”? I wonder if this noted Episcopal clergyperson (and Boomer, one imagines) actually read the post. Not trying to court Millennials was sort of key to the whole thing. Or am I reading “It’s time to be yourself” wrong?

      • Jonathan

        Yes, as you’ve mentioned, it is apparent that he was turned off by the title and didn’t actually read the post. You would think a noted Episcopalian wouldn’t want to comment without reading, but oh well. In a way, you can’t blame him, since there is a lot of this stuff coming out. I just hope I provided a bit of a fresh take.

      • another angle

        Baby Boomers stuck in their rebellion against the establishment might be Jonathan’s tactful way of saying Tea Party Christians who will sing at the top of their lungs “Shout to the Lord” and other K-Love classics and worship songs from today while at church but several hours later these same people will be posting on Facebook things like Obamacare is of the Devil and immigrants will ruin the USA forever, proving the point that these people as they grow older will fight the establishment until they draw there last breath or get a theocratic government in place. Something tells me that even then, these same Boomers will rebel against the future therocacy as well.

    • Greg

      Before you attempt to remove the “dog” from your friend’s eye, take the “by” from your own. Learned this in a “traditional” church. . .

  • Adam

    I find your comments on questioning the church teachings very interesting. I am a millennial raised in a devoutly evangelical Christian household and have since left the church (I converted to Judaism) precisely because of the inability of Christianity to reasonably answer serious questions about the truth claims of the religion. As a physicist, my initial concerns were predominantly focused on the metaphysical claims of the religion but, upon being harshly criticized for even asking the questions, the real reason I left was because of the reaction I got to asking questions in the first place.

    I am curious to what extent you have really questioned the claims of the religion. You seem to accept the claims of an all powerful god and the primary narrative of Jesus. What questions do you think the Church needs to address?

    • heather

      I appreciate your voice in this thread. I too grew up in an evangelical Christian home. Was well on my way through ordination too. And when I noticed that the New Testament really has been shredded by the concept of grace alone… I started asking questions. Why don’t we read the front of the book? Why don’t we truly believe that the Father meant what he said when spoke of ‘everlasting’ things? Why do we bite and grip SO MUCH on Christmas and Easter (which are NOT) Biblical, yet shun those who embrace the ways of the Father, the feasts, the Fasting and Teshuva? Why do we know more about Martin Luther, who HATED the Jews, than about the patriarchs of the Torah? Why do we think that it’s enough to have salvation, while we blindly choose to ignore the basics guidelines given for a life set apart and keep us safe? Why do we choose to ignore Paul’s continuation of his life as a Pharisee, and embrace the concept that he ‘converted’ to Christianity? (simply because the subtitles say it, do not make it so) Why are we more excited about our children going to True Love Waits, than learning the depth and width, and breadth of love from a perfect and Holy God? When I asked these questions, I was shut down, and told to study a book by a man who can teach me to interpret Scripture. I just want Scripture. Is that too difficult? I do embrace Christ as Messiah, but I don’t believe he came to start a new religion. He came as a promise from the faith that brought monotheism to the world. And people on this thread are more offended by the fact that someone dared question music styles…. Than by the fact that the Judeo has been left behind in what once was Judeo-Christianity. We’ve been robbed of the beauty of Torah and told that lock-ins and ice cream socials will save our failing marriages and drug addictions. It’s a farce. And we want something transparent, honest, and real.

      • Adam

        Thank you for the excellent and thoughtful response. I always get a kick out of the “What would Jesus do?” meme… he would keep kosher and celebrate Hanukkah… what would you do?

        • Heather

          Yes! Agreed. We keep asking What Would Jesus Do… But we never slow enough to ask, What DID he do? He reiterated Torah. He expounded on his Fathers ways and walked in them perfectly. Christians have been hoodwinked into believing that Christianity means you shouldn’t have to know”that Jewish stuff”… When”that Jewish stuff” is the absolute foundation of EVERYTHING written in the Newer Testament. Nothing new. Just a revamp of the old. And sadly, those who have devotion to Abba Father, and keep his ways, and love His commands, a lot of times miss the culmination of the Messiah, because he is portrayed as the leader of the Catholic church. Somewhere between the first century and now, we forgot that the entire Bible was written by Jews… About Jews… And to Jews… And instead of taking time to learn about their take on their culture… We don’t even say Thank You for keeping these words whole. Thank you for giving us monotheism. Thank you for being faithful enough that our Messiah came from their lineage. We have ALL lost the ability to see grace AND truth…. Together, as they should be. Thank you for hearing my heart.

          • Marilyn

            Your comment resonates with me (a 74 year old). I do take a tiny exception that all the books of the New Testament were written for the Jews of the day. If I’m not mistaken, Luke was written as a message for the Gentiles. At least that’s what I’ve learned from some pretty learned folks. (Small point, by the way!)

          • Lola

            I would just suggest that you look into Orthodox Christianity. The services still retain much of the worship forms that was prevalent in Judaism at the time of Christ.

            Hint – look for a parish that uses predominantly English and is friendly to inquirers. You may want to pick up a copy of “Welcome to the Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity” by Frederica Mathewes-Green, which has recently been published.

          • Catherine

            There’s a wonderful author who discusses the Jewish roots is Roy Schoeman




          • robert

            Reading the book of James suggest the early church started getting away from keeping the law, the law does not save us but Jesus still said to obey the priests because the sit I the seat Moses

        • Garth

          Of course Jesus was a good Jewish boy, but he was also an iconoclast. He so upset the religious and political elite of his day that he was executed. I suspect he would celebrate Hanukkah. But he was also not averse to skipping ritual observances, and his inclusive spirit seemed to especially cut through old ideas of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. So I suspect he wasn’t too fussed about keeping kosher, and even if he did, he probably wasn’t bothered if others didn’t. Just some speculation…

          • Monica Pope

            I disagree that Jesus was an iconoclast dismantling tradition and beliefs. He was a reformer and a fulfiller (THE Fulfillment, actually.) He fulfilled the Old Covenant rituals and He insisted on the reformation– the rending– of hearts of those who participated in the rituals.

            many were His contemporaries who didn’t want to change their outward and prideful observances. Many, and obviously, hostile.

          • Garth

            @Monica Pope. An iconoclast is someone who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition. Thats why I described Jesus as BOTH a good Jewish boy and an iconoclast.

      • Judy

        Heather, you have the answer. The “church” does not know the God who gave the Torah and instituted His appointed times to meet His people.

      • Dave

        I understand what you are saying, however I also see the paradox of what the Father has shown us in the OT. He has stated that he hates our new moons, feast days etc. Why would he state that? I’ve understood that most of what was ceremonial was only a shadow of what a real human should be.

        As a goyim it would be basically illegal for me to practice Torah law. Noahide law would be my governing edicts. Questions on all hands are good to ask. I’ve decided that even as a Christian – its not for me to convert anyone. I just tell people why I am one. I realized that I couldn’t do it myself. It seems God teaches the lesson throughout the OT.

    • A. C.

      I know how you feel. In many churches, questions are condemned as ‘doubts’ and we’re told to ‘just have faith’. It raises a question of its own: Are we putting our faith in God or in our teachers?

      There are, of course, many people who truly have questioned the claims of Christianity. I am one. If you look deep enough, you find them to be true. More precisely, you find Christ to be true. (Various teachings from our various churches, however, may not be true. Biggest example: the 6000-year-old-earth idea is not supported by evidence, biblical or scientific, and therefore need not be true.).

      So what questions do I think the church needs to address? Whatever questions anyone can come up with. It’s not just ‘the church’ as some nebulous association of people behind pulpits, though, who need to address these problems: we as individual people need to seek the answers to life’s most important questions. If we want depth, we can expect to have to do some digging, not just take the elevator of the church. (Not that this excuses shallowness in church. Churches ought not to be expected to do all the digging, but the should be able to provide the shovel).

      Christianity can answer the deep questions. Christianity does, even when Christians don’t. Nobody should base their faith on other people’s ideas (or lack of ideas). Base your faith on truth.

      • Adam

        I appreciate your response and your position. While I strongly disagree with your claim that “you find Christ to be true,” since, obviously, I’m not a Christian, I believe that if more Christians held your view on questioning, the church would be healthier for it. Read some of the atheist blogs and you will quickly see that a primary driver of young people leaving the church is because they are shunned for questioning religious claims.

  • Cynthia Astle

    Hey, Jonathan, long time no see. I’d like to reprint this great post on UM Insight. I firmly believe in hearing directly from people whose interests are being discussed, and this post is spot-on regarding this week’s big news on Christianity’s decline. Email me if reprint is OK with you. Thanks!

  • DW

    What do you mean by the statement “Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism”?

    • MB

      It seems to be a general criticism of the American Christian Church as a whole equating a pro-second amendment “Merica” type mentality to faith in Christ. When in reality, nearly every example Christ and His followers gave us in scripture violates that Guns and God philosophy. The devotion to the nation of the USA and the veritable worship of its flag by followers of Christ turns into a form of idolatry and supplant the truth of Jesus’ ministry. It is by our love for one another that they will know we are set apart. It is by our selfless love for our enemies that they will turn toward Him. The example of Christ is acceptance without endorsement. The only exception was toward religious leaders who were falsely representing God.

    • Stanley

      I think what he means is that the USA was not founded all by Christians, and some church denominations have capitalized on American patriotism as the be all end all. I’ve heard the American Family Network go off on this, and it’s just wrong!

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  • Bill

    This article speaks to me, completely. I am not a millennial, and perhaps I have had a longer journey to arrive at the same conclusion. I’m much happier in my “traditional” church, with the rituals and sacraments in the services and theology preached from the pulpit. All among caring folk who are encouraged not to be entertained, but to be filled with the spirit and bring Jesus out into our community. And I’ve been a big fan of the pipe organ since I was very young.

    With that said, I see nothing inherently wrong with “contemporary” worship and music. That’s what some people want and need, and they won’t tune in to something else. I think any church must deliver the basics, and be true to itself. A traditional church with its liturgy and hymns, and the congregation it has, shouldn’t try to chase any market segment by trying to become something else. That doesn’t work. Neither should a flourishing mega-church with a praise band leave its own congregation behind to do a different thing.

    I think the main point, here, is that a lot of traditional churches have lost their way…and their congregations…chasing the millennial “market”. To the extent any church can attract people of any age, it will only work if the church knows itself and its purpose.

    Good stuff.

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  • Colin Rowley

    I generally relate with a lot of these things, but where the author fails is a lack of perspective from the unchurched. He grew up there and so did most of the commenters I imagine. I’m more interested in the barriers to entry for someone who has never walked through the doors in the first place (which, let’s face it, is a much larger segment of the population). I imagine liturgy, people all dressed in their Sunday’s best, big organ pipes, choir in robes, everyone singing music that no where relates to in the outside world, etc is quite hard to swallow. Rather, a place where they can feel comfortable and not out of place walking in, hearing a music style that is somewhat familiar to them, hearing a message from the Bible that is relevant to their daily experience, no dress code, and a general acceptance of who they are, etc would make it easier for an unchurched person to walk in and not immediately feel out of place.

    I think the church today would be much more effective if they imagined themselves as foreign missionaries airdropped into a new country with little to no exposure to the Gospel. And in those situations, you don’t change the message, but you change the medium to what is effective for communication – you learn their language, their customs, their music styles and you attempt to reach them with the message of Jesus in the best way they understand. You don’t dare attempt to transplant the church with all its traditions from your native land (or time) that have no relevance to this new people. That’s a recipe for failure.

    • Jonathan

      Corporate worship is not about bringing in the unchurched. It’s about actually being the church. It’s not about finding a comfortable place that fits you just right. The history of corporate worship is liturgy. It’s not just a preference that some people have. Our first point of contact with the people you describe shouldn’t be a worship service, if possible, although I do agree that we should welcome any who come in. But we don’t change our identity just to make them feel more comfortable. We’ve got to offer something that is a distinct alternative.

      And I do think liturgy works in any context, that is in the native language.

      • Colin Rowley

        Jonathan –

        So, what do you mean when you say “liturgy”? Every church has one, no matter how simple, complex, traditional, or contemporary. If we base it on Scripture, the liturgy should be two things – baptism and the Lord’s Table. When we start adding “necessary” things to that list is when we go beyond God’s sacred Word.

        And, when you say history, what part of “history” are you referring to? Prior to the early church? pre-Reformation? post-Reformation? 1995? Each of those historical periods offers a completely different liturgy. And, what part of the world are you referring to? European? American? Asian? African? Once again, depending on where you are creates a completely different liturgy.

