Over the past couple of years I have seen several articles in the blogosphere focusing on the preferences of millennials relative to church and church culture. Most of the points that are raised I find to be valid, such as: millennial’s don’t like politics mentioned from the pulpit; millennial’s seek genuine active spirituality; millennial’s aren’t big on negativity and “hating” all of the time. Like I said, I find allot of validity in these statements, I believe that we are faced with a generation of people seeking to follow Christ, who want to do it in as genuine a way as possible. They see the error of the church that has preceded them, and they don’t want history to repeat itself.
However many of the articles I have mentioned also include as preferences of the millennials; “they want the sacred” or “they are very curious about and have an openness to historical liturgy”, “they don’t like modern music, because they listen to modern music elsewhere, and don’t consider it sacred”, “they believe that anything which resembles a “seeker Friendly environment, is shallow.” I am interested in learning where the statistics that support such statements can be found. Were sociological research methods used to reach these conclusions? Were structured and unstructured interviews conducted? Were structured and unstructured questionnaires used? Did the sample come from a diverse group of people with differing opinions, life experiences, education levels, and political leanings? I’m just curious, because I haven’t seen any such trend. I currently pastor a congregation that is made up of many millennial’s, and Generation X and Y folks (who in my opinion have some of the same affinities as millennial’s) and I have yet to hear “where is the historical liturgy?” Or “where are the ancient creeds?” I have yet to hear, as people are approaching the altar that “it was good, but would be “deeper” or “more intimate” if we could connect this worship experience to the church of a century ago, or even five hundred years ago.”
In my next to last semester in seminary, I took a course relative to millennials and we saw no information that suggests that millennials have a deep hunger for 1950’s mainline liturgy. Honestly, I don’t doubt that it exists, (I’ll get to that in a sec) but then again I don’t hear this right now because I serve in a context that is more influenced by evangelical Wesleyan expression than by mainline church culture. In the church where I currently serve, the fastest growing part of our church is our contemporary worship service. In that service we have very little of what “mainline Christianity” would consider to be sacred. On communion Sunday, which occurs once a month, we do give explanation of what is happening, but we don’t use verbatim, the liturgy found in the UMC Book of Worship, or the UMC Hymnal. And we haven’t once had it requested. We do see the preference for deeper, more meaningful spirituality, but that preference has nothing to do with the outward expression of corporate worship. We know that our congregants for the most part aren’t interested in the political opinions of leadership. We see millennials, and all ages on both sides of that generation seeking active “feet on the ground” discipleship. We haven’t however, seen a “light bulb go off” over the heads of our people when we have a joint service and they are exposed to some of the “sacred liturgy”.
My point is that when opinions are issued, stating what “millennial’s” do and don’t prefer, those opinions aren’t based on fact, they are based merely on the effort and desire to see every context embrace a personal preference regardless of the affinities of individual contexts. One of these days, the drums, lights, and videos that I currently use, won’t have the same “effect” for the Kingdom that in some contexts they now have. And that’s fine, but right now they do. At this point, what I see are millennial’s who are seeking intimacy with God, and in my experience intimacy with God can’t be predicted, or emotionally controlled, (for the fear of appearing emotional in church) to the point where the Spirit is quenched in order to keep “lock-step” with an order of worship. We must remember that the term liturgy has nothing to do with style. Nothing at all. Liturgy is literally defined as “a work of the people”. I am humbled by this because I am reminded that the “people” (of which I am one) are the ones who mess it up every time, God never does, and He never has. The “people” are the ones who embrace a “spirit of religion”instead of the intimacy and excitement of relationship. This happens in any context. Religion is found in the “high church” context, in the “pentecostal” context, and all contexts in between. There are many struggling churches out there who really want to grow. However for one reason or another, they have no idea how to make this happen. When blanket statements are made relative to what a particular demographic is looking for, it does more harm than good unless those making the statements have taken into serious account all contexts. For example, in an upper middle class context, where there are many advanced degrees, a majority of which are from liberal arts or small private institutions, it is very possible that “the sacred” is the very thing that can and will undergird the revival found in a move of the Holy Spirit. However, in a middle class context, where the afore mentioned social qualifiers aren’t as prevalent, I can tell you from my experience there isn’t a desire by the millennials to worship as the institutional church worshiped a century ago. Rather, the conversations I have heard relative to “practice of ministry” among millennials, have more to do with “doing church” like the church in Acts 2 “did church”. In Acts 2 there were no drums, guitars, video clips, and preachers with “cool jeans”. In the Acts 2 church there also weren’t creeds, responsive readings, organs or hymns. As a matter of fact, in that first church there were no church buildings or church programs. There were just people who had been so transformed by the love of Jesus that they shared everything they had, worked and lived together, and even raised the dead. That looks virtually foreign in any context in our culture. Why don’t we just start seeking God in Spirit and in truth? Whether it is in a service with “high” liturgy, or smoke machines and lights. Let’s seek to be the community of faith known as the body of Christ and leave the labels of religious style where they are born, in the depths.