Tag: Millennials

The Church of the Future: Urban, Minority and Progressive

millenial_generation_onpageThe church of the future resides in an urban setting, consists of multiple minorities, and espouses progressive social values, according to two recently-released reports.

While most church futurists have focused on church models (i.e., house churches vs. megachurches) in their predictions of the shape of church in the next 50-years, the demographic forces shaping future churches are at work now on a global scale. The report of the Population Reference Bureau, which published its comprehensive “World Population Data Sheet” findings in October, 2009; and the Center for American Progress’s “New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation” report contain valuable insights for church thinkers.

Here are some of the findings of the World Population Data Sheet:

1. The world’s population will reach 7-billion by 2011 or 2012. By 2050 10-billion people will occupy an increasingly crowded planet. We are adding approximately 1-billion people every 12-years.

2. By 2050, 90% of Americans will live in urban areas.

3. Most of the population growth in the US will come from immigrants already in the US, or those who will migrate to the US. The US population in 2050 will stand at 439-million, up 135-million from the 304-million today — an increase of almost 50%.

4. By 2050, India will lead the world population with almost 2-billion; China will have 1.4-billion people; and, the US will be the third most populous country in the world with 439-million.

5. No majority ethnicities will exist by 2050 in the United States.

6. In the 20th century, 90% of population growth came from less-developed countries. In the 21st century, virtually all global population growth will come from less-developed countries, with some more-developed country populations actually declining, or being bolstered by increased immigration.

Soong-Chan Rah’s new book, The Next Evangelicalism, points out that while church proponents decry the decline of the American church, it’s the white American church that is decline, while ethnic congregations are flourishing. Subtitled “Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity” Rah advocates a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic church whose seeds are already beginning to bear fruit. In other words, the shift that will be realized 40-years from today has already begun in our society. But, because the dominant culture in American society is the white European culture, church scholars are culturally blind to the rise of minority, urban, and ethnic churches.

The report by the Center for American Progress gives additional credibility to the changing nature of the church. The Millennials, born 1978-2004, are an increasing force in American life and politics. The Millennial cohort will dwarf the size of the Baby Boomer generation, while actually bringing about changes in society that the Boomers abandoned after they matured. Sixty-four percent of Millennials agreed that “religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.” Just 19 percent disagreed.

The culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s are quickly fading, and a new generation that is more progressive in social views is assuming center stage. Millennials were a major force in the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and by 2020 will comprise 40% of the entire American electorate.

Of course, world events such as the economy, war, natural disasters, and a host of other events could intervene and reshape the future that is evident now.  However, the trend toward multi-culturalism, urbanism, and changing social ideas upon us.  It remains to be seen exactly how these trends will influence and shape the church of the future.

Sermon: The Future of Our Faith

I’m preaching this sermon tomorrow, August 16, 2009.  The Future of Our Faith concludes this 8-part series titled, Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces.  The preceding seven sermons are:

Here’s the concluding message.  I hope you have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow.

Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces: The Future of Our Faith

Revelation 3:7-8
7“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Reviewing the Seven Cultural Challenges

The passage we have just read was penned during a time of extreme challenge to the church of Jesus Christ.  The emperor Domitian persecuted the church more fiercely and relentlessly that previous Roman emperors.  Yet John’s words to the seven churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, contain words of encouragement.  Some contain words of rebuke, but as Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia, he offers words of hope for their future —

“See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” That is very much the position that the church of the 21st century faces — an open door, but with great challenges.

Over the past weeks, we have examined Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces.

  • When we discussed secularism, we asked the question, Why Don’t People Go To Church Anymore?
  • On the Sunday we looked at pluralism, we asked,  Why Doesn’t Everyone Believe What We Do?
  • Thinking about nominalism, we did some self-reflection around the question, Why Don’t We Walk Like We Talk?
  • Looking at our consumeristic lifestyle and materialism, we wondered, Why Do We Have So Much Stuff?
  • Taking a cue from pop culture and post-modernism, we wrestled with Why Is Truth No Longer True?
  • We wondered Why Don’t They Like Us Anymore? when we thought about criticism of the church and Christianity.
  • And finally, we talked about atheism, and asked the question, Why Don’t They Believe in God?

