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It’s Our Fault Millennials Are Leaving the Church

It’s Our Fault Millennials Are Leaving the Church August 3, 2013

why don't you love me cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
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I know this cartoon will be a trigger for some of you, and I apologize that I couldn’t warn you before you saw it if it was.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a post, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church”. More people are weighing in. So I drew this cartoon in response to David French‘s post, “Why Are Millennials Leaving the Church? The Narcissism Factor”.

French’s concern for the church is apparent. His willingness to accept responsibility for the mess is admirable. Also, to examine other research’s findings is helpful.

But, this cartoon communicates my essential concern with French’s perspective on Millennials. He rightly admits we failed them. But his post communicates that it’s still their fault. He admits culpability but blames the victim. It’s like telling an abused woman that she shouldn’t leave her husband because divorce is a sin. That’s just not helpful.

In my post responding to Evans’, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church Really”, I said that Millennials just don’t care. The research done on Millennials and their opinions about the church lacks clout. Here’s why: just because a Millennial can criticize the church doesn’t mean she cares about it or feels that if there were improvements she would suddenly take interest in it.

French admits that we’ve created the problem. He admits that the church is “reaping what we’ve sown.” What Millennials believe “didn’t just fall from the sky into the heads of this new generation.” We did this! I think it is irreparable. I suggest that the church as we know it is, as I’ve said before, dying:

“You can change the style. You might keep some. You can change the substance. You might keep more. The substantial change people are talking about, in my opinion, is not substantial enough. Again, the substantial changes suggested are, in their own way, a more radical form of tweaking. I suspect a much deeper change is coming because the church is becoming not only less and less relevant, but less and less necessary. The suggested substantial changes can now be achieved without the aide or even presence of the church. This is the church’s problem that it doesn’t seem willing or able to admit. The church is gaping down the throat of its own death and can’t face it.”

I wonder if French intuitively knows this, so in a last ditch effort to rescue the church by bringing back those who have left it, he can only resort to another mistake in speaking to Millennials… appealing to religious expectations by sermonizing on what they should do:

“Why are Millennials leaving the church?  It’s not because they’re just so darn good, tolerant, and virtuous.  In fact, it’s because they’re sinful and lost — perhaps a bit more narcissistic than the generation before, the generation that failed them.  It’s not a virtue to abandon church.

“How do they come back?  The same way we all must return, through repentance and humility.  Stop waiting for church to be good enough for you.  Embrace the church because Christ has embraced it, as His bride — a bride that is often faithless but never abandoned.”

“Don’t play “hard to get.”  Set no preconditions.  Don’t demand that anyone win you over.  Humble yourself, pray, and come home.”

No, it’s not a virtue to abandon the church, but I claim it’s not a virtue to stay either. It is virtue-less. Rather, I believe it is a bold expression of self-care, something we didn’t have the guts to do. The 99% are voting, and they’re voting with their feet. Basically, the way I read French’s post, this is what he’s saying:

  1. We created the problem.
  2. The way Millennials believe and behave is the result.
  3. But they are breaking the rules so it’s still their fault.
  4. They are the sinners who need to repent and return to the church.

This kind of language makes absolutely no sense and therefore has no strength of appeal… not to me and not to my Millennial children. They just don’t care! But to me this is not a hopeless case. In fact, it is totally symptomatic of the stages of death and dying. I suggest French’s argument is hovering around denial, bargaining and anger.

I do believe that the best place to arrive at is an appreciation for the Millennials. We will see what is beautiful, admirable, wise and strong about them. We will not see, as French does, how they are worse than we are, but better! They are going about it totally differently than we did. Even though he calls out Millennials’ BS, I personally think their BS is far less harmful than ours. Even though French mentions Lady Gaga and her little monsters disparagingly, I believe it’s actually grassroots movements for equality and justice like hers that could possibly change the world and make it a better place.

French, like most people of our generation, still place unreasonable hope in the system, the organization, the institution, the authority, the structures, the paradigm, the theology and the values of what worked before. And this is the major difference with Millennials: they simply bypass all of that without a second thought to get what they want and to get the job done.

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