*Originally written for God’s Men of Influence.*
Millennials are the most likely generation to disengage from church. Churches have tried to attract young adults through a variety of means. Pastors wear skinny jeans, beards, and tattoos while drinking craft beer and smoking pipes. Church buildings are dark, music is loud and sounds similar to the radio flavor of the day. Please know, these aren’t bad things, they’re just not the main thing. The main thing is God himself. As he is, not as we want him to be. He is the cosmic creator of all things. He is holy and perfect. He is magnificent and powerful. He is radically loving. He is committed to his plan of saving sinners through Jesus. He is the God who accepts people based on what Jesus did for them, not what they do for Jesus. This is the God we need. This is the God Millennials need.
Leave The Building
Most churches are still busy trying to get the unchurched into their building instead of getting those in their building to the unchurched. In 11 months, the church I pastor has experienced steady growth through new salvations, renewed commitments from those who formerly walked away from the church, and many who grew weary of sermons with a heavy dose of moral cleanliness covered with a thin veneer of Jesus. Many of them are Millennials. They’re not coming because of an entertaining experience we provide or a targeted marketing plan. They are coming because people who have been gripped by God’s love are going out to the coffee shops, bars, and neighborhood hangouts. They are engaging friends without the arrogant stance of rightness or the goofy version of bumper sticker Christianity. They are bringing God’s radical message of love and grace to the streets where a hurting generation that craves love and acceptance is searching for fulfillment in the unsatisfying promises of our world.
Fewer people are seeking out churches so we must send people who have been captivated by God’s grace to meet people where they are and share the good news in those places. We must, however, get the good news right, and the more I speak with Christians and church leaders the more I am convinced we have got it terrible wrong.
Grace Sets Us Free
Telling people, “you’re bad, God’s mad, so be good,” is NOT good news, it’s not the gospel. The apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel is the story of Jesus living the perfect life we could not live, dying the death we deserved to die, rising from the grave, and ascending to God while leaving his Spirit to dwell in and empower his people. The gospel is the gift of Jesus Christ, a free gift. We call it grace.
Of course all people need this message, but Millennials are uniquely suited to respond to the message of God’s grace in Jesus. The young adults who are often far from church are hungry for love, approval, acceptance, purpose, and peace. That’s why there is a constant drive to find popularity, significance, success, and security in a thousand lesser things. There is only one person, one God-man I know of, who can satisfy this deep longing of the soul, Jesus.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is a act of God’s grace through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. We don’t earn it. We don’t ever get “good enough” or do enough good things to receive it. We can’t “smarten up” enough to embrace it. It is a gift. When we see this truth for ourselves it changes everything. Since Jesus loves us with a one-way unconditional love we are finally free to fail and not be crushed by guilt that comes with failure, or the shame that comes from not measuring up, or the fear that we won’t be truly loved.
Since we have the ultimate love of God though Jesus we are no longer enslaved to the endless search for love in who we are or what we do. A love like this can’t be taken from us because it doesn’t depend on us. Jesus bought it with his life and gives it to those who believe in him. This is very different from religion, it’s an all consuming relationship with the one for whom we were made. This is the message that changes people. This is the message that young adults respond to. Millennials are drawn to it because it stands in stark contrast to the burdensome religion of rules, regulations, do’s, and don’ts.
Only when a person has been gripped by this grace can they finally exhale and find the peace they’re longing for. Only in Jesus will young adults find the unshakeable acceptance that leads to lasting joy and love. There’s no more need to hide because Jesus forgives the dark things in our lives. There’s no more need to measure up because Jesus measured up for us and gives us his perfect record before God. This love sets us free.
When young adults encounter this Jesus and find themselves at a church gathering we must know that relevant pastors and hip worship music won’t keep them engaged. The vast majority of churches can’t produce an experience that competes with the billion dollar entertainment industry, but there is an experience that only a grace shaped people can offer, an authentic transparent experience.
When Millennials return to church we must put away the facade of shiny Christianity. It’s not real anyway. It shocks me that Jesus was followed by sinners and churches are filled with people denying the depth of their sinfulness. If the same people who were drawn to Jesus aren’t the same people drawn to church we might not be preaching the same message.
Church is not a group of perfect people who have it all together, it’s a group of desperately broken people running to a loving God. Church is not a group of people who are on a moral high ground, it’s a group of people who discovered they were stuck in the lowest moral swamp and need a rescuer. If we truly believe the message of grace in Jesus Christ we will be the most likely people receive sinners like ourselves with open arms into God’s family. Jesus-centered community has the ability drip with authenticity and transparency because all we have and all we need was received from Jesus.
Millennials are advertised to 5000 times a day. They can sniff out inauthenticity in a second. They can spot hypocrisy from 100 yards away. The church is the one community that can, if we digest grace for every meal, be open, honest, and transparent because we are forgiven and loved despite our performance. If the church is going to reach young adults with the sweet fragrance of life we must put away the stench that comes from legalistic religion.