All seven of these cultural challenges are converging in unique ways, especially in regard to the community of faith we call the church.  David T. Olson in his book, The American Church in Crisis, states —

“In America our world is also changing.  The ongoing downturn in church attendance this millenium is partially related to external cultural changes.  Christian ministry faces more challenges today than it did 20 years ago….Largely unaware of these changes, many churches continue to operate in modes and mentalities that no longer resonate with our culture.”  Olson, p. 161.

With the exception of nominalism, which means that Christians don’t walk like we talk, the remaining six cultural challenges are all external to the church.  In other words, these are forces and challenges that lie outside our control.

— We cannot stop the rising tide of secularism as a greater percentage of our population concludes that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is not necessary for a full and happy life.

— We are witness to our changing communities and the vast multicultural tsunami that is sweeping over America and the globe.  With easy access to international transportation, millions of new cultures have migrated to our shores, just as our forefathers brought the cultures of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Europe to American soil in the 18th and 19th centuries. With that multicultural flood also have come the faith traditions of Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and Middle Easterners — Buddhism, shamanism, Islam, and other non-Christian traditions.

— We are, and have been, participants in the mentality of a growth economy, relying on consumerism to fuel the economic engines of our nation, cities and states.  As a result, we find ourselves — Christians and non-Christians alike — suffering through the inevitable consequences of of the meltdown of materialism.  Churches and denominations have reduced budgets, laid off workers, downsized programs, and sold property in order to survive the economic downturn.

— While post-modernism defies a common description, the loss of confidence in the stories that to this point had sustained our nation and churches is being felt in lower church attendance, and the questioning of any claims to absolute truth.  The internet, for all its good, has also leveled the playing field between truth and falsehood, or truth and personal opinion, by creating space for all ideas, regardless of their credibility.

— And finally, we are seeing the church and Christianity attacked boldly and without hestitation by movements like the new atheism, or simply by individuals for whom church is not a necessary part of their lives.

The doom-and-gloom recital of decline and demise could go on for the rest of this sermon, but I think you get the picture.  We are facing some unique challenges.  The question is — what about the future of our faith?  Will the church survive?  Will Christianity disappear?  Will our grandchildren and great grandchildren find the same faith we did, or will church buildings become museums and art galleries as many have in Europe?

The Church Has Always Faced Challenges

Before we despair too much about the current set of challenges we face, we need to remind ourselves that the Church of Jesus Christ has always faced challenges.

At her birth on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 may have been saved, but immediately the apostles were challenged, persecuted, and imprisoned.  As the church grew, new challenges emerged with each succeeding year.

At first the Roman empire believed that Christianity was merely a branch of Judaism.  As much as possible, the Roman empire allowed its conquered states to keep their traditional religions, as long as they posed no threat to the Pax Romana, and the goals of the empire.

But as Christianity grew in numbers, and Jews like Saul of Tarsus began persecuting Christians, the empire itself began to see the Christian church as a threat.  And even though the story of Saul who became Paul, turned out to be one of the great stories of the church, the empire increased its scrutiny of those who were called “christiani” or the little Christs.

By Nero’s reign, Christians were being made the scapegoats for everything wrong in the empire, much as Jews were vilified in Nazi Germany.  Persecution rose to such a crescendo by the reign of Domitian (81 AD to 96 AD), that John the Revelator was given the vision that became the Book of Revelation.  John’s message was one of encouragement in the midst of persecution to Christians facing martyrdom in the first century.

Persecution continued however, until the reign of Constantine who in 313 AD issued the Edict of Milan, which returned the property of Christians back to them.  In essence, Constantine’s decree legitimized Christianity and brought the Church into a partnership with the state.

In her book, The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle writes that the church goes through a major transformation every half-millennia.  She quotes Anglican bishop, Mark Dyer, who quips that every 500 years or so, “the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.”  We’re in one of those times, according to Tickle.  And at least three other of these theological rummage sales preceded this one.

In the first 500 years of the church, the monastic movement took hold.  The Desert Fathers and Mothers, predecessors to the later monastic movement, fled the corruption of the church in the cities in order to live ascetic lives devoted to God.  The challenges the church faced then were both external and internal.  External persecution came from a hostile regime, until Constantine; but then internal pressure came from the church’s shifting partnership with the state after Constantine.  Those who fled to the desert also fled the corruption of the church herself.  Clergy under Constantine had become extensions of the empire’s bureaucracy.  Clerical appointments became political favors often handed out to completely unqualified and unsavory churchmen.

