Many of Immanuel’s members have read the Washington Post article by Rachel Evans, “Want Millennials Back In The Pews? Stop Trying To Make Church ‘Cool.’” If you haven’t yet, you can find the article [HERE]. Some have asked what the pastor thinks about it, so here is my two cents, for what it is worth!
I am the “young” pastor here at Immanuel and am in the millennial camp (Born between 1980 and 2000) that Rachel Evans is speaking about. If you haven’t noticed, there aren't too many of us in church these days. Immanuel, for being as large as we are, only has about a handful of active millennial members. The question I receive at many a meeting is, “you’re the young pastor, how can we get young people like you to come to church?” The answer is complicated and there isn't a silver bullet, quick fix solution. No one wants to hear the words, be patient! Also, because of the label of being “young,” many members assume that I like contemporary worship. I actually love the traditional, chanted, liturgy. I love that the historic liturgy forms and shapes me into a transformed follower of Jesus Christ through Word and Sacrament. I know that when I go to church, God in a mysterious way is going be present at the altar and I will hear His voice speak to me from Scripture throughout the entire service. I like to think how I am receiving the same Christianity that the Church Fathers received. However, this does not mean that I want to sing only songs from before the 16th Century. I want to hear quality music with theologically rich verses from the entire 2,000 years of our Church history, which includes good modern music as well. And yes, there is good modern Church music with rich theology today. This past weekend I was at the installation of a brother pastor at Holy Cross in Trumbull and loved the “contemporary” music that was written by Rev. Greg Wismar. I love “Thy Strong Word”, which didn't appear in great use until the 1970’s and after. When people think of contemporary music, they often think of what was being produced in the 70’s to be sung in the woods around a campfire. I don’t think many of these shallow songs are edifying to the Church or Christ’s followers, but that doesn't mean we consider using some of the good contemporary music being written either. So yes, I agree with Rachel Evans that Christianity shouldn't try to ‘market’ Jesus as a hip concert experience, but we do need to not be afraid of using good, theologically rich modern songs within the historic liturgy.
The second part of Rachel Evan’s article has to do with the Church’s doctrinal teachings on morality. Rachel believes that churches are losing millennials because they need to be more open to differing opinions on moral issues, such as marriage and abortion. This I totally disagree with. She is inconsistent in her thinking that the Church should be “weird” in it’s rituals, yet not “weird” in its doctrine. This is what I would call otherworldly! There have been many studies done on churches that have caved into the culture’s views on moral issues. These “open” churches have actually lost more members than the conservative churches. There is a book, “The Churching of America”, which looked at the churches that have grown throughout America’s history. It found that the churches that had a clear and consistent message that was counter cultural grew the most, no matter what time period they existed. The churches that caved to the culture were the ones that began to loose membership. The church always walks a fine line. We embrace repentant sinners, for we are all sinners, redeemed only by the blood of Jesus Christ. Yet, the Bible is very clear about unrepentant sinners. It is also clear that life is sacred and marriage is just about biology. The church needs to be “weird”, as Rachel Evans puts it, in its doctrinal teachings. In my opinion, millennials need to grow up (remember I am one of them)! If we want to get the millennials back, we may have to wait until they become mature and rediscover that there is truth. And when they re-discover truth, they will come back to the church that did not compromise truth or it’s beliefs. They will be proud that there were churches that did not waver, but stood on the truth of God’s Word, no matter how “weird” it had become to the rest of the culture.
We do well to remember St. Paul's words that encouraged the “young” pastor Timothy of the importance of teaching the eternal unchanging truth of God’s Word, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” -2 Timothy 4:2-5