A few days ago we were made aware of survey by the Pew Research Center that has determined that the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. Every sector of our society is signifying this change in our religious landscape. It affects all regions of the country and it seems that no demographic group is exempt. The drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults. But it is reflected in Americans of all ages. All sectors of our society demonstrate symmetry. It is happening among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men. Every faith group is being impacted.
In March, 2015 the Religious News Service published an article highlighting the views of Rachel Held Evans. She is a person who has gained attention and following due to her books and her writing on a blog concerning the intransigence of the church to deliver the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ in a manner that resonates with the generations which follow after the Baby Boomers. She comes from a strong religious upbringing, which she honors but had to challenge to develop a faith that for her makes sense and is relevant today. A faith informed by the past but also willing to embrace the present and the future as she believes Christ would.
I include a portion of the interview here:
RNS: You say that the way to stop the exodus of millennials from churches isn’t cosmetic–better music, sleeker logos, more relevant programming, etc. Why are these methods ineffective in your mind?
RHE: These aren’t inherently bad strategies and some churches would be wise to employ them. But many church leaders make the mistake of thinking millennials are shallow consumers who are leaving church because they aren’t being entertained. I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.
If you try to woo us back with skinny jeans and coffee shops, it may actually backfire. Millennials have finely-tuned B.S. meters that can detect when someone’s just trying to sell us something. We’re not looking for a hipper Christianity. We’re looking for a truer Christianity. Like every generation before and after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the places he’s always been: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these. No fog machines required.
RNS: If these aren’t the answer, what is?
RHE: Sharing communion. Baptizing sinners. Preaching the Word. Anointing the sick. Practicing confession. You know, the stuff the church has been doing for the last 2,000 years. We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context. That’s what I see happening in churches, big and small, that are making multigenerational disciples of Jesus.
Rachel Held Evans is not alone in articulating that the church for too long has itself been practicing a “do as I say not as I do,” approach to Christianity. She joins with many others in providing constructive criticism. A common theme might be that church folks have been too judgmental in applying love and have not stood up to the injustices that require the strength of deep seated and confident sense of who Jesus would have us be today. To have a faith that matters means that we will have to find the capacity to confront the powerful and advocate for the powerless in a manner that is congruent with the way Jesus conducted his ministry. If we return to this sense of Jesus we may find that the church can still be a relevant messenger of His love.