Gregory the Great took the monastic tradition to a new level, and sheltered the great traditons of the faith — theology, liturgy, daily prayers, personal devotion — during a time when the Roman empire was collapsing and the Dark Ages were upon Europe.  Monasteries became the keepers of the flame, the repositories of faith and practice in a world that seemed to be losing its way.

The second great event came about 500 years later.  The Great Schism — the separation of the Eastern Church from the Western Church — divided a previously united, if fractious, Church into its two predominant cultures.  The Eastern or Orthodox church went its way with its icons and liturgy, while the Western church became consolidated in Rome.

The third great transformation was the Great Reformation of 1517.  We know the event that sparked the split.  A Catholic priest named Martin Luther posed his 95 theses — topics meant for discussion — on the front door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.  Challenging both the theology and the corruption of the church, Luther sparked a firestorm of religious fervor that brought new thinking and new theology to the western world.

Tickle believes we in the 21st century are experiencing another one of those “great” moments in the church, which she calls the Great Emergence.  Personally, I don’t think Tickle fully captures what is happening in the global church, but she at least gets credit for naming this fourth ecclesiastical rummage sale.

My point in all of this is that the church has always faced challenges — some external, some internal.  But, as the church has come through those challenges, she has been changed dramatically.

New groups, new liturgies, new theologies, new mission, and new believers came out of each of these great transformations.  Unfortunately, not all the tactics were peaceful, not all the arguments civil, and many died defending their version of the faith rather than the faith itself.

What Does The Church of The Future Look Like?

But, even though the church has faced and survived challenges in the past, what does that mean for us today?  With annual declines in church attendance, one wonders.  Examples are not hard to come by.  The Episcopal Church had set a goal of increasing attendance by 20% by 2020; instead, their attendance has declined by 7%. Southern Baptists have little room to brag either.  Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, has pointed out that the SBC has been in decline for the past 50 years, and the indicators for the future do not bode well for us either.

Lyle Schaller, renown church consultant, published his book, The Ice Cube is Melting, as a wakeup call to his own United Methodist denomination.  The Presbyterian Church USA launched a major effort to include more minorities in its congregations, only to discover that after an immense effort, their denomination still remained 97% white.

Churches of all flavors are facing tremendous challenges, and the methods of the past are no longer working.  In light of that, what does the church of the future look like?

First, to understand the church of the future, you have to look at the world of the world of the future.  According to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2009 report, the world population will hit 7-billion by 2011.  The climb from 6-billion to 7-billion took only 12 years, and according to the same report, by 2050 the world’s population will stand at 10-billion.  That’s almost a 50% increase in people on this planet from where we are today.

Secondly, 90% of world population growth in the 20th century took place in less-developed countries.  In the 21st century, virtually all of the world’s population growth will take place in less-developed countries.  Africa and Asia will lead the way.  India will emerge by 2050 as the most populous country in the world with almost 2-billion inhabitants.  China will be second with 1.4-billion.

The US will rank third with 439-million by 2050, up from our present population of 307-million, another almost 50% growth.  But, in the US, most of the population growth will come from newcomers to our country, primarily those of Hispanic descent.

You might be thinking, “Well, I’ll be dead by 2050, so it won’t affect me.”

Well, you might be right, but most of the shift in demographics will occur within the next 20-years.  By 2020, whites will no longer be the majority race in the US, and in fact, there may be no majority race.

But, even if you think 2020 is a long way off, we’re already seeing significant signs of demographic shifts in our country, and in our region as well.

An example is the church I pastored in Stone Mountain, Georgia from 1980-1984.  I was called to Pine Lake Baptist Church when I graduated from seminary.  At that time the community was a suburb in the greater Atlanta area.  Middle to uppper-middle class subdivisions dotted the landscape, and our members reflected the white, middle class world of suburban Atlanta in the 1980s.

The year I came to Chatham, 2004, Pine Lake invited me to come back to preach their annual homecoming service.  We walked into a much different church than the one we left.

