What these well-written essays are talking about is nothing new. The evangelical church has been image-obsessed for decades. I’m not sure whether it’s envy or insecurity or some combination of both, but evangelical church leaders, especially youth leaders, are constantly competing with pop-culture. This has been going on a long time, not just recently with millenials. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where the culture is especially liberal in the metropolitan areas, it can get really bad. I can’t count how many times I’ve winced or rolled my eyes watching youth leaders and pastors and worship bands bending over backwards trying to appeal to young people. It can get downright embarrassing, especially if you happen to be on stage as part of the worship band and this stuff is going on.
Rock ‘n roll Christianity doesn’t work. It doesn’t just not work, it’s embarrassing having to watch and even more embarrassing having to be a part of. There’s nothing un-cooler than a person or group of people bending over backwards trying to be “cool”. The essence of being “cool” is doing your own thing and not caring what people think about it. Otherwise, it just comes off as phony pandering. Being “cool” is about being independent, being free, saying what you want, doing what you want, and not caring or being afraid of rejection or of people not liking you. For whatever reason, the evangelical church cannot seem to grasp this. Or maybe they can, but they don’t know what else to do and so just continue on. I’m speaking from years of first-hand experience on this. This constant hand-wringing from pastors and church youth leaders over what they think people (especially young people) want to see and hear at church has go to stop or the evangelical church is going to be in serious trouble. From what these articles are saying, it sounds like they already might be.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions– Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
As someone who has been attending a Catholic church for the last 15 months, I can very much identify with those last two paragraphs.