        My point is, time and place are contextual in all of those scenarios. The church in Africa is very simple – they eat together, they observe The Lord’s Table, they hear from God’s Word, they sing songs written in their own language with instrumentation based upon styles in their own culture, and they baptize any new believers in their midst. Do they sing hymns with organ and hymnals? No. Do they sing contemporary songs with fog machines? Heck no. All of these are styles and tastes based upon the North American church.

        Yes, absolutely, the church is to be a place where believers gather to be “equipped for the work of the ministry”. I’ve no qualms there. But, if the body of Christ is to be a light in a dark place, and people share the gospel and bring their friends to the church, we should not create barriers of tradition or regulation that keeps them from becoming apart of the family.

        I experienced this first-hand with a friend of mine who has been witnessing to his car mechanic for 20 years. His mechanic, through some hard times, finally became receptive to the gospel and came to know Jesus. Naturally, he wanted to attend church for the first time with the man who led him to Jesus. When he came in our church (at the time was dress-up, traditional music, big organ pipes, sung from hymnals), he couldn’t jive after a couple weeks. He felt so out of place. He ended up in a church that is dressed-down, casual environment, contemporary music with people who love Jesus well and love others.

        • Jonathan

          You bring up some interesting points, but I would actually suggest that the liturgical church (and I’m intentionally defining this very broadly) in many ways is much more like the indigenous African church than a mega-church or mega-church copy. There are also bunches of YouTube videos showing people from foreign and often impoverished cultures singing hymns of the (Western) church, often in their own language, acappella or with simple instrumentation.

          Regarding your last example, I’m happy when anyone finds Jesus, and maybe it was true that your church was not the place for him, but I’ve attended urban mainline churches that have very vital congregations in which you will find white collar executives sharing the pew with the homeless. I think every church should be a place where that kind of diversity is welcome.

          Thanks for your comments.

    • Adam

      “(which, let’s face it, is a much larger segment of the population)” Where do you get these statistics?? Maybe in rural Afghanistan, but in America, the vast majority of the population was raised in a Christian household.

    • Steven Bruns

      Remember, though, worship is not evangelism. By definition, worship is God-focused and evangelism is people-focused. Churches that confuse worship with evangelism do neither well.

      • Jonathan

        Excellent point. Evangelism can happen through corporate worship, but it’s a byproduct.

      • Joe Corporon

        That’s right on, Steve.



    • Debbie

      I grew up in a Presbyterian church and my father was the pastor. I was born in 1958. So I grew up attending church. My parents practiced what they preached. They lived out the gospel.I accepted Christ when I was very young. I believe that you cannot group all contemporary style church services together. I have been to many different churches and denominations during my life. I believe that what makes a church viable and able to witness and minister to others is pastors, staff and volunteers that truly love God, know the scriptures, and want to serve others in a Christ-centered way. I have been to churches that are “contemporary” in their services and not felt it was for me and been to other contemporary service churches that I joined and loved attending. They were real and drawing in people that would not have been comfortable in a more liturgical style church and would not have considered trying one. I don’t believe you can say all churches with a more liturgical style service is better for all people anymore that you can say churches with a contemporary service is not fulfilling the goal of reaching people for Christ in a way that changes, challenges and grows them to be more like Him. You just can’t. People are different…different experiences, different backgrounds, different histories. I guess I am just saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. God is GOD. He can use ANYTHING He desires to reach His people. You can’t put Him in a box.

      • Jonathan

        Thank you for your comments. Again, liturgical worship (and again, broadly defined) has been in place since the beginning of the church. The people have to be doing work. Nobody is trying to put God in a box, but this is about ecclesiological identity, which historically has little to do with making people comfortable and getting their butts in the seats. Christian worship is about being the community of Christ, not providing a comfortable for people to be indoctrinated or evangelized. Yes, many millennials grew up in contemporary mega-churches or smaller mega-church copies, but they aren’t staying. Those churches might still be booming, but I think we are seeing the beginning of the decline. We will see in ten or twenty years.

  • Kim Mick Callier

    Dear Friend in Christ –

    I just ran across your “Dear Church/Open Letter” from a post on the Kissing Fish Facebook page. I think it’s terrific, and after looking at some more of your writings and your bio, I have “liked” your Facebook page both as myself and my FB page. Anyway…

    I am in complete agreement with your thoughts on liturgy. Liturgy, we we told in Catechism classes, means “the work of the people.” Oh my goodness, what work it was to learn it, but oh – how joyous to hold my hymnal to my chest, close my eyes, and feel which words touched me as we sang responses back and forth to pastor’s exhortations and introductions (he didn’t chant, he spoke). It was different week to week. And we learned WHY we did WHAT we did WHEN we did it. Adults and children need to be engaged in the exchange of the Word and words, the singing of hymns, the lack of “traveling music” to allow a moment to sink in as the Spirit wills, the water, wine and bread – people will fade away if not not allowed to feel a part of something. That’s what liturgy does. You know that. I stepped away to discover the “isms” of the world in my 20s, and when I came back in my 30s, I was at home. I knew no one other than my parents, but being involved in the work of the people allowed me to take part and know I was in a fellowship, that took me in, accepted me, allowed me to heal and continue on my faith journey.

    I never experienced the contemporary worship you describe. What I’ve seen and heard is the addition of instruments other than an organ the addition of happy “Jesus-y” songs that kids learn at church camp, and songs written after 1965. But what I can understand from your description of fog machines, etc., is that church leaders are keen on providing “mountain-top experiences.” Well, the air is a little thin on the mountaintop, and we church leaders (I was at one time) forget that everyone needs to come back to the ground where the real work of the people is (are?). It’s not breathlessly overwhelming, but it IS much more nurturing.

    I had a wise pastor tell me once – and I think of him often – “all worship is contemporary.” I take that to mean that it means something to me TODAY, no matter what I sing, where I worship, what I wear.

    I have a helper who comes a couple of times a week. Out of the blue yesterday she pronounced that what churches need to do (we live in SC) is to move their services outdoors in the summer, under a tent, so everyone can hear the word of God because no one would be hidden away behind closed doors. She’s an African-American millennial; I am a 55-year old disabled white liberal Lutheran, and if it weren’t for the heat and bugs, I think I would agree with her.

    Thank you for your open letter. My only questions are: how do you get the “Millennials” in the door? And how can you get the members in the church to extend “the work of the people” beyond liturgy and into warm, welcoming words and actions?

  • Jamie Carter

    I think Christianity needs to realize that in many ways, we all dance to the beat of a different drum. When I learned about the Great Awakening, the trouble was between the Old Lights and the New Lights – one group adhering to tradition and another group who wanted to get away from tradition for the sake of tradition. That was when preaching styles for the New Lights became something similar to what Billy Graham was known for doing. Some New Lights created a new tradition that has now become tradition for the sake of tradition. That’s where my churches have come from – they sang hymns because their parents sang hymns because their parents sang hymns. It wasn’t great, but it was just o.k. But one day, the sacredness of it was just gone. Where people get warm fuzzy feelings about hymns I get a sense of frustration and dread. Having switched to a contemporary worship style church, I felt refreshed and actually looked forward to the music. We didn’t have blinding lights, we didn’t have fog machines, and the music was loud enough so that the elders didn’t need their hearing aids. But when I get in the zone of worship – all of that fades away and it’s just me and God . Now that I’m back in a traditional hymn-singing church, the zone of worship just doesn’t happen. I clench my fist to keep from screaming out about how frustrating it is to feel nothing. To sing songs with no personal meaning – they’re just words. I’m trapped in tradition and there’s no liturgy in how they go about it. I know that everyone around me is having a great time with their beloved hymns and sacred songs, I don’t want them to give up what they enjoy because then they would have the misery that I have – but I’d like just a little bit of contemporary songs to refresh my thirsty soul.

    • Jonathan

      “But when I get in the zone of worship – all of that fades away and it’s just me and God.”

      No offense, but I think this is a problem. We decided there’s such a thing as a “zone of worship” where it’s just “me and God.” Church isn’t supposed to be that way. It’s us and God as his covenant people. Corporate worship is not a time to hear music you like and cuddle up next to Jesus.

      • Arn W

        …worship is not a time to hear music you like…

        Why not? Does that mean if you like the traditional hymns that your church is doing then you are doing it wrong, too? After all, it’s not about hearing music you like.

        Maybe I should get to work on publishing a”Worst Music of All Time” hymnal, churches would be using that every week because that’s what church is supposed to be, right?

      • Rod Mauch

        I agree with you Jonathan. How can you zone in to be with God. You should be with God every day. Not for a hour or two every Sunday. I live my life on the acronym of the BIBLE. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. If you only zone into God when you worship I ask you this question. If you woke up this morning and all you had was what you thanked God for the night before, what would your day look like and what would you have.

        I am a baby boomer and started in church as a Lutheran, then went away from the church in my early teens and returned back to the church as a convert to Orthodoxy in my fourties. I watched many churches change with the times to keep the people coming through the doors that what was done in the 60’s and 70’s is a distant past. Now when I attend chuch with my parents I think about how empty I feel that it’s just about how. Many people were in church today. If you look at orthodoxy there Divine Liturgy hasn’t changed in over 1000 years

  • Jamie Carter

    We must come from two churches with distinctly different teachings on what constitutes corporate worship. I was just in a dialogue with another group of Christians who believed that all women must wear head coverings in church for the duration of corporate worship. They use words like covenant for just about everything. Thing is, we both know what we mean when we say it, but not what the other group means when we hear it. Some churches in my state are known for snake-handling worship services, others choose bluegrass style. I might not agree with them, but I’d never use the phrase “cuddle up” to put down their preferences. All of us are different, but none of us are wrong. As I said, we all dance to different drums. Millennials especially. There’s not one one approach that works for all of us.

    • Jonathan

      Nobody’s putting you down, and the “cuddle up” terminology is something I’ve heard from the church before. I’m just saying if you look at the trajectory of corporate worship throughout church history, it hinged on being together. With our cultural emphasis on everyone having things their own way, we’ve decided that worship is about being one on one with God. Certainly there may be a time and place for that, but it’s hard to fit into the historic gathered church. If it were only prevalent in charismatic circles for instance, I wouldn’t be so concerned, as it’s an outworking of their theology. But the way the evangelical and even mainline church has adopted a default of contemporary worship, well, that’s really hard to figure. I’m not just talking about singing new songs, but the entertainment, worship style choice format, which doesn’t require the congregation to do work together.

      • Jamie Carter

        The churches I’m from have the default of traditional hymns – and they tend to assume that the schools / parents / etc. teach the kids how to sing. Problem is, in my case, nobody bothered. They assumed if I hung around long enough I’d just pick it up. I didn’t. These churches barely have two dozen people – and most of them are elderly. Their ability to sing in tune or on key is gone. With so few, every voice is clearly heard. It was not pleasant, it was not lovely, it was not holy, it was the lowest low for me in terms of hymns. In the last two churches I was the only millennial. The history of these churches has been doing the same thing and it’s certainly not working. To a degree, we let a lot of worship history go … churches used to meet in Solomon’s Colonnade at the temple or in various member’s homes. We don’t know what they would have sung or how they would have worshiped. We used to have one church – but it divided up into the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. Then there was lots more division. That’s our history. In terms of worship we approach God differently then generations ago. And in the future, the generations will be just as different. Their worship will be unrecognizable in many ways.

        • Lola

          Yes, we do. The Didache. This treatise dates back to the late 1st-early 2nd century.

          • Jamie Carter

            Number of churches in my denomination that base their structure of worship on the didache: 0

            Reason: it is not biblical

            We also ignore the shepherd of hermas, any number of gospels and apocalypses and epistles that are not in the bible. That includes the phos hilaron and oxyrhyncus hymn … the two oldest hymns ever discovered. The church abides by the regulative principle of worship, not the normative principle.

          • Greg

            I believe it would be more accurate to say that the Didache reflects the practice of the Biblical communities, rather than counter pose the two. I also think the “regulative” principle is horribly anachronistic – after all, the Scriptures were refined by their liturgical use and interpreted in the light of the Liturgy. There is no reason to create a tension where none existed: Irenaeus of Lyons: “Our teaching is in harmony with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our teaching.”

            Incidentally, your examples are illuminating: phos hilarion (Gladsome Light) has been in continuous usage to this day in the daily Liturgy of the Byzantine rite – so the Orthodox Church has been using it from its inception until today. It has also remained in many protestant contexts, including, if I am not mistaken, the Lutheran. I think you may have made a very different point than you intended for many readers.