The platform had been reworked, and the organ replaced with a place for their new 4-piece band.  A couple of guitars, a drum set, and a keyboard stood to one side of the platform.  The choir director was from Jamaica, and the song selection was upbeat and happy.  The choir was made up mostly of west Africans, Jamaicans, and some long-term white members of the church.  Black and white deacons served together.  A Laotian church meets there each Sunday, conducting their worship in their native language.  The community around the church has changed from white suburban, to urban and ethnic.  Many are students at Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory University, or one of the other colleges and universities in the Atlanta area.  The church had lots of kids, young people and families.  It truly was an amazing experience, reflecting the trends that are changing the ways we live our lives, including the way we worship.

So, first the church of the future is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic.  Sunday morning will no longer be the most segregated hour of the week in our communities.

But, wait, that’s not all, as the TV commercial says.

The rising generation, called Millennials, will change our own country in ways we are just now beginning to see.  Millennials are young people born after 1980 or so.  As a generation, they are larger than my generation, the Baby Boomers.  We thought we would dominate society until we passed off the scene, but the Millennials are already upstaging and displacing Boomers in number and influence.

The good news is that Millennials are optimistic, and eager to make this world a better place.  They volunteer to help in soup kitchens, to build Habitat houses, to become Big Brothers or Big Sisters.  They work well in groups, are open to all ethnicities, and are generally accepting of others.

Millennials have been compared to the World War II generation, which Tom Brokaw labeled The Greatest Generation.  They are builders and world-changers, just like the World War II GIs.   They never have known life without a TV, a computer, a car, or a cellphone.  They are technology natives, ready to harness the power of the internet to do good and connect with friends.

And, they are staying away from the traditional church in droves.  Their criticisms of the traditional church sting, but must be heard.  They are also not interested in the issues that have driven evangelicals in the past 30 years.  Millennials see the culture wars of the 1980s as a remnant of a dying movement.

In addition to the world population, and the Millennial generation, the shift from rural to urban will increase.  Today about half of Americans live in small towns or rural settings, and about half live in large urban centers.  By 2050, 90% of Americans will be living in densely populated urban areas, reflecting the sprawl of cities that are already evident in places like Mexico City, Shanghai, and Mumbai, India.

In short, the world as we know it is changing rapidly.

An Open Door That No One Can Close

The church will have to change.  And it will change because there are increasing voices calling for the church on earth to reflect the diversity of the church in heaven — with people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  Although change will come more slowly to us here in Chatham, we are not immune to the challenges of our culture.  We must change.

And the question we must ask ourselves is not ‘Who is here?’, but rather, ‘Who is not here?’ And the answer to that question will reflect the changes in our culture for we are not reaching those of other ethnicities, the young, and those not like us.

We need to open our eyes to those around us like one of the rural Methodist churches whose pastor I met this past week.  They have a ministry to bikers — not motorcycle riders, but bikers. One of the men who works in that ministry, a biker himself, was asked to tell about what they were doing.  He stood before the assembly of 100 United Methodist pastors, plus Debbie and me, and with his scraggly beard, long hair, bandana on his head, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and he told about the biker ministry and said, “When you’re working with God, nothing’s impossible.”

Nothing is impossible for those who are faithful to Christ.  In the face of overwhelming challenge, there was one church, the church in the original Philadelphia.  Jesus told them, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”

We can also be that church, the church of brotherly love, the church of the open door.  For it is Christ himself who has opened that door.  A door to the masses on earth today and the increasing populations in the years to come.  It is a door of opportunity that Christ alone can open, and no one else can close.

And, Jesus recognizes our limitations.  We may appear to have little strength.  We may appear to be unequal to the task.  But strength is not as important as faithfulness.  Jesus told the Philadelphian church — “You have kept my word, and not denied my name.”  To keep the word of Christ is to be faithful to Christ asserting in the face of changing cultures that Jesus is still the savior of the world.

What is the future of our faith?  Our future is not restricted by the changes in the world around us.  Our future is bound up with the purposes of God.  Our future is God’s future.  The door is open, the world is waiting, the Gospel still is good news.  We must walk through the open door, change our methods but not our message, and present the unchanging good news to an ever-changing world.

