Every few weeks I see a rash of “Millennials Leaving the Church” and “How to Get Millennials Back” articles make a run on Facebook. They get lots of “likes” and lots of attention and foster lots of “Well, I think…” discussions.
And I am so tired of them.
I know that sounds terrible. It sounds like I don’t care about the Church or about Millennials. And those two things couldn’t be farther from the truth. I care deeply about both. But I am tired of all of the talking and analyzing and bemoaning and wooing and attention that is being placed on this one group. It’s as though this topic has become the newest Christian distraction. Wanna be relevant? Millennials. Want to be authentic? Millenials. Wanna be incarnational? Millenials. Want to revitalize? Millenials!
Meanwhile, I go to church every Sunday and are met with a group of people that are actually IN my church. A group of people who are NOT Millennials. A group of people who are excited about Jesus and church and the Bible and the small groups and Sunday school. I don’t think we have a catchy name for their generation yet; most of us just call them kids.
While we are busy trying to figure out how to get the Millennials back in our pews, we have the eyes of an entire generation looking to us to keep them in the pews. They haven’t decided yet that church is too showy or too traditional. They don’t know the difference between being seeker-friendly or missional. They have no idea what liturgy, sacraments, theology and denominations are and they are not likely to critique whether or not the music is too loud, too upbeat, too slow, or too quiet.They are looking to us for one thing – they want to be seen, they want to be loved, they want to belong.
Because children don’t need convinced that God is love and that He loves them. You tell them, they believe it. But they do need to see that love lived out in us. They need to see a group of adults who don’t just say, “Eh, they’re kids. They don’t get it” but instead say, “Oh, they’re children! They are the ones that get it!” As Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.” (Luke 18:16 NLT). They need the Church to engage them today so they are not disengaged tomorrow and following the Millennials the next.
Recently, I was able to hear Reggie Joiner, author of Think Orange, share at a conference where he said, “No one should feel more welcome at a church than a kid. It doesn’t matter if they are a screaming baby, a whiny kid, a stinky middle schooler, or a annoying teenager; if you welcome them, you welcome God.” Think about that for a minute. Really give that some thought. What if… what if we did that?!?
Would your church look different if that was how you headed into each and every service, prayer time, worship gathering? If you knew, Jesus himself was going to walk through your doors, how would you react? Would anything change? Because Jesus himself said, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” (Mark 9:37 NLT).
Come on Church! We need to STOP!
We need to take a deep breath, shake our heads and open our eyes to the generation right in front of us. The Millennial postmortem has to stop. The generation that is in our hands right now are NOT them and even if we could definitely say, “Here it is – here’s the magic bullet, the place where we went wrong” and we fixed it, WE COULD STILL LOSE THE KIDS! Because they aren’t them. They are who THEY are.
There a many lessons to learn from those who have chosen not to walk away. We’ve learned that kids who interact with their parents around faith in their home are much less likely to leave the church. We’ve learned that kids who are able to engage in service and actively participate in the ministry tend to stay involved as they grow older. We’ve learned that young people who have meaningful relationships with engaged adults in the church create ties that lead to discipleship and faith that sticks. (For more on this, click here)
So, now it’s time to do those things. We’ve got a live body; a growing, breathing, beautiful, alive generation walking into church, not as much as we’d like (average attendance for most “churched” kids is 1-2 times a month, and that’s linked directly to parental attendance) but they are there. Let’s keep them there Church!
Parents, talk about faith at home like their faith depends on it…because it does.
Church, allow your children and young people to be in ministry, to lead the church in worship, share Scripture, pray, serve, and grow with you.
Adults, know the names of the kids in your church; pray for them, go to their ball games, cheer them on with their studies, and worship with them every chance to get.
Walk away from the postmortem. Embrace life – welcome the children; welcome God!
Looking for practical ways to engage and connect with that next generation? Check out this post on 5 strategies for refocusing on them!
About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.