          • Jonathan

            Wow, well done, Greg. There are some helpful voices out there that speak from the regulative principle, but it fails in the end for me, for the reasons you mentioned. Also, it bears mentioning that the concept of liturgy is quite “biblical,” if we want to use that word.

  • Christine

    Thank you. I am probably old enough to be your mother, but I agree with everything that you have written here. All these reasons that you have listed are why “thinking” and “discerning” people in general are leaving the church.

    • Jan Deaton

      Thank you for this. I am probably old enough to be your grand mother and went to one church all my life,did Bible studies,listened to Godly sermons, sang the old songs of the old Saints felt The a spirit Of The Lord move loved going to church and being with God’s people, then one day the Pastor’s son decided HE wanted to change to the worshipping in the dark, drinking coffee, smoke coming out and loud ,very loud music with the bang bang bang of the drums and one time we had over 200 come to worship but now it is down to whatever all because the preachers son was unhappy. May GOD Bless all of us who want Him in our lives and to Worship with all people who love Him. time is short. Thanks again for your post

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  • Ocha

    Truly, point on. We need to build unbreakable bonds rather than skewed images of what is the norm of today. Bonds with each other, bonds with God, bonds with our purpose in life, (which is of God) grounded in the blood is more fulfilling than the rest of the “stuff”.

  • Danny Panter

    I do not think that “contemporary” and “liturgy” have to be at odds. As a pastor who leads a “contemporary” worship gathering, I am always contemplating liturgy and the role it plays in forming our worship gatherings. I long to draw the church into the beautiful Gospel narrative that speaks to our identity. I do not seek to manipulate emotional responses, but I aim to lead the people to have appropriate emotional responses (which are no less valuable than intellectual/disciplined responses). I do not yield to consumerism or commercialism, but I do long to hear an authentic expression of worship that is true to this generation without necessarily forgetting or neglecting past expressions. New songs written by Holy Spirit-led musicians written for the purpose of congregational worship absolutely should be heard and sung.

    Ultimately the foundation of our congregational worship cannot be bound by tradition alone but the very Word of God. There is an absolute beauty to the diversity of authentic, biblical, and theologically rich worship gatherings all across the nations (many of whom have never had access to the liturgies of the Church’s past). I rejoice in that.

    • Jonathan

      One of the main points of my post was that it doesn’t have to be current to be true to this generation. In fact, ancient resonates more with us quite often. It’s not that new songs are off the table, it’s that our music doesn’t yield to the commercial tone. Of course we should use new songs, but in the liturgical tradition.

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  • Jay

    This is the first of the generation of spoiled brats that want it all our own way and it’s disturbing.

    • Jonathan

      Most of your comment didn’t make the cut. Sorry. It’s not that I necessarily object to references to male anatomy, just not when used insultingly toward myself. You understand, I’m sure.

      And it was pretty clear you either didn’t read my post or didn’t read it thoroughly. Another strike.

      And in response to the bit of comment that I let through, well, you might want to crack open a history book. I would say, judging from the people around me, that the millennial generation is more concerned with others than our boomer parents were, by and large. Of course, we live in a different time with our own advantages and comforts, but I just don’t think your point holds up, in all honesty.

  • Charis

    Millennial SBC preacher’s kid, and 6 year convert to Eastern Orthodoxy here. Hi. Yes. All of this. I will say, it took me a couple of years to lovr liturgy, but I felt the good of it. and just as we fall in true love by spending time, and learning more about someone and knowing their true selves… that’s what it took. I grew up being told liturgy was dead, devoid of feeling or the Spirit. I have found the opposite to be true. No I don’t get all emotionally caught up in it like I did at the Youth Evangelism Conference, but the real, long lasting, soul healing happens. Thanks.

    • Doug Loss

      Thank you for saying this, Charis. I was going to recommend that Jonathan visit an Orthodox church myself. I’ve been Russian Orthodox for some years now and I believe the Orthodox church provides just what Jonathan has been missing in his religio-tainment church.

  • Anne

    Thank you for reminding us not to treat people like sales goals.

    We must also not consider ourselves consumers of church.

    Casper ten Boom (Corrie’s father) attended a less-than-optimal church because he felt that God wanted him to be there. He also hosted a Bible study led by a learned Jewish teacher.

    The important thing is not to fit into a pattern, or avoid a pattern, but to follow God’s Spirit, and prepare ourselves to minister wherever we are.

    There is ministry for each of us at church every Sunday (or whenever we meet) in prayer, singing, personal conversations, etc. and we need to be ready.

    “Bad preaching is the curse of a prayerless church”, and the same could be said for music ministry, relationships, etc.

    May God guide and bless you and your generation as you now step into the role of leadership in His church.

  • Tom Gerdy

    I thought this might be interesting to some who have commented and stir the pot a bit. I wrote this piece for Huffington Post. I have a problem with the focus often being inside of the church and not out. And talk is cheap.

  • Danny Russell

    As a baby boomer and one who has spent some 45 years in the pulpit, I’d say this person has it on target. I worry about the church confusing tradition with scripture and not being able to distinguish. Let us let His word speak to us and let us offer up unto him a pure worship, from the heart, Spirit filled, offering ourselves as an acceptable sacrifice, offering up by the fruit of our lips songs of praise and adoration, speaking and admonishing one another. Let us understand that our worship is for us to honor God and His Son, and to encourage each other, to go out, to forage ahead not neglecting to do good to all, for everything we do outside the “building” is worship too.

  • Sarah

    I am a member of a generation that is often overlooked–generation X. I grew up in the United Methodist Church with liturgy and hymns. It left me cold most of the time.

    I attend a more contemporary United Methodist Church now, and the worship style is blended. Liturgy is a part of the service. The music is dynamic–hymns in both contemporary and traditional arrangements along with good modern worship music. Preaching that is relevant and theologically sound. A emphasis on mission in the community.

    I think it’s a bit short-sighted to assume that all contemporary worship is shallow, emotionally manipulative, and, ultimately, not pleasing to God. There is danger to thinking you have the answers to the way everyone should express worship.

    • Jonathan

      Actually, I think you’re exactly right. I think that corporate worship will vary enormously in different denominational and cultural settings. But I do think there are some requirements. One of which means the people have to be doing work instead of consuming, participating instead of vegetating. In the classic contemporary-style service, that doesn’t happen so much. And I think generally the millennials are more attuned to and agree with this than did Gen X. I’m not averse to using new elements, but I think we should be careful not to overlook the apostolic train and connection to the roots of our faith.

      • Sarah

        Actually, I felt like I was “consuming” more in liturgical services. It was robotic for me, being told what to pray and what to say in response. I called it “cruise control”–mumbling through the service not having to think on my own. My response to God was printed all right there in the bulletin.

        I felt like I was doing more theological “work” when I had to listen to the Holy Spirit and form my own responses.

        • James

          Yeah, because singing songs in which you repeat the same six-worded phrase that could just as easily be attributed to your boyfriend/girlfriend as to God is TOTALLY more theologically mature and completely NOT a consumeristic and robotic thing…

          • Sarah

            James–your comment seems unnecessarily sarcastic and snarky. If this par for the course on this blog, I will bow out of this and wish you well.

  • Chris

    Your assertions concerning what isn’t working aren’t correct. The numbers just aren’t there to back you up. Therefore, you’re only expressing an opinion which isn’t widely shared.

    Across the population – not just mellenials – the number of people identifying themselves as Christians is declining. However, contemporary and so-called mega-churches are, in fact, growing – rapidly. The biggest drops are in mainstream/mainline traditions (i.e. traditional worship).

    One of the overarching themes in Paul’s letters is unity in the Church (the body of Christ, not the building). Is it possible that elitist finger pointing and holier-than-thou blog posts might be contributing to a view from the outside the Church that thinks, “Hmmm, they seem to only argue amongst themselves. Therefore whatever they’re talking about is bunk.”?

    Or perhaps it’s the extreme lack of leadership in traditional denominations. That is ‘leaders’ who hand out surveys to ask everyone what they want instead of leading. ‘Leaders’ who feel the need to accommodate EVERYONE thereby never really preaching the gospel. As St. Paul says, the gospel is folly so some and scandal to others. Apparently, some ‘leaders’ think those people are sitting in the pews and want to make it as palatable as possible.

    And, by the way, I am an Episcopalian. I have been from the cradle. I go to the service that doesn’t have music because the organ and choir don’t facilitate my worship. It’s not my voice. During the service I’m the acolyte, crucifer and chalice bearer.

    P.S. I find it completely ironic that someone mentioned the reformation. Back then, people were looking at what they were doing and saying, “It’s time for a change.”

    • Jonathan

      It’s not quite as simple as that. Mega churches are growing (not with millennials), but the denominations themselves are shrinking. It hasn’t been going on as long or as fast, but it’s happening at an increasingly quick rate. The SBC is a good example. and is it right to suggest that the churches with the most butts in the seats are in that position because they’re doing something right? I just don’t know about that.

      • Andrew

        I’m no big fan of mega-churches, as it’s usually defined, but that’s mostly because I can’t stand the likes of Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes who flat out ignore Scripture to get a few more people in their church. You want to talk about sacrificing what is good for the sake of getting butts in seats, go after them before you go after Chris Tomlin. But I digress… :)

        As for my actual comment, I’m curious why you point out that the denominations are shrinking, when that is a less-than-ideal way of measuring the size of the Church, both global and in the U.S., given the rise in non-denominational congregations. There are also plenty of reasons why the SBC may be shrinking, but I don’t think a move towards contemporary worship is to blame.

        If you look closely at the recent Pew study, you see that evangelical Christianity is actually the steadiest part of the American church – compared to Mainline churches, which are shrinking fast than any other. And I don’t think the music is either bringing more people in or pushing more people out.

        I think, more than we realize, many millennials (of which I am one) are actually turned off by the way the church seems to capitulate to the world around them, sacrificing Scripture for the sake of making a point or fitting in. We don’t want another political entity (liberal or conservative or otherwise), we just want a church where we stand under Scripture as our authority and we truly live out the Gospel together.

        That looks differently from congregation to congregation, as far as music, liturgy, and worship goes. But that’s okay. As long as we’re on the same page with the important things: Jesus is Lord, and Gospel is true. “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

        • Gil

          I agree. John MacArthur said something along those lines that I really appreciated hearing many years ago:

          Paul never suggested to Timothy that he study demographic data. He never suggested that he do research on the felt needs of his people. He commanded him to preach the Word faithfully, reprovingly, patiently and let it confront the spirit of the age head on. And you’ll have to notice in that text that nothing Paul said to Timothy had anything to do with how people might respond. He didn’t lecture Timothy how large his church should be, how much money he should take in and how influential he should become. He didn’t suggest that the world was supposed to revere, esteem and accept Timothy and he was supposed to become very popular. In fact, Paul said nothing whatever about external success. Paul’s emphasis was on commitment, not success. He never said anything about whether unbelievers should attend or would attend or tolerate what he said except to warn him about persecution.

          You see, contemporary ministry philosophy is loaded with worldly standards of success. The church is most often judged successful or large and rich, mega churches with multi-million dollar facilities, spas, handball courts, daycare centers, etc. But not one church in a thousand falls into that category. That means one of two things, most churches are pitiful failures or the gauge of success on God’s terms is quite different than it is on man’s. External criteria such as affluence, numbers, money, positive response have never been the biblical measure of success in ministry; faithfulness, godliness, spiritual commitment are the virtues that God esteems and such are the qualities that He blesses. They must be the building blocks of any ministry philosophy. That is true in small churches, that is true in large churches. Size does not signify God’s blessing and popularity is absolutely no barometer of success. In fact, an appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land, writes Jeremiah, the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule on their own authority and my people love it. The fact that people love it doesn’t make it right. Popular does not mean pleasing to God necessarily.

          So, instead of urging Timothy to devise a ministry that would garner accolades from the world, he warned him about suffering and about hardship. Hardly the stuff that modern church growth experts aspire to. The appropriate goal is never success, it’s excellence. As I’ve said through the years, you take care of the depth of your ministry and let God take care of the breadth of it.

  • Gil Torres

    I am glad to see Jonathan offer his own thoughts concerning millennials from the usually cited Barna and Evans Held studies and articles. Yet, as much as I appreciate his thoughts these are familiar, and most importantly, reflect what not only millennials but others have overlooked in the disciples of Jesus.