Jesus concluded his message to the church in Philadelphia with these words —

11I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Our prayer is that we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to this church.

‘Emerging Adult’ new term for 20-somethings

515bxkgrdll_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Today Amazon delivered my copy of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett.  A research professor of psychology at Clark University, Arnett became fascinated at the different choices 18-t0-20-something year olds were making compared to preceding generations.  Further research bore out his initial findings:  people 18-29 were delaying their entry into adulthood.

The book covers issues 18-29 year olds face — parents, love and sex, marriage, college, careers — weaving these together with the stories of real emerging adults.  Arnett’s narrative is lively, engaging, and informative, based on 10-years’ of research in this age group.

I was particularly interested in the chapter, Sources of Meaning: Religious Beliefs and Values.  Here are some of Arnett’s research findings:

  • This group falls into 4 categories: agnostic/atheist 22%; deist 28%; liberal believer 27%; conservative believer 23%.
  • 58% said their religious beliefs were Very Important or Quite Important.
  • 79% believe a higher power watches over them and guides their lives.
  • Only 25% think attending religious services is Very Important or Quite Important; 42% said Not Important at all.

Other observations I found interesting included:

  • Several students believe that God is like ‘The Force’ in Star Wars.
  • Disillusioning or bad church experiences result in anger, resentment, or hostility toward religion.
  • Emerging adults tend to “personalize” their own religious views by combining or borrowing from other religions or spirituality traditions.

But I found most disturbing this statement describing the correlation between childhood religious training and the current beliefs of emerging adults:

“In statistical analyses, there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their religious beliefs as emerging adults — not to the current classification as agnostic/atheist, deist, liberal believer, or conservative believer; not to their current attendance at religious services; or the importance of religious beliefs, or the importance of religion in their everyday lives; not the their belief that God or a higher power guides their lives or to the certainty of their religious beliefs in emerging adulthood.”  p. 174

In other words, childhood religious training appears to have no bearing on religious beliefs or practice when teens reach the emerging adult ages of 18-29.

Reading this book, after reading Lost and Found by Stetzer, Stanley and Hayes, I found Arnett’s book to be more disturbing, and wondered if Stetzer’s book is too optimistic about the success of existing churches with this group of emerging — Stetzer calls them ‘younger’ — adults.

Emerging Adulthood is published by Oxford University Press, and is intended for use as a textbook, but is highly readable, and not geared just to academics.  Churches seeking to engage emerging adults would benefit from reading and discussing Emerging Adulthood before attempting ministry to this age group.

Church is a conversation

The buzzword in marketing now is “conversation.”  The Cluetrain Manifesto popularized that idea with its statement that “markets are conversations.”  The authors describe a dialogue between marketer and consumer, not just the old one-way deal — we make it, you buy it, that settles it.

Now consumers want to interact with their brands.  If you want proof of this among 20-somethings, read Ruby Pseudo Wants a Word, a blog by a young woman who interviews young people in the UK about fashion and brands.  Or read threebillion, a blog by a guy who is tracking the under-25 culture.

Which brings me to church.  If people are passionate about something as mundane as shoes, and become “fans” on Facebook of their favorite brand, wear them, talk them up, Twitter about them, text their friends about their shoes, and generally go crazy over a brand, shouldn’t churches learn something?

Like what, you ask? Like let’s create conversations where we might learn something.  Rather than trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do — attend, give, care, serve, study, and so on — why don’t we talk to people about what they need from God?  What they expect from a community of faith?  What they hope their faith will enable them to be?

Which, of course, brings me to Jesus.   He actually did all of that.  Not that he needed to learn, but he used those conversations to engage the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, blind Bartimaeus, his own disciples, his friends, his family, and his followers.  How did we lose the simple idea of one person talking to another about things that matter?  How can we move the community of faith back into conversations with each other and the world?  That’s the challenge we face.  That’s the future of church.

Sermon: The Next Generation

Here is the sermon I preached this morning from Psalm 78:1-7, titled  The Next Generation.

The Next Generation

Psalm 78:1-7
1 O my people, hear my teaching; 
       listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, 
       I will utter hidden things, things from of old-

 3 what we have heard and known, 
       what our fathers have told us.

 4 We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation 
       the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, 
       his power, and the wonders he has done.

