University Congregational Church
Aug. 9, 2015
Hope for the Future – Millennials & Spirituality
In this “do it yourself” sermon series, I received two suggestions that I am combining in this sermon. The first was a suggestion to speak about millennials and the church. The second was a suggestion to talk about the post-modernity and progressive theology. The Millennial generation is the biggest in US history – even bigger than the Baby Boomers. Millennials are those born between roughly 1980 – 2000. There are 75 million of them.
Micah Murray blogs about her journey as a millennial who loves the church, but finds it difficult to be a part of the church: “We are an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us.
We are the children who learned fake smiles too early, who found all the right answers dissatisfying, who know what it’s like to sit in a pew with our hearts a thousand miles away. For us, Sunday morning is the loneliest hour of the week.
When I think of “Millennials leaving the church”, these are the voices I hear. If you haven’t left the church, please just listen. Listen closely. I don’t share these stories to disparage the church. I love the church. I want you to love it too, someday. Just listen.”
Reader 1: The Bible and God were twisted into something ugly and frightening. Most of the time, people just wanted to step on us, to grind their Christian truth into us with their heel. I was so disgusted by the hate radiating from Christians, from churches. It made me sick. And if that’s what being a Christian was, what God was, I wanted nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with it.
Reader 2: I stopped going to church after growing up going to literally hundreds of them and then going on to Bible College to get my degree in theology. After graduating, I managed to keep attending for another nine months or so, but eventually, I couldn’t live with the cognitive dissonance anymore. It made me angry.
Reader 3: I am tired of having to hide what I believe in a culture that prides itself on being welcoming, accepting, and real. When the tagline on so many churches is “come as you are” but they don’t really mean it, I’m done.
Reader 4: I just moved 500 miles and had to find a new church. Trying churches has by far been the scariest part of moving. I literally shake as I drive into parking lots. Attending a bad church hurt me; it is hard to search for a new, safe place.
Reader 5: Stale. Rows of vacant eyes and people half-asleep, half-dead maybe looking up at me like zombies. My mind turns to the random thought that Jesus was kind of a zombie, too, raised from the dead but that’s neither here nor there as my fingers turn the pages of the hymnal looking for the song that marches on like a funeral dirge. I can’t help but wonder why that Something felt like it was constantly missing. Left church because I wanted to find a place where people went to be alive and not hide behind an idolatry of doctrine or poorly exegeted Scripture passages.
You may have heard the statistics from the Barna Group and Pew Research that religious affiliation is the U.S. is at its lowest point since it began to be tracked. But this huge group of millennials who reject formal religion are some of the most spiritually oriented generation. They use small practices – like reading about meditation, or doing yoga – to connect them to spirituality. They would rather look something up and figure it out for themselves than follow blindly in others’ footsteps. Their spirituality is different than previous generations: more fluid, more individualized and more unique.
At the same time, there is good news! There are millions of Millennial Christians who are concerned for the future of their faith, and have a strong desire to connect to the traditions of the church. More than 4 out of 10 millennials with a Christian background say they are very concerned about their generation leaving the church. And, they are interested in making sense of their faith! They want to use the scientific knowledge they have to inform their faith and do not see these two ideas as mutually exclusive.
Because millennials are a generation that craves spontaneity, participation, adventure and clan-like relationships, the church cannot be staid and predictable if we want to include this generation.
Here’s the really great news: Progressive Christianity has much to offer the millennial generation! With each generation, the popularity of religious conservatism has declined. Forty-seven percent of the Silent Generation (ages 66 to 88) is religious conservatives, compared with 34 percent of Baby Boomers, 23 percent of Gen Xers and 17 percent of Millennials.
Hal Taussig did a recent search for 1,000 healthy and thriving progressive congregations in the U.S. At first, he was concerned he would not find 1,000 congregations in all. Instead, the problem was that he could not research all of the progressive congregations he found! After 5 years of surveys, interviews, and visits, Taussig compiled the results. He outlines the similarities and differences in these congregations. For our purposes today, here is the list of what these congregations had in common:
- Spiritual Vitality (defined by participatory worship, Christian and non-Christian ritual, expressive and art-infused worship)
- Intellectual Integrity (God language that is defined as spirit and energy; compatibility between science and religion; a post-modern consciousness)
- Transgressing Gender Boundaries (rejection of homophobia; affirmation of equal rights for all genders)
- Vitality without Superiority (being Christian without condemning other religious traditions; including ritual from other traditions)
- Justice and Ecology (advocates for justice in the community and world; concerned with ecology and sustainability)
This is great news! We are not alone. There are congregations like ours where good things are happening. We have much to offer to Millennials!
Reader 1: I’m looking for a church where I don’t have to check my brain at the door… when scientific fact and religious truth are not mutually exclusive… where I can learn and grow as a person of faith.
Reader 2: I’d like to find a church where I can come to immerse myself in prayer and ritual… express my deep and inner spirituality… and find others who will explore the spiritual realm with me.
Reader 3: I’m tired of the church lagging 20 or 30 years behind society. Is there a church where all people are accepted for who they are?
Reader 4: I’m a Christian, but I don’t think you have to be a Christian to have faith in God. I’d like to learn about other faiths and traditions alongside my own. What’s wrong with singing a Christian hymn, praying a Native American prayer, and reading about meditation from a Buddhist perspective? Why can’t that be church?
Reader 5: I want my church to put its money where its mouth is. If God is a Creator, then God’s people must be concerned about the creation. My faith requires some action – to help people who have less and to leave the world a better place than when I came into it.
Our traditional word for today is from Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Let it be so within each of us.
The Barna Group “Three Spiritual Journeys of Millennials”.
“6 Things Millennials Are Teaching Churches about Theology” by Thom S. Rainer
“A Generation Without Religion: How Millennials Indentify with Spirituality”.
“A New Spiritual Home; Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots” by Hal Taussig