    This is how I summarize those few things which he enumerates which might work on some millennials: worship, scripture, fellowship and truth.

    Generally, we do no think of Jesus losing the disciples or of the disciples walking away from Jesus, that is, the fellowship of the faithful. Yes, we know of their momentary abandonment of Jesus on the night of his betrayal and arrest, but this is not what I have in mind. The possibility, in fact the reality, of the faithful leaving Jesus then as well as today is neither new nor anything different. It’s only our present enthrallment with technology and glitz which make us think it is different. And, yes, while in keeping with Jonathan’s call to be honest about he hard and difficult matters of keeping the saints faithful leaving the fellowship of the saints, that is, the church is no different than leaving Jesus. Of course, those saints who do leave the fellowship of the saints are often quick to make it clear they have not left Jesus. However, the inseparable nature of Jesus and the body of believers was made clear by Jesus not the least as in the instance when he appeared to Saul with the question, “Why do you persecute ME?” Saul did not believe, as much as he might not have believed in Jesus prior to his conversion, that he was persecuting Jesus.

    So, what was the growing exasperation of the disciples as voiced by Phillip that they were on the brink of giving up on him: Just show us the Father?

    It was that despite SEEING, FEELING, TOUCHING, HEARING and WALKING with Jesus they failed to understand and recognize the identity of who it was that was in their presence. I am not surprised when I hear of the saints who do not know or understand the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in them. What, you wonder, does this have to do with this discussion?

    It is evident in the reply of Jesus to Phillip and the disciples. His reply drew their’s and our attention to the reassurance concerning the identity of Jesus, the indwelling of the Father in Jesus as well as the same indwelling of the Spirit, whom He said was WITH them but would be IN them.So, worship, scripture, fellowship and truth are certainly and undeniably vital essentials and part of the makeup of the saints as a body of believers and worshipers of the Father, but the greater appreciation, understanding and joy in these is vastly related to our own understanding of, not just saying the Holy Spirit dwells in us, but in understanding HOW he dwells in us. This is our identity. This is our confidence. This is our joy.


    I hope someday you will accept Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. It is then you will see. It’s never been about the worship, the youth group, the singing.. It’s about your relationship with Jesus. After you have that you won’t feel the need to write about church negatively- you will want to write about His plan and purpose. Seek the truth and it shall set you free.

    • Jonathan


    • Thomas Loy Bumgarner

      Donna, why so crass and cruel? Johnathan is not negative, just pointing out truths about worship. BTW, worship does speak to God’s plan and purpose. Or have you become part of the Trinity, Miss know it all and troll?

    • Jon

      Ummmm, Donna did you totally miss the point of his article?

  • Lynn

    I do not go to church, and I believe the church has little to offer me or my family today–though I like Pope Francis well enough, and I do miss the ritual and music (we had traditional, but occasionally, the youth groups had interesting bands). I was raised in a religious family, and I now teach the Bible as Literature at a public school. I think it’s a good book, and many of its messages, I think, tell us how we might lead better lives, though I confess, many books offer such possibilities for me. I find that the church has missed the boat on the issues that are most important to me. I don’t imagine that most people who attend church necessarily share these values, so I’m not sure a unified approach is reasonable or even desirable. But even if I believed in the kind of God many of you speak of, I’m not worried that my day-to-day actions are sinful, or will deprive me of Heavenly reward. I’m not interested in what Jesus has to do for me in the hereafter. I’m interested in modeling and reflecting on a commitment to self-sacrifice he offered in our world, and in the here and now. *Not* comparing myself to Jesus here, but I guess I am interested in being part of making the world a better place, and I don’t see Church–as it presents itself publicly–as doing this. Where is the honor and effort to address poverty over corporate profits voiced in Church? (It’s in the Bible, I don’t even think there’s much debate on the meaning if we needed it to justify doing what’s right anyway . . . ) We’re all complicit. And then where is the leadership to back up this criticism? Where is the position — even discussion — on environmentalism? (There is plenty to work from on this topic). Can’t we all admit that the Bible gets it wrong in many cases with respect to women, homosexuality, or marginalized races, and that even if *it says so in the Bible*, it isn’t necessarily a good thing? I guess, even though I like the idea of a non-divisive Church, I want it to be a place where doing the right thing is easier, because you know you stand with a community. Instead, Church seems to me–from the (now) outside–to be a place often focused on individual judgment, because it is afraid to confront the realities we face today, because it has little leadership with the teeth to stand up for what is right, and because it sees no clear sense of how hypocritical the individual criticism seems. It confuses a “personal covenant in God”–which I respect as long as it doesn’t get anyone hurt in the process–for addressing the truth. God is all well and great, if you believe in Him, but that relationship shouldn’t take the place of standing up against Goliath in support of the marginalized, whomever they may be. And it needn’t be a secular truth, but it should not be an ignorant or apathetic one. We should be using the brains that God (or genetics) gave us to question faith, not repeat what we’ve been told, because it worked for earlier generations. In fairness, I live in a pretty conservative area, and perhaps some of the problems I see are more related to my combined perceptions of how the Church appears in the media, and the way religion is spoken of in our area: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I prefer Love. Period. And so I like your post (no matter what your music preferences) but I find it doesn’t quite go far enough to pull me back in.

    • Gil

      “Where is the position — even discussion — on environmentalism? (There is plenty to work from on this topic). ”

      Environmentalists have been lying to us since at least the 60s. The population time bomb still hasn’t exploded. The man-made ice age (from the 70s) isn’t coming. Neither is the man-made global warming/oceans rising. We need to limit pollution in a way that improves lives for people, which means sometimes we have to have reasonable standards and practical cost-benefit decisions. The solution to every problem can’t be a tax increase and a government program, because that causes more problems than it solves.

      “Can’t we all admit that the Bible gets it wrong in many cases with respect to women”

      Sorry. The Bible gets it right and has far more respect for women than the modern so-called liberals.


      The number of homosexuals who were sexually abused as a child is very high. It’s an unhealthy lifestyle (especially for the male, and it’s not just AIDS) and often includes a loss of any sexual restraint, which then perpetuates abuse. It’s not a coincidence that one of the key goals of the movement is the lowering of the age of consent. Normalizing homosexuality is about access and grooming.

      “or marginalized races, ”

      What, exactly, do you think the Bible says about “marginalized races”?

      “and that even if *it says so in the Bible*, it isn’t necessarily a good thing?”

      There are plenty of things in the Bible that are not good things. In Judges, when it said “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” that was not a good thing. It’s still not.

      • Lynn

        Yes. This is why I cannot currently join the church, and why I suspect I would not be welcome if I did. Peace.

        • Gil

          We come to God on His terms or not at all. Style isn’t particularly important. Truth is.

  • Mike

    Jon, do you plan to start a church that does everything right and then tell the world how to replicate your template?

    • Jonathan

      Mike, forgive me for saying so, but I don’t think you really considered all the implications of the post. Peace.

  • Matt Roush

    Where the hell (maybe quite literally) is the like x 1000 button? In my heart I know what we do in church is so true, but it’s been so very bent. And God help me, I prefer the hit parade of the 17th and 18th century to any treacly Christian rock (which usually is neither).

  • David

    Jonathan –

    You’ve hit on just about every issue with the institution there is, and rightly so. Every generation has a different set of needs and a different perspective from which they view the world. In trying to meet those needs through their perspectives, we attempt to change the environment from which a message is brought forth and in doing so, we end up changing the message too – sometimes for the worse.

    The fundamental problem, IMO, is that we’ve exchanged service and worship of the Lord with service and worship of the institution. Instead of calling the people the Church, we call the institution, it’s staff and it’s structures, the Church (and by extension, the congregation) – not to mention the problem of getting from ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ to ‘church’ in our bible translations.

    Keep pointing people back to the Logos; keep teaching them to be a doer of the Logos, and not a hearer only.

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  • john miller

    Jonathan, I like your article. There is no doubt that the Protestant Mainline churches and Roman Catholic churches are declining in worship attendance. Most church goers are attending the non-denominational mega churches. I agree churches have made mistakes but they have also feed the poor, helped widows and orphans, provided disaster relief, built homes, hospitals, orphanages, visited the sick and shut ins and the list could go on and on. You write, “We need you to show us how to be the hands and feet of Christ, to struggle with us in making it more on earth as it is in heaven.” It is hard for us to show you how to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a one hour worship service. Will you and other millennials come around the church more often and commit to going out into the local communities with us so we can teach you? Can we meet you where you hang out? Or will you give up your vacation time and go on a overseas missions trip to help others who don’t have the wealth that we posses in America? The church could sure use some help! In conclusion, will you let us who are not millennials be ourselves and help us to find ways that we can work together to make this world a better place for all of God’s human and nonhuman creation? I am personally ready to lock arms and hearts with your generation and any other generation so that we can share the love of God through Jesus Christ as revealed and empowered by the Holy Spirit with others who have not yet experienced His love.

  • Mike Briscoe

    As I started reading this article, I could not stop! I was raised in a Pentecostal Church where you went Sun. Morning and night and Wed. night along with choir practice and young people rally’s on the weekend. We did not have time constraints to be out of the sanctuary in a hour for the next service (show). We sang in the choir songs that the congregation would sometimes weep as the Holy Spirit would move. Sometimes the Spirit moved so much there was very little preaching. We wore our Sunday best (meaning the best clothes that we HAD or in this day the clothes that your going to put on for a funeral) as a show of respect for the “Holy” house of worship. (God’s house).

    One thing I have noticed in the comments above is that there isn’t much scripture being quoted. God says to Ye are in this world not of this world…put off the worldly things. I believe the Churches of today do just the opposite. They play the rock in roll music. They act like a seminar with a great speaker (who the better he is seems to be the bigger building the Church is in.

    I see it as a “get me in the pew for an hour in my cut off jeans and Miller light tee shirt as I just got off of the lawn mower as it was time to go. Hand me some coffee as I enter the “theater”. I will listen to a couple of musicians that play something like a Coldplay song. The guy will get up and tell me what a great person I am, making me feel like I am doing a great job in life. Make me laugh with a couple of great stories and let me go. All in 1 hour as the next service starts as soon as the band can change so I can run home and finish the lawn before lunch. And yes this is what I saw as I went to a local Mega Church one time last year. While the speaker aka Minister was absolutely great, I felt no spirit. I felt hurried. I saw no respect for the House of the Lord. I felt good as I left..mentally not spiritually. This Church obviously was not on TV as some of the people would have been turned away or told to come back in a hour to the non TV service.

    I have not attended a regular church since I left in the late 70’s.

    The word I chose to not be is a Hypocrite.

    As Jesus told the woman at the well “Go and sin NO more”. Not come back every Sunday after you have done worldly things and I will forgive you again.

    The Bible does say there can come a time when the Lord will give up on you and it also says you can’t sit on the fence. Your either on or off.

    Sorry for the rant…Great article!!! You can tell by the many responses you have moved people to express there opinions!

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  • kevin

    Very interesting article and comments. But as one in my mid-50’s (boomer?) who is involved in a Church that welcomes questions, discussions, and differences of opinion (an open and affirming UCC church), one thing I would ask the millennial generation is to investigate various churches – not all are the same, even within the same denomination – and find one that welcomes your input, and then get involved in helping that church reach out beyond its walls. When my wife and I were going through pre-marriage classes, the minister (retired Methodist) said (something like) “don’t look for a church that has what you need – look for a church that needs you”. So Please, don’t be afraid to get involved in helping a church become what you are seeking. As the older generations pass, it is the younger generations that can make a huge difference.

  • Mary Dail

    You have described what I have heard and read from numerous millennials. And, what you have asked for reads like a bio of the Episcopal Church: sacramentally-based, solid liturgy with scripture reading incorporated in to the service; no fog machines or jumbo-trons; no bombastic shouting of “go God” or whatever; basic “coffee hour” afterward for actually connecting with others, as one chooses; a place where questioning is not only allowed, it is encouraged; no parking your brain at the curb; a place where social justice is paramount, where it is wondered what it is about that unqualified statement, “love your neighbor,” that people don’t get. Yes, there are conservative and liberal Episcopal churches. Look around and you will find what you are so obviously craving and you will be welcomed. I suggest you go to to find a church near you and give it a try. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised. (“The Frozen Chosen” has become a hard-to-die misnomer.) Don’t give up. You are hungry for God and will find the right place.

  • Reuel Sample

    Thank you for an excellent article.