 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob 
       and established the law in Israel, 
       which he commanded our forefathers 
       to teach their children,

 6 so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.

 

A lot has happened since we were together last.  Most significantly, our nation has elected to the highest office in the land a person whose story is unlike any who have held that office before.

 

Political pundits and historians will debate and dissect this election for years to come, but one thing is clear — young voters gave overwhelming support to Barack Obama.  By margins of almost 3-to-1 18-29 year olds voted for a biracial 47-year old man with an African name, whose roots are in Kenya, who grew up in Hawaii, and whose mother and grandparents were from Kansas.  

 

In their book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics, Morley Wingard and Michael Hais predicted that Millennials would help carry this election for the Democrats.  Here’s why:

 

    — 40% of Millennials (those born after 1982) are African-Am, Asian-Am, Latin Am, or of racially mixed backgrounds.  

    — Now 2x as many MIllennials as Gen-Xers, and already a million more Millennials than Baby Boomers.

    — Millennials are now becoming the focus of our entire society 

        — Only 500 books were written about the Gen-Xers in the 1970s

        — Already over 9,000 books have been written about the Millennial generation

  

Socially, Millennials are remaking our society in other ways as well:

    — Millennials are team players, preferring to work in groups than individually.

    — Millennials are connected to each other, even when away through text-messaging, cell phones, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

    — Millennials also volunteer and participate in community service programs at a higher rate than previous generations.  80% have done some type of community service in the past year.  

    — In Pittsylvania County, to become a Graduate of Merit, kids have to complete 140-hours of community service.

    — Schools and colleges are now as interested in a student’s social contributions as they are their academic achievement.

 

In cultural issues, Millennials are breaking new ground as well:

    — Race is transcended as friendships are forged across racial barriers.  With 4-in-10 Millennials of non-white races, kids have grown up going to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural schools.  

    — Sexual orientation is also not a big deal to this new generation — the culture wars fought over homosexuality by their grandparents seem strangely out of touch to today’s youth.  

 

Winograd and Hais — “The Millennial generation acquired a unique set of attitudes and beliefs in its childhood.  The upbeat optimistic attitudes of Millennials, their ethnic diversity and openness to non-traditional sex roles, their strong connections to family and friends, and their concern for the wider community will bring major and long-lasting changes to American society and politics in the years ahead…”  p86.

 

The Mandate of Psalm 78

 

As the writer of Psalm 78 extols the works of God, he realizes that the knowledge of God, reverence for God, and love for God are not just for his generation.  The psalmist reminds God’s people, who would read this Psalm in the assembly in the Temple, that the present generation has a responsibility to the generations to come:

 

We will not hide them from their children; 
       we will tell the next generation.

 

Economist are telling us that we are mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s futures by our failed economic policies.  Our national debt will be left to the coming generations, to those not yet born, to repay.  

 

Environmentalists are telling us that we are leaving an environmental disaster for our children and grandchildren.  Global warming’s effects are just now ringing alarm bells among our scientists and politicians.  The twin issues of energy and affluence have converged, and in the process of becoming the wealthiest nation on earth, we have sacrificed God’s good creation on the altar of our own comfort and convenience.  Our children and their children will pay the price for that selfishness.

 

But, those disasters are not the only legacy we are leaving to the Millennials and their as yet unborn children.  There is a darkside to what is happening to this generation:

 

According to Doug Stringer, founder of Somebody Cares, and author of the new book, Who’s Your Daddy?, Millennials are an at risk generation:

 

    — One-third of them have been drunk in the last month

    — One in four uses illegal drugs

    — One million are pregnant, and 1/3 of those will seek an abortion

    — Millennials see 14,000 sexual references in media each year, and a recent study announced this week that watching media depict sexual activity increases the likelihood that teens will also participate in sexual activity outside of marriage.

    — 40% have a self-inflicted injury

    — 1-in-5 has contemplated suicide, and over 1500 kids each year kill themselves.

 

Doug’s book title, Who’s Your Daddy? expresses the idea that this is a generation that is at risk of following the wrong guidance and influence in their young lives. 

