I was having a conversation with a friend a couple months ago. She was struggling with actually attending church. “I just don’t see why I need it?” she said.
I wanted to prove to her that she did need church. I wanted to convince her that the church was a safe place where she could get direction and peace from people who were invested in her development. I wanted to fight for the value of investing in a relationship with the church, like I am able to fight for the value of investing in a relationship with God. I instantly wished the church looked more like the Jesus I knew. Instead, I took a bite of my sandwich.
Church numbers among millennials are the lowest they have been in history. Only two out of 10 Americans under 30 say attending church is worthwhile. Fifty-nine percent of the millennials that were raised in church, won’t go back, and 35 percent hold an anti-church stance. Next time you go to church, take a look around the pews. Odds are, your youth group isn’t there with you. And you want to know what baffles me about this? The church just keeps going on like its business as usual. But it’s not. Young people aren’t buying what the church is selling, and I have spent the last couple months trying to figure out why I couldn’t explain to my friend all the ways that the church would be able to make her a better person.
I struggle with “the church.” I recognize that every church is different, so I am talking in generalities about some of the people that ruin church for the rest of us. In fact that’s what I struggle with. The blame always being shifted onto someone else. Whispering that my generation is just, “not spiritual,” when I look at the philanthropy work of many of my millennial friends and I thank God that He made human beings with hearts like that. Some of them aren’t even Christians. You don’t have to be looking for God, in order for God to come looking for you. I don’t believe millennials are rejecting God, as much as they are rejecting the churches representation of Him. And on most weekends, can you blame them?
I struggle with the finger-pointing many in our churches do when it comes to sin. I struggle with people who think that sin is just meth heads and porn binges. Church taught me a lot about being weary of the dark voodoo of sin, which I find ironic now, because the church seems to love sin so much. Sin isn’t just getting blackout drunk in high school, and having sex in the back of cars, though that’s all I heard about in chapel. In a lot of ways, I think sin is much more vicious than that, because of the ease in which we can all put it on.
Sin is ungrateful hearts and exclusive words. It’s posting videos of ourselves feeding the homeless because we care more about followers than poor people. It’s doing good deeds for a profit margin. Sin is looking the other way when you notice scars on the arms of the kid in the grocery store. It’s greed. It’s posting memes that insult other races. Sin is saying you love your neighbors, while refusing to leave your own neighborhood. It’s screaming insults at teenage girls entering abortion clinics, and NOT screaming at the systems that produce teenage girls who think they need abortions. It’s the fact that there are currently 400,000 children in the U.S. up for adoption, and in this same country, there are over 280 million “Christians”…you do the math.
“But what we really need is a place where some real people, who have been through some real stuff, can tell us stories about a real God, and how they met Him personally. That’s a gospel we will buy into.”
Sin is telling little girls that the way they were dressed “was asking to be raped.” Sexual assault is all over our schools, our work places, and our neighborhoods. It is making a mockery of our churches too. I personally know women who have been victimized by every single adult male they have ever come across in their entire lives. So yes, they struggle connecting to your male pastor.
There are people, right here in this country, who never had parents who were sober enough to tuck them in at night. They have burns on their arms from cigarette butts placed on them by their own mothers. Their own fathers rob their piggy banks. They don’t know how to dream because they’ve never felt safe enough to let their minds wander, and you don’t understand why it is hard for them to believe in a loving God?
Sin is not just prostitution rings. It’s being so consumed with yourself that even while the world is burning down around you, you have the stomach to argue about politics.
I think more millennials would be in church if churches held more honest people. We dress nice, and look pretty, smile all the smiles, and promise not to cuss. But what we really need is a place where some real people, who have been through some real stuff, can tell us stories about a real God, and how they met Him personally. That’s a gospel we will buy into.
I read a tweet the other day that reminded me of why I still follow pastors on Twitter. “People don’t want a church,” it said, “They want a family.”
I have a handful of people who aren’t related to me by blood, who I know I can call in the middle of the night, in a bed soaked in tears, and they’d sit with me in the dark. I can pray with them, I can show my sins to them, and they will walk me off the ledge. They are the church I want to go to. That’s the kind of church I could fight for.
Since the beginning of the human experience, Satan has been hellbent on luring human beings into sins so grotesque, that Christ wouldn’t see them worthy of fighting for. The church abused Christ’s body. They worked tirelessly to destroy His ministry. Eventually they tore His skin, they pierced His hands, and they broke His heart. Christ fights for them anyway. The same church that murdered Him, He found worthy to die for. And so while I have days where I feel churched out, I recognize that there is something buried in that community that I can’t just walk away from. I can try to be the church for someone else, that others refused to be for me.
So the next time a friend asks me why they need church, I’m just going to be honest.
“Maybe you don’t need church,” I’ll say, “but I do know the church needs you.”
And then I’ll take a bite of my sandwich.
Editor’s note: This was first published at The Spilled Milk Club.
Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including Life After Eden, and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. Facebook her, or check her out on Instagram.