    I am reminded of a billboard that was up for a quite a while here in Knoxville. It was advertising a local church. It had a picture of a green couch on it with the words Real, Comfortable, Church. How I longed to scrawl across it – Pick Two.

    Be it Millennials, Xers, Boomers or any other generation, the lasting lure of the church is not in worship style, programs, or coffee bars (or couches) – but in the proclamation and provision of the means of Grace and the equipping of the saints to carry out the commands of Christ.

    • Matt

      Yes! There was a billboard near me a while back that had an old, well-worn pair of sneakers on it, and it just said “comfortable” – and it bothered me. The Church should be comforting (when need be), but not necessarily “comfortable”. If you’re not being challenged by it… I feel like it’s not doing its job (so to speak).

  • Steve G

    This resonates a lot. Tho I do have a few quibbles and clarifications.

    “Contemporary worship hasn’t worked.”

    It’s important for every generation to put the meaning of the Bible in the vernacular of their time. Amazing Grace, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, even the oldest hymns were once contemporary music. For me the problem iswhat I call “worshipgasm”. So many worship songs just express “I’m so happy” and don’t express what God is and what believing in God is.

    “Entrance, proclamation, thanksgiving, sending out.”

    Confession between the proclamation and the thanksgiving, please. Without each acknowledging the nature of our sin, the thanksgiving and sending out is like swallowing a handful pills and hoping for less symptoms.

    “Don’t target us.”

    Jesus actually tells us very clearly who to target: the lost. Not the young, not the wealthy, not the influential. Altho you will find the lost among all of those demographics.

    “So no more three points and a take home. No more self-help. No more marriage and parenting advice. No more anger management pointers.”

    No, Church please provide these. But not as the meat of the sermon.

    All in all, I think the spirit of this article is that the Church should be more authentically itself in order to appeal to millenials. That may be hard to understand for older generations who find comfort in belonging to a mainstream. But have the entire internet to search for groups to belong to. Being so spoiled with choice, millenials are not looking for the biggest group or the nearest group. We are looking for groups that stand for something. We, same as the Early Church, are looking for a solid rock.

  • Meg Lark

    It’s not only millennials who are fed up with entertainment-based pseudo- church, or churches with a political message. I’m a baby boomer, and I left the Catholic Church in the 1970s when it went off in that direction. Tried just about everything else before coming to Eastern Orthodoxy. That was 24 years ago, and I thank God for it every day. No politics, no entertainment, no ecstasies, no raptures (capital R or otherwise), just pure, fall-on-your-face-in-adoration worship. (No, we don’t do that literally. But I always feel like doing it.) You wrote a great essay, and I wish every religion in the West would read it and act on it.

  • Jon Stallings

    Thanks Jonathon for your honesty. We as a church do need a better job of helping others all walk out our faith. A walk that is far from neat and clean but rather messy and complicated.

    However, I also think we do a disservice to try and put all churches into a single box. (Traditional / Contemporary). I think that is the part of the problem. Too many churches have spent more time trying to replicate what the successful church is doing across town instead of getting on their face before God and hearing how the Holy Spirit would have them live out calling and expression. The churches moved to contemporary worship in droves and now they are running back. Let’s quit chasing the next thing and focus on God’s move in our own community.

  • Ron

    I can tell you that as a very young at heart 60 year old minister,your article is spot on.In my 40 years of service I have held just about every position in the church that exists and in that time I think I have seen the very best and the very worst of what we call church.All too often what passes for “church”resembles very little of the “book of Acts church” we so love to speak about.Yet just when we think the church has lost it’s way we will experience a simple act that convinces us that the church is still relevant for our day.

    I have seen every attempt that could be thought up by men being used to try to “entice”the latest generation to come to Christ,all of whom thought their particular needs were more special than the generation that came before them.Can I share a little nugget gained from a lifetime of being in church?The truth is that we all think we have very different and unique needs,but in actuality we are not that much different from one another.

    I have witnessed and been a part of nearly every type of music being offered up to hopefully connect with the generation O’ the day,and I can tell you that if music is the chief draw then we have missed the mark.

    If our churches remain convinced that coffee,music,innumerable programs,and groups for every age are the key ingredients to building a thriving church,we have missed the mark entirely.Important?Absolutely.Can’t do without them?Hardly.

    The very fact that we seek after all these things and use them as our measuring stick as to how we judge whether or not we will attend this church or that church is a clear indication that we have a heart problem.We have a relational problem to be sure.Our relationship with our heavenly Father is lacking,therefore we try to substitute “things”for the very presence of God in the hopes of finding that sweet spot where we will feel good in and about ourselves.

    Unless Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which the church is built it will never satisfy us, nor can it.If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, our problems in the church are not as much generational problems as they are sin problems.My,how we hate that little word don’t we?

    Unless/until we come to grips with the fact that church is not about US,but about the Christ that died for us I am afraid that we will never find contentment in any church.

    My meager 2 cents worth on a bright and sunny day!


    • Jonathan

      Thank you for your comments, and I think you found something that many other commenters have missed. My suggestions are not that millennials are concerned about having church their way. The Burger King model was the one used by the previous generations, and though it has achieved a measure of numerical success for a few years, it has brought about a very anemic church with a very weak theology and practice of worship. I think millennials can see through the crap, the bait-and-switch, the gimmicks, especially those like me who were raised in the church. I and the ones I know are looking for an authentic expression of Christian worship that isn’t marketed at a generation.

      Blessings, Pastor.

  • Pingback: Weekend Links | Worship Links()

  • Truth

    This looks like a ploy at making an emergent conspiracy into a catholic one.

    What people need is the truth of the gospel, the bible, and the Jesus who is our only solution, the only solution, the only way of salvation, the real Jesus. You will never bring in God’s kingdom. You will never fix a broken world. The church of Jesus awaits Him as His bride and hasn’t given up hope in His promised return. Only Jesus can bring in His kingdom to the earth in all it’s fullness. He died on the cross to save our souls, the problem is the spiritual condition, the fallen sinful nature of unsaved humanity. Those who received His atonement have crossed over from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life, only offered through Christ’s finished work on the cross. The church of Jesus is eager to be conformed into His image, one of holiness and purity, and is not afraid to suffer persecution for His namesake. The church of Jesus has not cast aside His warnings about the end times, the coming antichrist, and to watch and pray. While the rest wallow in self pity stewing over the cares of this life with a cup of coffee on their laps and doubts in their minds, listlessly complacent over their location between the things of the world that beckon and the call to come out of it’s ways, the stage is being set for the final act of human history. My job is to wake them up out of their slumber in a way that their coffee never will.

    • Jonathan

      Folks, you only get to see the first part of this person’s handle. The email address is “truthvigilantee@…” I’m getting an image of Charles Bronson with a Bible in one hand and a .357 in the other.

      This post does actually touch on a few things that still make me cringe from my light dispensational background. I think eschatology plays into this conversation more than we’re thinking. The pessimistic, damnation of earth view on end times has given birth in many ways to the mega-church movement, beginning with the “revivals” of the late 19th century and continuing today with the megachurches.

  • Daniel Walsh

    Dear Jonathan,

    Thank you for your recent open letter to the church in which you reflect the voice of many Millennials’ frustration with market-driven megachurch of their youth. I think your points about not marketing to Millennials and the need for inter-generational community are important, and are reflective of how many Millennials in the church today feel.

    I wanted to take issue with your insistence on liturgy as the answer. It is not your main point, but it is one of them and I think it is worthy of discussion. It’s not that I think your insistence on it is wrong, it’s that it echoes a trend I am noticing within many sectors of Evangelical subculture. My response is not so much to disagree with you, after all you state that the letter is about your thoughts and people you know, as it is about this liturgical trend I’m seeing more and more.

    The trend I am noticing is this… continue reading

  • Aaron Lehmann

    I think you missed something important: service.

    Church is an elbow-grease place. If you aren’t serving your church, you won’t get much out of it. Since your church provides your livelihood now, you obviously are serving. Did you serve in any of the contemporary worship churches you went to? I doubt you did, and I suspect that’s the real cause of the difference in your quality of experience.

    I prefer a traditional service to a contemporary one, as well, but I’ve yet to witness a service as meaningful to me as helping a toddler get over the fact that his mommy went to service by helping him ride an electric train.

    • Jonathan

      You bring up a good point, although you are not correct in your assumption about my service. I was very much a part of the contemporary church where I grew up, serving in whatever ways they would allow a child or teenager. And I’ve served every church I’ve been a part of in either a paid or volunteer capacity.

      This point is reaching ahead of my post a bit, but I would link the two by saying corporate worship should be an impetus for Christian service, as we are sent out at the end of the liturgy to bring forth “thy kingdom come.”

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Dan ONeil


    I think maybe you should consider coming to the church established by Jesus Christ, the church he founded that has remained unchanged for over 2 millennia, the church that offers all the things that you mentioned that you wanted, come home to the Catholic Church. It is here that you will find what you seek. Come with an open heart and I will pray that you find the peace in the Heart of Holiness that was created with you in mind.

    • Will T.

      LOL! I just suggested he “come home” to the Orthodox Church for the very same reasons you state. I guess either one would get him closer to what he so fervently desires.

    • Greg Coogan

      He could, but, the Roman Catholic Church has in fact changed. It added to the creed, added the doctrines of purgatory (and alongside that, Limbo, then took Limbo away), papal infalliability, papal universal jurisdiction, and the immaculate conception. These are a few examples of the changes that have in fact taken place within Roman Catholicism.

      The only Christian Church that has remained faithful to the original Apostolic faith is the Holy Orthodox Christian Church.

  • Jason Wert

    Jonathan, I know this will look like an insult but I don’t mean it that way. I’m just being as honest and straightforward as I can in my posting. So please know this is not a shot at you.

    “Welcome the toughest, deepest, grittiest, most desperate, most shocking questions. ”

    Most millennials seem to have a problem when the answers to those tough, deep, gritty questions don’t line up with what they want the answer to be when they ask the question.

    So my question is…”will you millennials be able to accept that your answer might not be the real answer?”

  • Dan Lester

    Amen. We have a growing Episcopal Church, adding young families to the majority of “old folks”. We are getting some pressure from choir director to have “liturgical dance” added. The majority seem to think this is really dumb. We’re hoping and praying that this abomination doesn’t come about. We had it at another Episcopal Church I was a member of 30 years ago and it almost drove me out. It always reminded us of Disney’s “Fantasia”, namely the “dancing hippos” scenes.

  • Tim Koester

    Jonathan, thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your experience. You describe a type of church I really have not experienced, but only heard about. Heck I didn’t even know what ‘rapture’ or ‘dispensationalism’ was until I went to seminary…at age 39! But hey I’m from the original uncool church – the small-town-mainline-trying to deal with our inferiority complex- church. We are community by necessity, which is often great but sometimes a big pain. We are trying to be church for today and not yesterday but don’t always succeed there either. We laugh and cry and question. We adopt illegal 65 yr old German ladies (and their cats) we feed kids in the park, we give away 7000 # of food in a town of 1000 people. We have broken families, healthy families, LGBTQ families, mixed families and LOTS of extended families. We are a long way from perfect. We don’t sing the best, our decor is a bit out of style, we would have no idea what to do with a smoke machine. (We did install video projection but it is the older generation who really like it. Those hymnals are really hard to read!) We didn’t know there was a term called “inter(cross)generational”. We just know that when Dorothy, the bent over woman, reads scripture even the preschoolers stop to listen and we know grandparents make the best faith teachers. Maybe once, a while ago, we wanted to be like those “big churches” in the city but as it turns out, maybe it was a good thing we didn’t have enough people for a praise band and had to stick with the ancient liturgical songs of the faith. Maybe it was a good thing that we were so concerned with ministering to the farmer who lost his land or the parent who lost their child, or the senior who lost their independence that we didn’t really have time to worry about what it means to be “Left Behind”. (Somebody donated that series to our library but nobody read them so out to the trash the went). We’ve tried to stick to a theology of the cross, perhaps by necessity more than inspired theological decision, because life is hard and we don’t have suburbs. I guess what I am saying is that “church” is not a uniform experience. There are places who missed the “megachurch” boat and who now may just have what others are looking for. And we aren’t always in the country. But we are almost always small…yet connected to something bigger. Peace to you and JOY.

  • Jeremy Gentry

    This post resonates for sure. Particularly the part about doubt and asking hard questions.

    What does it say about the Church when 99 (perhaps 100)% of the comments on this post focus solely on the worship style portion of the post?