 

Doug tells the story of friends of his who minister to street kids in Brazil.  Walking the streets of Rio one day, they stopped to talk to street kid, a boy of about 10.   When they ask him who is father was, the boy replied with the name of a demon, known in the folklore of Brazil.  

 

The Church is Failing The Millennials

 

The Psalmist warns us that we have a responsibility to the generations to come.  But today, we are failing that generation.  

 

— Although Millennials are more socially-conscious and more willing to volunteer to help others, religion and church do not have much appeal.  

— While 15-24 year olds make up 18% of our population, they are only 10% of our church families.

— Today the average worshipper in US congregations is 50 years old.  That’s 6-years older than the population average.  Our churches are increasing older, and increasingly out of touch with this new generation.

 

Dan Kimball wrote, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, based on his interviews with Millennials.  Many of them perceived the current church atmosphere to be judgmental, narrow, exclusive, monocultural, and hypocritical.  

 

While 60% of older adults claim religious affiliation, only 18% of Millennials say they belong to any religious group.  It is not that Millennials do not want to know God, it’s that the church as we know it today is getting in the way.  One pastor expressed this dilemma in marketing terms, “It’s not the product they don’t like, it’s our store.”  

 

What Is the Church To Do?

 

Why aren’t we reaching the next generation with the good news of Jesus?  I think there are lots of reasons:

 

1.  We haven’t tried.

2.  We don’t know who they are.

3.  We want to protect what we have.

4.  We think because we find meaning in institutions and traditions that others will also.

 

And the list could go on.  There are, however, hopeful signs.  

 

1.  Millennials are not resistant to God, just our way of understanding God.

2.  New expressions of church are emerging — 

    — skate park ministries are springing up around the country 

    — new congregations are attracting young adults to a more casual, informal and yet community-building experience.

    — new technologies that serve this generation can also communicate the good news to them as well.

    

Pollster John Zogby, in his new book, The Way We Will Be, says —

 

“That’s how you make contact with First Globals (millennials) — by opening doors, not closing them; by stretching your borders (the National Football League, for example, trying to make inroads in Europe); and by remembering as NASCAR  clearly does that while its present fan base might actually be solidly red-state, those Wal-Mart shopping GOP-voting, race-car enthusiasts have children who are growing up in a globally based online world where distinctions such as red state–blue state are increasingly meaningless.” -pg 118

 

Helping Millennials Find Their Spiritual Home 

 

When it became apparent that Barack Obama might win the presidency, I bought his memoir, Dreams from My Father, because I wanted to understand who he was and what had shaped his extraordinary life.  

 

The book is Barack Obama’s story of growing up in both white and black worlds, and of his journey to find his place in this rapidly changing world.  Part of that journey was Barack’s trip back to Kenya to meet the family he had never known.  Barack, which means “God’s blessing” traveled back to Kenya, and met his paternal grandmother, half-brothers and half-sisters, aunts, uncles, and countless cousins.  

 

Upon arriving in Kenya, plans were made to take Barack to the family home in the small remote village of Alego.  His sister told Barack they were going back to “home squared.”  Obama asked, “What does that mean?”  

 

“It’s something the kids in Nairobi used to say,” Auma explained.  “There’s your ordinary house in Nairobi.  And then there’s you house in the country, where your people come from.  Your ancestral home.  Even the biggest minister or businessman thinks this way.  He may have a mansion in Nairobi and build only a small hut on his land in the country.  He may go there only once or twice a year.  But if you as him where he is from, he will tell you that hut is his true home.  So, when we were at school and wanted to tell someboy we were going to Alego, it was home twice over, you see.  Home squared.”  

 

Our challenge is to help the next generation find their true spiritual home — home twice over — home squared.

 

The Next Generation is Waiting

 

This week I have been in San Diego where I led a conference  for small churches.  Over 50 conference leaders and speakers from around the world presented workshops to over 2,000 participants at the National Outreach Convention, an annual non-denominational event that offers insights into how churches large and small can reach their communities.  

 

Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love and a pastor, spoke that last night.  Now, I have to tell you that most of the time, those who lead conferences seldom go to the other conferences, or even the large worship gatherings.  Some have to catch flights back home, others just skip.  I have done both in my conference leading experience.  

