Earlier this week, an old post of mine started to recirculate called “A Letter To A Dying Church From A Millennial”, in which I express my frustration with the way Christian churches have begun to look and lay out a vision for what I think church leaders need to do in order to “survive” the great “decline” that so many of our denominations are experiencing. As I read through the post, I still resonated with many of the ideas. But I was also struck by the realization that I no longer feel the urgency and angsty-ness that I felt when I first penned the piece.
You see, I’ve spent a long time being an angsty millennial Christian. I have written countless articles about the irrelevance of the traditional institution of the Church and the need for “grassroots” and “organic” manifestations of Christianity to begin to emerge in order to “save” the Church from it’s decline. I have been joined by hundreds of other millennials who have taken to blogs to critique the Church and dream about a new day where we might at last feel “at home” in a faith community. After years of rebelling, I’ve got to admit, I’m tired.
I’m tired of trying to find “new ways” of being Christian in the world, because every time I thought I stumbled on something “new”, I soon realized it had been done many times before. I sat around with groups of church-planter friends visioning how we might create the next big idea that would revolutionize Christianity and after a few years of thinking and experiencing these revolutionary ideas, I’ve discovered that they’re not so revolutionary after all. Because at the end of the day, people aren’t looking for some new, hip way of being Christian. We’re all looking to fulfill a set of basic human needs in a way that makes us feel comfortable and helps us become better people.
What is it that we’re looking for? I believe that we all want a community to belong to. Some like large communities. Some prefer small. We are all looking for accountability and reminders of the things that matter most in our lives- family, friends, hope, and love. We all want a place where we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves, something that makes an impact, whether that’s sharing the gospel in foreign countries or feeding people experiencing homelessness in our communities. We’re all looking for a little rhythm and ritual, something to help us feel grounded, connected, and present to our lives. We want reciprocal investment, where we make sacrifices and give in while also receiving “blessings” back into our own lives.
This has been the core of the practice every spiritual tradition since the dawn of time. We’ve modified it. Changed it. Got louder music and smoke machines. Met in bars and gyms instead of sanctuaries. But it’s all doing the same thing for us. Helping us meet our needs. Helping us find our place in the world. When these three needs are met, then we flourish. When they’re not, we feel unbalanced and begin to fade. This is what the early Christians longed for when they began meeting, eating with each other, praying, and doing life together. It’s the reason the writers of Scripture emphasized community so strongly. We’re made in the image of the communal God. Of course we all need a place to find renewal.
I think it’s really that simple. Some find these needs met in megachurches. Great for them! Others in the quiet of Quaker meetings. Others at SoulCycle or CrossFit. And others are the board game group on Wednesday nights. Our culture is no less interested in the concept of “church” than ever before. In fact, I believe were more interested. We long for real feeling, real connection, real impact, real relationship. Our virtual lives rob us of these essential, basic, human experiences. When I go to my yoga studio and see it packed with people who workout together every day at 6 am, listen to a spiritual reflection from our instructor, and meet up for wings and beer on Saturday nights, I am experiencing the idea of “church”. And when I walk into the religious liturgy of the Roman Catholic mass, I too am experiencing “church”.
It’s fine as it is. It doesn’t need to be reinvented. One way of doing church might not work for you anymore, and that’s fine. Simply go find it somewhere else.
We need to stop being cynical. (and by “we”, I really mean “I”) Just because something doesn’t work for us doesn’t mean it’s bad or defunct. We all must keep pressing on in this journey, seeking to find the setting and place that gives us life and inspires us to keep pressing on in the journey of life. All of our lives naturally move towards community, towards giving, towards experience. Find what works for you and do it. Don’t feel guilty about leaving one form behind, and certainly don’t waste your precious energies criticizing your “old” way of doing things. What works for one of us may not work for the other. That’s to be expected, after all. We are made in the image and likeness of an eternally expansive, diverse, and creative God.
So, in the spirit of my initial article from a few years back, I’d like to offer this simple revision:
“Dear Church, you’re doing just fine. I no longer fit within your systems and way of doing things. But that’s just fine. I’ll go to yoga and eat chicken wings instead. I hope you’re well. Love, Brandan“