    Sure, worship style is debatable: I’ve found myself in many different contexts, many different styles, and found style less important to the “worship” (which many of these comments unfortunately pigeon-hole to “music” without intending). I have found the traditional empty, and I have found much of the contemporary manipulative (and I’ve found myself moved in both, as well as in silence). But these are so much less a concern than the easy conversion, the “just get in the word and pray” discipleship (and the superficial “community” of “Sunday school”), the idea of America being the Promised Land, the blind acceptance of Western consumerism (our big, pretty churches and style largely a part of this), and above all, the lack of acceptance of uncertainty.

    This last one—the one that grates at me every weekend when I hear “you can be SURE today”—is the most frustrating for me. I have doubt, but it makes people uncomfortable; we can’t have meaningful discussion in Sunday school (or small group or life group or whatever) because everyone wants to pounce on doubt with easy answers and thoughtless arguments. So I sit and write. I avoid expressing myself because the group isn’t interested in my doubt, only in my joining in on the group side-hug and in taking stands against those viewed as threats to “traditional values.”

    Rhetorical: why are we (as a “church”) so afraid to say “I don’t know”?

    I feel like Bernard Marx in Brave New World.

    I feel like Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451.

    I feel like Winston Smith in 1984.

    And like these guys, these inept anti-heroes armed with nothing but questions to fight with, I feel powerless to change the system from within. I feel compelled to run.

    • Jonathan

      This is a fantastic comment. Thank you.

    • Angus

      Jeremy – I strongly relate to your plea for the chance to ask questions, to doubt, to be honest and real with the difficulties you encounter. When I was in my 20s, I found no church in my context that was secure enough to be able to handle this. So I abandoned my faith, with my questions unanswered.

      I don’t suggest you do the same, however. Yes, I had a lot of fun being a Very Naughty Boy for the next 12 months, but this got old, and I faced a yawning emptiness without God, and a lengthy stretch in the wilderness. When in this state of despair, a dear friend mentioned L’Abri Fellowship to me, with their emphasis on honest answers to honest questions. I eventually got myself there, and was utterly blown away by the willingness of the people there to tackle head on the major issues of the day, personal, philosophical, theological, cultural…you name it. I spent six months there, and found it an immensely valuable experience. The majority of my difficulties were addressed, and those that weren’t I was willing to live with. My life since would have been entirely different – and completely meaningless – if I had not heeded this suggestion. In fact, I’m not sure I would have even bothered to go on living, so empty did life seem.

      More generally, it may appear I have quite significantly gone off-topic, but the common link is authenticity. That is what people really want. If the church offers only superficial froth instead of this, marketing-savvy millennials are the first to pick that up, and the first to walk.

  • Paula

    I’ve appreciated the honesty of your article, and re-posted on our church blog. It’s a challenging time to be in leadership in the church, folks want the quick fix. It’s hard to lead them to a place of spiritual renewal for themselves, but it is only when we have accomplished spiritual growth that we will see physical growth. I hope my folks read your full article, and open their hearts to ponder. The questions are so much more important than the answers …. answers are highly over rated imho.

  • Mena

    A very good piece. It seems to me that what this writer wants, however, is the Catholic church, and not the one with the puppet shows, either. Just a solidly Catholic church.

  • Randy

    Jonathan, love your honesty and your comments. If I set down with a room full of people and say boy this dish is salty, everyone who is not in love with the dish tends to come to the same conclusion. A majority of people find themselves in church looking for church to solve all their issues and make life fit, or find acceptance, or peace, we all have many reasons why we show up there, but we want it to fit into our life like a glove. When we do not find these answers we need to find a reason why it just is not doing that.

    Thus the issues you pointed out in your letter. First we are all different and all have different needs and issues, so what one finds is important to them the other does not. The reason the church has lost its way. They do so many things “For God”, we need to be the answer, we need to find more members, we need to help more people. Just like most humans the church is never satisfied with who they are, they feel they constantly have to change, to be more accepted, draw more members. It is all about finding the one more lost soul. The church, for the most part, as we call it today has lost its identity. I am also not saying that change is bad, I also believe change is a necessity, otherwise it becomes a ritual or we cruise through it with no thought. It is like stores moving items around. When stores do that I find new things I never knew was there, because I am so use to walking down an aisle and grabbing what I always . get. Yes, the change is frustrating but so is growth. In my thoughts, church needs to follow the same thought processes I follow in my life and examine the heart. Why are we doing this? Be honest with yourself for God’s sees the heart and don’t let pride get in the way.

    So what do I feel the big issue in the church is, we have way to many preachers and not enough teachers. Jesus was referred to as a teacher. They spend way to much time preaching why we need them, than teaching us how we can have a relationship with God, teaching us how to grow in this relationship. There is the fear factor that people may realize church might not be the number one thing they need.

    Let me start with this example to further explain. If I am going for a long hike into the woods, I might have a compass, a map, matches, and water. During this (journey) hike all these items could be very important and life saving at some point in time. They also could be useless during that whole hike. we could all argue if I could only bring two items or three items which could be more important. Depending on the person and their knowledge they might not even need some of the items. This is where I am, early in my journey with God, but how I can best explain my journey. My items in my journey are; the Bible, small groups, church community, church, daily devotions and readings, and I find a lot in contemporary christian music on the radio. I also realize that my journey is my journey, I can not take my journey and force it onto others, each have to find there own way, in their relationship with Jesus, I can only be a cheerleader or coach to them.

    In my mind church needs to realize that they are only a tool in someones belt, not that only way you can be saved. When I get to heaven someday, I do not get to say I belonged to church X, great your in then. No it is going to be about me and my love for Christ and how I showed it during my time hear. This is my journey and I am responsible for my relationship. I do need all of my tools everyday, but I find I need them in order to grow and continue in the relationship. Church is very important part in this growth, but I had to find a church that helps me in my growth. May I need to change to a different one to continue to grow someday, like changing a coach can help me grow, yes maybe.

    My relationship with my church or pastor, will help on the final day, but my relationship with my heavenly Father makes all the difference today and in the future. I laugh at all the people telling us to try their church in here. It is not about church the institution it is about finding that relationship with Jesus. Me wanting you to attend my church might just be putting you on a path which is getting you more lost. Find that relationship with Jesus and let the Holy Spirit lead you.

    What changed, I just started to get up every morning and just ask God to show himself to me today. I ask that I learn how to trust and not take the lead all the time in my life, and make sure I see those people he puts into my life everyday.

    It is not just Millennial which are leaving churches and I will share a great podcast by someone who has studied this and how his study changed all his precepts going into the study, so he did the research on the things you brought out. You might find the results interesting.

  • Curtis Bartel

    Dear Jonathan,

    Thank you for your thoughts!

    We do indeed need the 7 Sacraments, and ALSO to worship in Spirit AND Truth!

    God bless,

    and Godspeed,


    P.S. There are many valiant souls fighting to restore a TRUE LITURGY of worship (destroyed by false apostles, yet allowed by Divine Providence).

  • Jan

    Interesting blog. What I believe “everyone” including millennials need is purpose, community and identity. This is why adolescents and even children lacking that in their families or churches are drawn to gangs. That is the reason that once individuals leave the military they are still “military”. At one time the church provided that. Now it is a quick mart. Drive in on Sunday morning and fill up with feel good messages, not foundational truths, feel good music with repetitive words known as vain repetition instead of deep truths that touch our souls, a call to self fullfillment instead of self sacrifice. Being a follower of Christ was not ever meant to be easy or non-controversial. It is a call to “pick up your cross daily and follow Christ”. Follow a Savior who was beaten, despised and rejected, but who gave His life so I might live. While the core of the gospel is grace and God’s love, He then called us to discipleship which means core truths that are not gray, but clear. People are hungry for “truth”, uncompromising truth. Is there room in that for the gray areas and open discussion, yes there is. First we have to establish the foundational truths of the Bible as the springboard for the discussions. Scripture says to “study” to show yourself approved. Sounds like hard work to me. We are called to love even our enemies. Sounds hard if not impossible to me. We are called to go forth and tell about the “good news”. Sounds like sacrifice to me. We are called to “not deny our Lord”. Sounds hard to me when Christians are marginalized, ridiculed and attacked in the town square of ideas in even America. The church needs to stop soft pedaling the gospel. Church is not for the unsaved. Church was meant as the place for believers to go to be community for fellowship, teaching, instruction so we could “go out” to the world to seek and save the lost or those who do not either know or believe in Christ. If an unbeliever stumbles into a church should they be welcomed, yes. Should they feel comfortable, no. It is the discomfort that makes us reach out for the answer to our discomfort or pain. The first step to salvation is to recognize that you need a savior, that you are incomplete in yourself. So every service should include the plan of salvation for those who are not saved that are in attendance, but the focus of the church service is to equip the believers to go forth. In order to have the where with all to “go forth” one needs purpose(“go forth making disciples” : foundational truths and the knowledge of how to relay that information, community (support, fellowship, encouragement for when I come back wounded and weary; and because I cannot “know it all”), identity (“why am I here and what is the point of my life? To whom do I belong, who cares for me”). People learn through instruction and repetition. That was the point of liturgy. To stress the foundational truths. It was not meant to become mundane and boring. If you truly listen to the words and what you say when you say them then they would not be mundane or vain. The Lord’s Prayer often spoke or “prayed” in unison in church should cause you to pause in awe when you pray it if you truly “understood” what you are praying for. The “Apostles’ Creed” should cause you to pause and weep if you truly understood and meant what you are saying when you repeat it. I have been through much in my life. Less than many and more than others. Definitely less than our beloved brothers and sisters in many parts of the world. I cannot stop the weeping when I sing hymns that speak of my Father’s faithfulness and love, because I “know” of what I am singing. Do we in the church “know” not just intellectually, but in the depths of our being, do we “know” our Christ and God?

  • Kyle


    Thanks for this. It confirms for me why I left the contemporary church. I grew up in a very legalistic and judgmental church. Everyone else was wrong, we were right. As soon as I was old enough to drive and have my own car, I was gone. It was the farthest thing from loving it could be. It was not Christ’s love.

    I then bounced around, looking for what I wanted, but not needed. This led me to a more progressive church, and for a few years, served me well. But once again, I realized how selfish I was being. I was making church about me and not about Christ. On top of that, everything we did in this church was mainly about the appearance of Christianity, not the realities of it. If someone went before the church, asking for prayer because of a particular struggle, they were immediately surrounded and prayed over during the service. In the weeks to come, they were shunned, isolated and were given looks of “I can’t believe he struggles with that”. It was completely unsafe to be a sinner, at least an open and honest one.

    I took a three year hiatus from church while in graduate school. I completed two Masters degrees over that time, one is Psychology and one in Counseling, and the more I learned about a human being’s motivations, the more I realized that contemporary churches were basically doing amateur therapy from the pulpit, full of moralistic living techniques. Not every message was bad, don’t get me wrong, much of what was said was spot on and good to hear, but it did not always relate to the Gospel. This made me even more sure of leaving the contemporary church. I had made great friends there, and many showed me that I was only their friend because we went to the same church. But, I get it. Out of sight, out of mind.

    After grad school I realized I missed worshiping corporately. In my spirit I felt a sense to “go back to the basics”. But for me, that was NOT going back to the church I grew up in, or anything resembling that church. I went to an Anglican church, mainly because some of my best friends had joined and I wanted to see what liturgical worship was all about. At first, I was really uncomfortable. Being raised legalistic and condemning all other denominations, I felt like I was inherently doing something wrong by just being in the building. The Nicene Creed especially messed with me. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church” really freaked me out. Mainly because of the word catholic. Little “c” catholic. All of my years I had no idea this did not mean big “C” Roman Catholicism. This is how ignorant I was walking into this Anglican church.

    It’s been almost five years now and I’m there every chance I get. I rarely miss a single Sunday. I know that when I go, I will hear an Old Testament Lesson, New Testament Lesson, and the Gospel, EVERY TIME I GO. When our priest gives his homily, it is straight from those readings, more from the Gospels though. I love the assuredness of what I’m going to hear each week.

    Communion has also taken on a brand new meaning for me over the last five years. In the Anglican tradition, we walk to the alter and kneel as the sacrament is administered to us. It’s so incredible beautiful to watch entire families walk up together, kneel together, and partake in the body and blood of Christ together. It truly is a Holy experience. The people at this church are the most loving, giving, sacrificial and accepting people I’ve ever been around. Rarely is there drama with the congregants or staff in this church, and when there is, it is handled quickly and appropriately.

