Rachel Held Evans wrote a terrific opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled “Want Millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’ Here are some highlights:
“In the U.S, 59% of people ages 18 to 29 with a Christian background have stopped attending church. When asked why, 87% say they see Christians as judgmental and 85% see them as hypocritical. A similar study found that “only 8% say they don’t attend because church is ‘out of date,’ undercutting the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship ‘cooler.’
For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, young people can sense when there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him. Millennials are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with inauthentic, slick or shallow expressions of religion.”
The author of this op-ed piece, a millennial herself, closes with this quote “What finally brought me back, wasn’t lattes or skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, Communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”
A few years back we invited long time parishioners John & Maggie Williams to come share a bit about their story with our teens preparing for Confirmation – about how they listened in prayer and journeyed with God in founding “Bakhita Village” – a shelter and school for young girls in South Africa.
With just a simple power point, featuring photos of the girls who live and learn at Bakhita, and their heartfelt witness they had our teens full attention. They explained how these girls were living in the most dire of circumstances – no food, no shelter, no education or opportunities whatsoever, some girls were only 12 years of age and taking care of 4 or more siblings because their parents died of AIDS and left them orphaned. John & Maggie encouraged our teens at this important time of decision making in their young lives to think on these realities. They invited them to dream a bit about how they might help to alleviate the suffering of others and make the world a more just and equitable place; to really listen to where the Spirit is leading them to share their gifts and charisms as they prepare to become fully-initiated members of our community through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Pope Francis writes “Performing acts of love towards our neighbor is the most perfect external manifestation of the Spirit’s inner grace. Mercy, bearing the misfortunes of others, is the greatest of all the virtues in terms of moral action. Mercy IS God’s justice.”
John & Maggie shared with humility and great joy how they heard God in the suffering of the children in this small village and discerned through prayer and trial and error how they could help. They said “We aren’t saving the world – we are just doing our small part to make the lives of at least these 28 girls better.”
If the Gospel we are sharing is genuinely “good news” then it should be as hard to sell as ice cream. Authenticity does not need to be “marketed” – it speaks for itself, more through our loving actions than our words. That night John & Maggie authentically witnessed the power of God’s Spirit to our teens, and they were so captivated you could have heard a pin drop.