 

Friday night, I debated with myself about attending the last worship session.  I had never heard Francis Chan, so wasn’t sure what I would miss if I didn’t go.  I thought about going to have a really nice dinner at a restaurant close by, but then decided I would go.  

 

Chan’s message was powerful.  The audience was moved by his challenge for those of us in leadership, those at that conference, to be fully, totally committed to Christ.  At the end of his message, he invited those who wanted seek God further, to come to the front and kneel in prayer.

 

Then, he said, “The conference leaders here will walk among you, lay hands on you and pray for you.”  He went on and on about the spiritual power of laying hands on someone — how God say the faith of both individuals and honored it.  And then he said, “If you want someone to pray for you, to lay hands on you — one of the conference leaders — come down to the front and kneel.”

 

Dozens of people — men and women — streamed down the aisles, finding a spot in the front of the stage to kneel.  Waiting for someone to touch them in prayer.

 

I’m sitting there thinking “I do not want to do this.  Who am I to lay hands on anybody?”  But then I noticed that no conference leaders were coming forward.  Nobody.  I was on the fourth row, and so reluctantly, I got up.  In my heart, I felt God say, “Do the work of an apostle.”  And so I determined to do it.  It was only later that I realized the verse actually says, “Do the work of an evangelist.”  But, maybe that I needed to do the work of an apostle that night.  An apostle is one sent from God.  

 

 About that time, another conference leader came from my left.  He and I were the only two out of 50 there!  

 

Slowly I began to move those kneeling on the floor.  Heads were bowed, they were waiting.  As I touched each person a profound sense of God’s presence came to me.  Some shook visibly as my hands were laid on their heads.  Others began weeping.  No one said a word, just the touch of one person encouraging another.  I moved through the crowd, laying hands on each person kneeling.  

 

As I walked out on the other side, an amazing thought came to me.  What if I had not been here tonight?  I would have missed the blessing of touching and praying for these people, and they would have had no one to touch them for God.

 

And then it hit me — there are many just like them, waiting for someone to touch them in the name of Jesus.  There is a generation yet unborn, waiting for someone to touch them in the love of God.  There is a generation of the brightest, most optimistic kids our nation has ever known, waiting for someone to connect with them, and touch them with the good news.  What if we are the only ones here willing and able to touch this generation for Christ?  

 

The psalmist says —

 

 

so the next generation would know them, 
       even the children yet to be born, 
       and they in turn would tell their children.

 7 Then they would put their trust in God 
       and would not forget his deeds 
       but would keep his commands.

 

Oh, remember the little boy on the streets of Brazil?  Today when you ask him who his father is, he just smiles and says, “Jesus.”

 

Millennials and the church: Is there hope for reaching them?

Millennial Makeover I just finished reading Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & the Future of American Politics. The authors, Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, contend that Millennials will reshape American politics, possibly as early as this election in 2008. Millenials are the newest generation, born 1982-2003, and were given their generational name by the book, Millennials Rising: The Next Generation, published in 2000.

I was so captivated by Millennial Makeover, that I ordered 4 books by Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Millennials Rising, and the experts in the field of generational studies. I’ll pull together some thoughts on all these books as I read through them, but let me tell you why I have this new, urgent interest in this newest generation. Read this paragraph and I think you’ll understand:

Overall, only 12 percent of Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic or don’t identify with any particular religious tradition. This number is up by just four percentage points since 1987. But age differences in lack of religious belief or affiliation are striking. Within the oldest American generations, the last remaining members of the GI and Silent Generations, just five percent are secular or unaffiliated. That number rises to about one in ten among Baby Boomers to 15 percent of Gen-Xers, and nearly one in five (19%) among Millennials — almost four times the percentage of nonbelievers as existed within the GI and Silent Generations. — Millennial Makeover, p89.

One out of five Millennials — almost 20% — claim no religious affiliation or belief. We have our work cut out for us, we of the church clan. But, it will have to be a different kind of work than we have ever done before. I’m creating a new category (Millennials) and will post thoughts about Millennials and the church in the days ahead.

I am very interested in what you and your church are doing to reach this generation that is now 5-to-26 years of age. Are existing churches going to reach Millennials? Will it take completely new forms of church, like the emerging church scene, to engage this generation? What do you think? What solutions do you see? Or, do you think we’ll continue to lose ground with each new generation?