    For those who think you can only have an emotional experience with contemporary worship, I invite you to try a liturgical church for a while. I’ve had more emotion and have felt and sensed the Holy Spirit more than in any time of my life, and I’ve technically been a Christian for thirty years. We all bring our own wounds, desires and needs to whatever we do and wherever we go. Church is no different. I still have work to do around God and how to be closer to Him. I will only be perfect in that way when I die. But while I’m here, seeing the cross every Sunday, taking communion every Sunday, and hearing the Gospel read and preached every Sunday, I get a taste and I get excited about God’s promise to me…….that I’m a loved and desired son of the Creator and the brother of His Son, who sacrificed Himself for my sins. Why do I need praise bands, emotional sermons or programs for every age when I have this promise?????? Is there anything better???? To me, in my judgment, there is nothing that can trump the promise I’ve been given by my Heavenly Father and Brother.

    • Jan

      “To me, in my judgment, there is nothing that can trump the promise I’ve been given by my Heavenly Father and Brother.” Amen

  • A C Walnut

    I find it interesting that there is a lot of talk about millennials and baby-boomers in church, but I never hear anything about Gen X.

  • Martin

    You wrote, “We need more of each other. We need to look into the faces of old and young, rich and poor, of different colors, races, and ethnic backgrounds, so we can learn to see Jesus in faces that don’t look like us.”

    Fully agree – but also think that small groups are essential to that. So maybe don’t call them ‘life groups’ but in principle, this is the way to go to create community and have people of different ages and walks of life interact – live out the NT commands.

    And about parenting advice, hum, actually, many could do with a little of that. Lots of improvement required there inside and outside the church, and since it’s not automatic, one wonders if the church should have a strong role in helping parents out. After all, we are His ambassadors with out children also.

  • Will T.

    You, good sir, are in dire need of investigating the Orthodox Church. No need to invent something new. Come home to what’s been here all along.

  • Bill H

    Johnathan, a colleague directed me to your blog, primarily because we serve a congregation with four adult generations (we’ve adopted four B’s to identify ourselves: Builders, Boomers, Busters, & Bridgers-admittedly, each of the labels carry some negative freight. We have chosen to begin a multi-generational conversation about what it means to be a multi-generational congregation. By way of full disclosure, I fall squarely in the middle of the ‘pig in the python’ boomer generation and have been a pastor for 35 years.

    I write to say that this ‘old dog’ is learning weekly from our conversations. I see we must continue to ‘contextualize’ the gospel, even in– especially in– our the dynamic world in which we are to shine. Also,worship must continue to maintain some very important aspects, while doing the work of the people, as you emphasize. I tend to see more latitude in this liturgy than you seem to appreciate. For example, even contemporary Americans who practice an ancient liturgy express that liturgy in both a different language from the original and an English vocabulary that has suffered dramatic changes in meaning over the past several centuries.

    Back to the point of my post, as pastor of this congregation I’ve come to see divine design in our multi-generational congregation. As the Body of Christ, I understand that each generation brings something to the congregational table. We need each other and become better together than apart. The younger members’ questions keep us older members thinking about what we’re doing. Just today an email conversation among generations (OK, I know that’s so boomer, but our younger members tolerate an outdated mode in order to ask important questions) questioned how we greet folks each week (before other bloggers criticize our subject as another inward focus, this is just the subject du jour; we are more focused on serving and sharing with those who may never enter our facilities). The reality check came from our Bridgers/Millennials. They shared very honestly, but respectfully, that our present way does not take into account the reticence of Bridgers to give personal information early in the relationship. By the way, one of these Millennial couples now leads our worship greeting efforts. Changes are afoot.

    On the other hand, the younger generations realize that we older believers offer wisdom and experience. All involved in this conversation have come to appreciate each other much more and enjoy the multi-generational blessing afforded us.

    I am most hopeful, at this end of my ministry, that the Church will make it. The Church STILL belongs to God and this blog post and our congregation’s conversation demonstrates that God’s Spirit is obviously moving forward this organism filled with God’s imperfect children. I hope we can all remain respectful, even in our disagreements. Perhaps one of the best means of showing those outside our congregations that something worth considering is happening inside when they watch us treat each other with loving respect as we struggle through the difficult changes before us. Our respectful conversation may help us earn the privilege of being heard.

    To that end, Jonathan, I will admit (in the honesty and transparency my Bridger sisters and brothers desire) that the tone of some of your post bordered on stereotypical disrespect, especially for your boomer brothers & sisters- bordered, I said. I did have to take several deep breaths before before turning to the keyboard so I could respond in a respectful tone.

    I pray that God’s Spirit uses conversations like these to keep the Church vital and focused on Him and His will. Blessings.

  • Presvytera Christine Salzman

    two words: Orthodox Christanity

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  • Jerry

    The article was interesting but not as insightful as the comments that followed. I think that we often forget that all hymns were, at one point, “contemporary.” And, in spite of what some may think, a lot of contemporary songs will become traditional. Anyone used “How Great Thou Art” lately? My point is that music is subjective and we tend to think what we “like” is what is spiritual. The bottom line should be that all we do in worship should be for the praise and glory of God and that should be what drives us. Not following trends, wherever they lead us.

  • Eric

    Jonathan, this resonates so deeply with me in a lot of ways. First, your life experience of being marketed to and pointed at. Second, your desire for something that’s deeper than the skimming-the-surface depth that can be found.

    I do think that your description of what the theology of churches is tells me that you’ve really not experienced church outside of the evangelical branch. In the ELCA (Lutheran) church, we make room for people that the more conservative of our faith don’t. We mostly follow that traditional liturgy of Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending. And though you can find the more contemporary styles, they’re mostly rooted in that same long-standing tradition we embrace as our way of life.

    The invitation of Jesus is at the forefront of our life and theology, and God’s grace is prevalent in all we teach and preach.

  • Jeff Schmitz

    Dear Jonathan,

    Great article! I’m not even close to being a Millennial so my childhood experience with the Old School Luthern Church was actually quite good. The notion of attending Sunday service for churchy infotainment leaves almost everyone flat.

    Strangely, a lot of the older generation that is pushing these bad ideas forward, only go along because they watched mega-churches on the TV and assumed that big attendance meant healthy churches.

    Because I help lots of churches with AV system design, I’ve had a front row seat to observe the decline of the traditional church. It’s sad, but thankfully very inexpensive to fix. Hopefully a few church leaders read your article and throw out their fog machines.



  • Kirk Skeptic

    Please allow me to weigh-in as a ‘Boomer who grew up in an unbelieving household. The historic liturgy, as well as the good ol’ KJV, connects one to generations past in a way that contemporary worship can’t. The chants, Psalmodies, Scriptural responses, etc, give opportunities to repeat/sing God’s words back to him that even ancient hymnody can’t.

    This is not an issue of what floats my boat, as I am not particularly high-church. But one of tradition in the good sense of the term. ISTM it’s that sort of historical continuity that the Millennials crave. Would a Millennial care to respond?

    • Jonathan

      I would agree mostly, although I believe the KJV to be a far inferior translation. It suited the church well for many generations, but we have far more accurate translations available.

  • Dave

    Millenials weren’t old enough to watch Seinfeld except on reruns and were not born until Clinton or W was president. Makes me wonder who really wrote this article?

    • Jonathan

      I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but the millennial generation is usually considered to have begun from 1980-82. The end date is more debatable, with some considering it to be mid-90s and others into the early 2000s.

      In any event, I was born midway through Reagan’s first term, so I qualify.

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  • CJ

    Sacraments? Liturgy? Non-entertaining services? You’re on your way to becoming Catholic, baby!

    Come join us! The liturgy is wildly reverent (by Protestant standards), the theology is out of this world (it’d hafta be, coming from God), and the holy water’s just fine.

    We welcome you. Wade on in…

    • Greg Coogan

      No. Actually, the current Roman Novo Ordo Mass has been greatly “protestantized”, often times using popular protestant contemporary praise and worship songs which has no place in a Roman liturgy. Your theology has gone down a similar route. Since the Council of Trent, your theology has taken on a very strong Augustinian, Aquinian, and Anselmian character, characters that are shared to varying degrees by Protestantism.

      Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are two sides of the same coin.

      If one wishes to know where the original Christian Church is, please attend your nearest Orthodox Church. There, you will truly be “out of this world”.

  • Paul

    He hit the proverbial nail square on the head.

  • monica pope

    As always, the Christian (and then, all the whole world) is charged with seeking a relationship with Jesus Christ through His Church. And often, His Church has been an annoyance, and even a hindrance, especially; to the guy who doesn’t want to do it, and, to the guy who thinks he does it better.

    So there’s nothing new in all that.

    What IS new, though, is the dialed-up sentience of you who self-identify as Millennials. Jonathan, your demographic seems to pride yourselves on ferreting out irony, and you seem to be hyper-aware of your own responses to things. Self-awareness does not necessarily equate with right thinking and the formation of solid conclusions.

    At the risk of you objecting that I’m ‘using’ the Bible wrong, I make a general reference in this: God, throughout Scripture, charges man’s worship to be humble, to be contrite, to be awestruck, to be thankful, to be needful, to be penitent, and to be sacrificial.

    I’m not against “thinking” as in “Liturgy for the Thinking Person.” But, I am against thinking myself out of right disposition and true worship of God. I can’t speak for Protestant and Evangelical congregations, but I can say many Catholic parishes do (and all SHOULD do) Liturgy in a way inspires right disposition and true worship of God.

  • Richard

    Great article! It’s time to be original by not trying to be original!

  • Ellen (line2ellen)

    I appreciate the article, and agree that this needs to be talked about. Here is what I see: Something is missing indeed, but it is not the liturgy. It may be found in some churches with the liturgy, but there are plenty of churches with liturgy and hymns that are missing it. We all want something real and applicable. Millennials are much more willing to turn away from something that isn’t. We are aware of spiritual things, and have an awareness of the power that should be there, and walk away when it is not. Everything done in a church should be done with the goal of bringing the people closer to God and each other. Understanding who God is, so we can recognize him, and how to live each day with a sense of purity and integrity that comes from a close relationship and understanding of God, not from practice following rules. Too many people and churches focus on practicing following the rules, and being “good little christians.” When that (the rules) fills our churches, it turn people off. I could learn to follow rules anywhere. I want a relationship with someone infinitely more powerful than myself! I want to be safe in His arms, and be with a group of genuine people I can be honest with and not be judged. That is possible with or without liturgy, but the focus needs to be in the right place. I do not want to be with “good little christians” any more. It is a big turn-off to someone who has any experience with the spiritual. From what I’ve seen, Millennials tend to have had more spiritual experiences, and don’t have any tolerance for the pretend.

  • Dave

    I agree with most of this, except Liturgy. We don’t want entertainment or liturgy – we want to be the Church. Passing down church traditions that doesn’t align itself with the scripture is just as much a turn off as the other things mentioned. Younger generations want Jesus to be real – where we talk about those hard questions, and then we leave and be salt and light in the world (not just on “mission” trips – we want mission on our own corners). We want to live out our salvation.

    Our generation tends to be very knowledgeable concerning the scriptures, due to the vast information at our finger tips – we just don’t listen and take it as truth. We will search out everything that is said and that is done. Pull out all of the unnecessary stuff and watch a generation become Christ-like, not only in a church house, but Christ-like on the street corner.

  • Bethany

    Hi Jonathan,

    I agree with you on most of your points. I get your frustration as well. I am a Millenial, I grew up in the church, went away to University, questioned, criticized and tried alternative forms of church. I watched friends and family walk away from the church because of hypocrisy and lack of ‘real’, ‘authentic’ christianity. However I stayed and I am so glad I did. When I took off my criticism glasses and loved the people in front of me I experienced God and community. I learned patience and prayer when I am frustrated with something going on and I have either come to see things clearer through time or I have been able to be a part of change.

    I think we millenials (including myself) think we are the first to ‘fight this fight’ , point out the lack of authenticity. We live a crusade of criticism and I think it’s killing us. We are not the first and we will not be the last. We are isolating ourselves from our elders because we act as though they have failed us and our churches. So we leave, which I think Is irconic because we think we are doing something, protesting…starting something new. We aren’t. Criticism is a blinder that puts up walls and doesn’t build bridges.

    What I think will change the church is if we Milkenials will get down off of our high horses, get involved, learn from our elders, LOVE, be unified even when it’s hard and learn to work through it together. Be the person you want the church to be and we will see the church change.

    Thanks for sticking it out in the church Jonathan. Keep working, keep loving, especially those running the fog machines 😉 and we will see the church come to life…we are seeing the church come to life.

