on Millenials

Last year, a student at middle school youth group made a joke about my generation; “you millennials, with your kale, kombucha, and CorePower yoga.” (The joke struck me most of all because of it’s personal accuracy – whoops). I had yet to hear a Gen Z person make fun of my generation, though I’ve heard plenty from those older than myself.

You have probably read plenty about millennials, the bulk of whom are in their 20s; what we will and won’t buy, the industries we’ve run out of business (paper napkins for one), our addiction to our smartphones, and perhaps the most pervasive descriptor; that we are the spoiled, “everyone gets a trophy” generation. (I find that last assertation a little troublesome – it perpetrates unnecessary generational animosity).

You might have also read one of the many articles trying to understand why young people aren’t attending church. This is both a big question, full of complicated answers, and also a smaller question, with some really tangible answers for those of us in a local parish. Bethany is making some adjustments to try to be in the conversation for both the big questions and the ‘micro-answers.’

To paint broad strokes, many young people have become disillusioned with church. They don’t trust large systems and they have become more comfortable than previous generations describing themselves as ‘non-religious.’ My generation is prolonging adolescence and is having children later. For those unmarried, they don’t feel at home as a single person in church systems that so highly emphasize and value marriage.

I would personally guess that the current state of American Evangelicalism and political entanglement is immensely off-putting for many young people.

Perhaps most importantly, the ‘Sunday School rhetoric’ about God has set many young people up to expect God to comfort them when they are sad, depressed, or when tragedy occurs – and in our highly medicated world where depression rates seem to continually rise, I believe young people are finding silence from God when they expected solace.

These are the big questions that tie in our worldview, politics, theological rhetoric, and Christology. Starting last September, Bethany began as a participant church for Pivot NorthWest, a 5-year, grant-funded project led by Dr. Jeff Keuss at SPU, whose mission is to better understand how the church interacts with 23-29-year-olds. Pastor Doug and I will be leading a number of discussions in the coming months that will wrestle with some of these big questions, as well as discussion about how Bethany fits in this story.

But try as any church might, no single institution is going to change young peoples’ complicated relationship with church. And yet, the church must wrestle seriously with what it takes to ‘grow younger.’ Our church has to continue engaging with young people, and for all of my generation’s differences, I would argue millennials desire much of what you desire from church as well; to know, be known, and belong. Perhaps even more we desire to feel needed, accepted, and embraced.

In the coming months, I hope to begin setting up opportunities for more mentorship and relationship with people across generations. Are you interested in being a part of this? In the meantime, I’d challenge you to ask yourself what it looks like to better know someone who is in a different life stage from you at church. How can you open up our church so a young adult might feel just as much ownership of the church as you do? Even (or should I say especially) if they have only worshipped here for a year or two?

by Zach Christensen, Young Adult Coordinator