“After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.  After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 2:6-7, 10-11).

Just like in Israel about 3,500 years ago, today we have a generation growing up neither knowing the Lord nor what he has done for them.  In a post-Christian America, most Millennials know of Christianity, but they don’t always know what it is about.  They don’t know the Lord Jesus as we do.  

So how did this come to be?  “The Silent Builders” (born 1925-1945) were faithful church-going people.  “Boomers” (born 1946-1964) grew up in the church.  Going to church was just something that people always did.  But many Boomers as they reached adulthood rebelled and left the church, but many eventually returned.  Their children, Generation X (born 1965-1979) did the same thing, but most didn’t come back to church.  Now we have the Millennials (born 1980-200)—many who are growing up without any connection to the church.  

Today when people are asked what their religious affiliation is, 1 in 5 Americans classify themselves as a NONE.  1 in 3 of those NONES are under the age of 30 (The Rise of the Nones, James White, p. 16).  As you can see, America is not just “post-Christianity,” it’s “post-religion.”  If you look ahead to the topics of the next nine weeks, you will see that everything I focus on results from this “atmosphere.”  In his book, The Rise of the Nones, James White illustrates that point:

“Apart from a Christian community, we quickly wither. We need a context of encouragement. Beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum; they need to be nurtured, reinforced. A secularized world no longer offers the deep religious socialization and the frequent reaffirmation of beliefs necessary for a distinctive faith to flourish.  The declining social significance of religion will inevitable cause a decline in the number of religious people and the extent to which those people are religious. When society no longer supports religious affirmation, the difficulty of maintaining individual faith increases dramatically.” (p. 47-48)

Generation by generation, more and more people have been turning away from the Lord, Christianity, and even religion itself.

So what drove Generation X away from Christianity and continues to drive many Millennials away as well?  The truth is…the Christian church in American has itself to blame.  James Turner talks about Christians in his book, Without God, Without Creed: The Origin of Unbelief in America, “In trying to adapt their religious beliefs to socioeconomic change, to new moral challenges, to novel problems of knowledge, to the tightening standards of science, the defenders of God slowly strangled Him.”  What he means is that Christianity in America got too involved in politics and business.  Throughout the years, too many Christians have thought it is divine election that America is a Christian nation.  Politics and business were the means Christians used to try to “Christianize” America.  Pastor James Hein explains:

“Since the early 1980s, Americans have tended to identify Christians with the “Religious Right.” In 1985, 26 percent of young adults under twenty-nine claimed to be evangelicals. Currently, the number is around 15 percent. In that same timeframe, the category of “nones” (i.e. not religiously affiliated) in that age bracket has jumped from 12 percent to nearly 30 percent. And in virtually every study conducted, young Americans cite the entanglement of church and state as a reason for disinterest in faith organizations. Christians voting their beliefs is not perceived as loving, nor as a free expression of faith, but rather as a power play simply to control the behavior of others.” (James Hein’s Blog, Ministering to Millennials (Part III – Negative Perceptions Millennials Have about Christians and Their Churches))

James White backs that thought up it as well in his chapter “Laws, Guns, and Money”: “Christianity is again under fire; not because it is intellectually untenable to new arguments lodged by heirs to Darwin or Freud, but because we are perceived to be overly entangled with law and politics, filled with hateful aggression, and consumed with greed.” (Rise of the Nones, p. 35-37)

Kristel Acevedo, a Millennial who has been turned off by Christianity, said it this way in her blog: “So many Christian Millennials are not satisfied with the Church.  We have been burned by greedy pastors.  We have felt embarrassed by the political leanings of the conservative majority.  We have questioned whether the faith we grew up in is really ours.”  So between politics and the corruption in the church, people were turned off and Millennials continue to stay turned off.

But there’s more to it than politics and corruption that turn Millennials off of the church.  In one blog post, Pastor James Hein highlights a few additional turn-offs.  Millennials view the church as too shallow, anti-sex, hypocritical, judgmental/exclusive, and too political.  On one side too often they’ve seen bad attempts at being “cool” by pastors and church.  On the other side the church is unable to adapt with the times (Check out James Hein’s blog post here for more details).  James White produced a very similar list: “anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing” (The Rise of the Nones, p. 40).

You might be thinking, “Well I’ve never done any of those things to blur Christianity’s reputation.”  Maybe you haven’t, but I know many of you have.  I certainly have many times without thinking about it.  We can continue to blur Christianity’s reputation with a simple Facebook post, with a simple comment about the current election, with the judgmental way we act and talk around non-Christians.  Yes we are to blame too.

So what can we do in this post-Christian era with such a horrible reputation as part of the Christian church?  The people in our country have been wounded, scarred, and calloused by our own mistakes. We need to heal that wound.  We need to renew our reputation in America.  How do we do that?  How do we regain the good reputation of what being a Christian really means?  In his 13th chapter, “Reimaging the Church,” James White explains, “If the church is going to reach out to a group of people who have given up on the church, not to mention membership and labels, then one things is clear: we must renew our own commitment to the very thing they have rejected—the church” (The Rise of the Nones, p. 165 emphasis added).  White has a great point.  What good is it if we live and prioritize our Christian life like it’s no big deal?  Too many of us fail to take Jesus with us when we leave church.  Christianity is a lifestyle, not just something we do on Sunday morning.  Have we lost our passion for Christ?  Live your life of faith that Jesus has called you to.  Reaching the Millennials starts with our own commitment to Christ, his Word, and the members of his church.  God promises to be with us and bless our work when we continue to stay close to him.  As we renew our commitment, we can then consciously live our lives with Millennials in mind.  We can understand their sensitivities to Christianity. 

So what should we do or not do?  Be careful how much you bring politics, money, and your opinions into conversation.  Be loving, not argumentative and judgmental.  Watch what you share and post on Facebook that is political and may be seen as judgmental.  Instead promote a positive Christianity.  Share Bible passages that give you comfort and guidance in your life.  Share some highlights from the awesome message you heard at church about your Savior.  Show how God’s Word works for you in your life.  If there is an opportunity at work or amongst your social network, we may be able to wipe away some of those smudges on our Christian name--we may be able to move those road blocks that stop people from coming to church.

As a church, our strategy to reach the lost must change.  Our reputation has affected how people approach the church.  From the 1970s to early 1990s, people were “seekers.”  They actually went out and actively sought a church that they liked.  For this reason churches have organized so many “come events” like friendship Sundays, children’s programs (VBS), and sports activities (soccer camps).  Those kinds of events are saying to the church-shoppers, “Come check us out.”  Millennials are not “seekers.”  They could care less about church and institutionalized religion—much less go and check it out.  We need to go to them to give them a reason to check us out.  Today more and more churches are doing “go events” like neighborhood interviews, new resident outreach, community service projects, and fair booths.  Churches are going to them to see what people’s needs are.  Churches want to show that they truly care.  There will be more of this to come in the following weeks about how we can do this.

Renewing Christianity’s reputation will not happen overnight.  It will take time, but take that time and effort to work at it.  It will take more effort than we think.  We need to dig ourselves out of the deep hole that has been dug for the past 30-40 years.  God has called each and every one of us Christians to be his messengers to tell others about salvation through Jesus.  That means we need to “Go and make disciples…”  Let us continue to understand the Millennials so we will be best prepared in our conversations.  Most importantly of all, let us renew our passion.  Let us be reminded of the joy Easter gives to us—that Jesus died and rose from the dead for our salvation so that we will live in eternal joy with him.  That love has been, is, and will always be our motivation for everything we do in life.