    Churches shouldn’t have to change for millenials to come back, millenials should be there to make the changes.

    God Bless You!

    • Bethany

      By the way I forgot to clarify that I am from Canda and we are not at all as patriotic in our churches. I appreciate and can understand the frustration of Millenials and I fully acknowledge our different experiences. However, I think my sentiment still stands. Thanks!

  • Andrew

    I really appreciate this blog and for most of the comments that were made in response to it. Being 47 and in the generation that is between millennials and Boomers…..I think this has been a positive discussion. I know the major point of the essay was to say here is person who is sharing from their personal perspective…..I just want to remind everyone that one of the beautiful things about the body of Christ is that there is room for each local Church to have its own unique flavor of how they fulfill the mission of The Church that Jesus gave. Those that have traveled outside the U.S. get this more because they have seen such creativity and variety of worship. Millennials who went on Work and Witness trips have adapted more to the old and the new and the GLOBAL -ness of the Church. BTW – the worship wars are over – that was so 1990’s. :) Come on – does it really matter that much how you sing….Id would rather sing A Capella then keep these style debates going….. : )

  • John

    Thank you. I am 79 and went through the same feelings. At midlife I was away from the church for over 30 years, but returned to the traditional church you described. What you experienced in not something new to the younger generations.

  • Steven W. Carper

    Jonathan, thank you for your bold and frank assessment of the modern church. I am a Gen-Xer and I grew up in the church. I thought I’d be a pastor like my father, and then I hit a wall in my early 20’s that carried all the way into my late 30’s. Really, something didn’t ring true about the church and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I only knew that I couldn’t bear to promote the same, so I left Bible college and went to work in the secular world *gasp*.

    So, I kept attending different churches, trying to find out what flavor of church fit. We tried charismatic, non-denominational, mega-churches and I worked hard and harder. I led small groups in my house, men’s groups for men struggling with addictions, led worship, played drums, sang, played guitar in the worship band, but something was missing still. Then, I heard my last condemnation-ridden sermon from a conservative pastor and I walked away. I have always known God to be walking with me and carrying me when I was too feeble to carry on. I did not walk away from God, but I certainly walked away from the church. I was exhausted and tired of being churched to death. I was sick of entertainment, of pew-sitting and begin preached at, of being pumped-up to be quickly deflated come Monday morning and the real world set in. BTW – yes, the world is gray, Jonathan, very, very gray.

    The purpose of the church is community and how we can work together as community to impact our world with Christ’s love. Being raised as a staunch “non-denominational” type, I feared the blandness and ritual of the Catholic/Lutheran/Episcopalian types. I mean, I didn’t even know what the word “liturgy” meant. After taking a break from pew-sitting for a year or so, my dear wife asked if I would be interested in trying the Episcopal church with her that she had started to attend with a friend. I conceded and found a group of some amazing, nonjudgmental folks who were friendly, smart, engaging and not at all afraid to tackle hard questions, loaded with gray areas. I even took the plunge into full membership as an Episcopalian, though my father would likely roll in his grave.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love music of all types, including Chris Tomlin/Hillsong/Matt Redman tunes. I am a musician and I sing in our church’s choir. But I am absolutely sick of a church service being rated on a scale of the “church experience” and whether or not the worship team moved me. I mean, honestly, do you rate your current marriage status based on your most recent “marriage experience”? I don’t know, but my wife and I have been married for nearly 20 years and I don’t know that every day we feel the warm and fuzzies. We are, however, deeply committed and very much in love with one another. It seems that we have reduced the church to a feeling we get on a Sunday morning experience, something we feel from the music or hear from the minister, rather than an opportunity to work together towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). It has become a very individualized experience, not aimed at our community but aimed solely at our own desires.

    But I am not delusional; I don’t think that nearly any of our churches are “First Century” churches. I doubt that goal is even obtainable; honestly, if we wanted to be like the early church, we would remain very close to Judaism and we would essentially be communists or socialists (Acts 2:44, “they held everything in common”).

    I don’t believe the liturgy is more sacred than modernity – I do believe we should think twice before making our church services “seeker friendly” and changing our identity to “bring in the lost.” Also, the church is not a business – unless that business is to bring folks to the foot of the cross and Christ’s power through love and grace. As the late Rich Mullins so eloquently put it, “We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.”

    My two cents….

    • Martin

      Good thoughts – strikes a nerve.

      Is it really not possible, though, to have a first-centrury church? I’m about to leave on of those ‘businesses’. But is there nothing, noone who is even trying to follow the clues in the Bible as to what church should be?

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  • Mary Todd

    Please keep writing and encouraging dialogue. As a clergy for 30 yrs I needed your input long ago. As a lover of liturgy Ì hope it is never lost and I would hope it would not be dismissed just because it is “old.” My love of tradition can exist alongside others styles of worship. I think what many are expressing here is a need for authenticity/that is what is real.

    In Service to Christ and His Church,


  • Molly

    Dear Jonathan,

    You make some interesting, misguided, and highly debatable points, but the overall snarky and negative tone is disappointing. (Maybe you were trying to be funny?)

    You certainly play right into the overgeneralization that Millennials can also be described as “Generation Me” because you fail to understand that corporate worship isn’t about you or other Millennials. It’s all about Jesus. The rest falls flat because this fundamental truth is missed.

    Maybe I missed something, but I also notice that your involvement in church throughout your life seems very passive and detached and your suggestions for filling the pews read that way too. Did you ever get the chance to get up and out of the pew and lead your peers to be part of the solutions to all the perceived, church-related problems you identify? Maybe an article/blog on that would shed some light on this. It’s worth noting, too, that your formula for liturgy omits confession. Maybe this was an oversight.

    Coming from a generation known for its tolerance, your intolerance of anything outside your narrow norm, especially the disdain of contemporary styles of worship, is ironic and sad. Just as there is variety in the people and world God created, there can and should be variety in worship styles as well.

    I appreciate your blog and your time in reading this. It’s always good to get another perspective. I hope and pray any response to this is pleasing to our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    God Bless,


    • Jonathan

      Dear Molly,

      Thanks for your feedback. I tend to occasionally get charged with snark whenever I’m making a strong point that tends to be polarizing. I apologize if I could have said something better, but I hope you’ll take it more straightforward.

      Regarding the overgeneralization you speak of, well, I’d encourage you to read what I said again. Myself and most of the millennials I know and speak of here want the spotlight off of us, as I wanted to be clear in my third point. We don’t want to be the subject of marketing, nor do we want corporate worship marketed toward any demographic. These are needs of the church in general for all generations. Of course, we benefit from corporate worship, from our sacred storytelling, from Word and Sacrament, but the focus remains on Christ and his gospel.

      I have served as much as possible in any church context I’ve been placed in (which I alluded to in my post and have said straight-out in several comments). I’ve been employed by a church since I was 18 with only one 6-month gap. Elsewhere, I’ve served quite willingly on a volunteer basis. I am only saying that I understand why so many are saying, “I’m done,” and even though I’ve never left the church, there have been a few times I’ve been tempted to, largely because of the things I cited.

      With all due respect, I think before you speak of my supposed intolerance, you ought to think more deeply about what I’m saying. Liturgy is the biblical and historical pattern for worship. I am for each denominational group, and to a lesser extent each congregation, to decide their pattern of liturgy based on their own theology. The four stages I spoke of are the general historic stages of liturgical worship, each usually containing multiple points. For instance, since you brought up confession, my tradition places prayers of confession after preaching, as a part of preparation for Holy Communion. Other contexts have it dictated differently according to their own theology. There is room for old songs, new songs, and though I’m partial to a particular musical structure, as a church musician, I am forced to rely upon whatever resources I have, meaning I rarely get to have anything my own way. And that’s how it should be.

      The kind of pseudo-worship I speak against is the christianized version of commercial entertainment (which, incredibly, in turn gets marketed commercially itself) that uses only current music genres and instrumentation, mimics the sounds and performances of commercial pop music, and doesn’t require the congregation to do any work. I think the ultimate expression of selfishness in worship comes from the suggestion that we must offer many different formats in order to fit everyone just right.

      I hope this makes more sense to you, and that you will consider what I have written, even if you still disagree. Thank you for your kind comments, and blessings to your life and ministry.


      • Molly

        Hi Jonathan,

        Many thanks for your quick and detailed response. I appreciate that we can respectfully disagree on some issues, yet still unite in our faith in Jesus Christ.



  • Ted Huerena


    What you have described sounds rings true and enlightening.

    From what you describe, I think you would be interested in the book “Return to Order” by John Horvat, II. Although a book which addresses the economic crisis, I think you would enjoy his thoughts on the sublime and “way of the Cross” society.

    Tradition is something that gives stability and meaning to life.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


    Ted Huerena

  • Michelle

    This is not just a problem for Millennials – your older siblings, the Gen Xers, to which I belong, have had a similar struggle for many years; hence, the proliferation of the Emerging/Emergent Church movement not so long ago. I find myself nodding in agreement to much of what you are saying here. I have lamented over these same things, and still do. I struggle with the love/hate relationship you refer to at the beginning of your post. I have that struggle myself. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  • Jane Snyder

    I don’t have a gift for words but all of your words ring truth for me. I am another one of the “old gals”. Most of my 50+ years in Music Ministry was spent in Liturgical denominations but I grew up as a Presbyterian in the 50’s and 60’s. I was on the fighting edge of this discussion in most of my places of service. I had to take an “early retirement” because of the strong pull in my final appointment for “youth and energy towards being very relevant and contemporary”. I can still function well as a “traditional musician but not one who was stuck in the old ways”. The request all along my path was to keep music “spirit filled” and “lively”. I have been told by many in the pew that they like my music making because they can tell that I play from the heart, and what I do touches them in the heart and helps them worship. I take those comments humbly and don’t believe that they come from people who just value “a feel good experience”. The point of Church for me is too help bring people closer to God, to enable us to serve God and bring the message of the Good News of Christ into the world. I function as a musician in the Church because I feel that I was called to use the gifts God gave me to serve the Church and to serve God. I have had a long bumpy journey sometimes feeling like a voice in the wilderness. I am thankful that you could make all your points so well and that there is opportunity for dialogue. It will take a while to read all the comments but I plan to try. Thank-you for listening.

  • Bill Cate

    As the pastor of a traditional, liturgical church I am in total agreement with you. But I have two questions: 1) Where are the millennials who say they want the kind of worship we practice? I certainly don’t see them coming to my church, even though our denomination (Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod) is well know for its traditional worship practices. 2) How do we reach you (the millennials)? I should add that we are in a small town (population 5,500) in rural Colorado. The millennials I am aware of around here are involved in anything BUT religion.

  • William Kish

    I would like to make two comments on what you have said. First of all, as a former youth pastor who has repented profusely for perpetrating these things on the youth that were in my charge in the early 80, I have to say a deeply contented “Amen” to your insights. I particularly appreciate your comment about needing to look into “the faces of the young and old”. I believe the church should take a lesson from the old “one room” school houses. The older taught the younger. This is why they were so successful. This is one of the reasons communities were so strong back then, both in the church and outside. We have, for far too long now, practiced a segregation of the ages, to the great detriment of both the young and the old.

    Secondly, I would like to challenge you and your brother and sister millennials. Don’t leave. By leaving you are as guilty as those who have tried to “target” you. The church needs you to stay, even in the face of sometimes great opposition and frustration. It is a misnomer to say “attend church” or “go to church”. If you are born again, a Biblical Christian, you and all others of the same ilk, are the church. You must not “forsake the gathering of yourselves together”. Pray that God will direct you to the particular fellowship that He would have you be part of. Then attend that fellowship with all your might. Waiting for them to change to what you want is basically saying you want them to target you, just not the way they’ve been targeting you. I have spent many hours discussing these things with others (many of my age, 63) in the church and could spend hours on the subject, but I will end here. God bless you.

  • Mark Alan Howard

    Jonathan, you and I are on the same page. I am a Lutheran (LCMS) baby boomer (mid-60s) living in southern California who has served in various congregations as DM and choir director. I have excerpted your articles on my own blog ( I do not currently have a church job, and find it very difficult to attend church at all. The LCMS churches have really gone off the rails in terms of worship. Not even their “traditional” services are really what I would call Divine Services. It’s so sad, and I don’t know what to do. I feel so guilty when Sunday mornings roll around and my wife and I have no desire to attend church because we know we will come home angry and frustrated. Keep fighting the good fight!