Those Poor, Needy Christian Millennials!

Rachel Held Evans has another opinion piece up–why millennials need the church– at CNN, and it’s worse than the last one. Apparently, there are at least seven things millennials (at one point she does limit it to what “Christian millennials” need, but not consistently) need: Baptism, Confession, Healing, Leadership, Communion, Confirmation, and Union with Christ.

On Baptism…

In a culture that stresses individualism, the church satisfies the human need for community, for shared history and experiences.

And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us – sometimes kicking and screaming as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.

So we need a community to share, but since technology lets us hang out with those who are like-minded, we need to join a church to be exposed to people who don’t think like we do.

Wait, what?

Schools expose us to people who don’t think like us (well, sometimes–and some churches don’t much like the idea. See the current Texas board of education for a relevant example; schools should be teaching us the things we already believe); churches, in theory, are deliberately organized around a common creed (otherwise, why would any town need more than one church?). Move to a new community, and it’s time for church-shopping, to see which one you fit in with.

And don’t get me started on the “sometimes kicking and screaming as infants”.

I am a part of many different communities–some online and some off. I have close friends, both online and off. I can see where the church could provide community, but if I want that sort of tribalism, I’ll go cheer against the Steelers for the Browns.

On Confession…

“Sin” is not a popular word these days, perhaps because it is so often invoked in the context of judgment and condemnation.

But like all people, millennials need reminding now and then that the hate and violence we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

While she speaks of the value of accountability, of how the church’s community helps us with our concerns over “materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride”, there’s not a word about, say, the guilt and shame some millennials feel because of the judgment and condemnation of the church, just for who they happen to love. The hate and violence we observe in the world is more abundant because the church is so successful at creating, and then blaming, sinners.

On Healing…

At their best, local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless.

At their worst, they block access to life-saving procedures, even for those who do not follow their tenets.

On Leadership…

Like a lot of millennials, I am deeply skeptical of authority – probably to a fault.

But when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.

Me, I have to cross the street and talk to my neighbor. Or speak with a colleague down the hall. Or get online and find someone who has worked extensively on the issue and has genuine expertise. I mean, yeah, it’s easier to find answers when I have fewer people to ask, and they are all leaning toward the same view in the first place, and when I don’t have to worry about their qualifications, but still…

On Communion…

Churches may disagree on exactly how Christ is present in these sacred meals, but we agree that Christ is present. And millennials, too, long for that presence.

There are some days when the promise of Communion is the only thing that rouses me from bed on Sunday morning. I want a taste of that mystery.

Ok, frankly, that last bit is kinda creepy. Her craving for communion is frankly alien to me–I really don’t get it. I guess the closest thing I can see to it is (and I have done this) having a drink in remembrance of a lost friend. But of course, I can do that, and need no priest to act as a go-between.
(and see what I meant about “millennials” instead of “Christian millennials”?)

On Confirmation…

“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.

There’s a better place. The library. Or even the internet. When you buy a car, would you rely solely on the word of the salesweasel? Certainly, it is in the best interest of the church for you to hear all the reasons you should stay. But is it in your best interest?

On Union with Christ…

Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church.

Mind you, he promised that this would happen within the lifetime of some of his disciples, so…

No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

Ah, here’s the rub. “Why millennials need the church” is based on an assumption that flies in the face of the “latest stats or studies”. The truth is, millennials are realizing in greater and greater numbers that they do not need the church.

For me, and for my millennial kids, there is no “need” for the church. Sure, it may provide community. “The church, at its best”, as the author is always careful to say, is most assuredly appreciated by a great many people.

Problem is, the church isn’t always at its best.

It’s true that the atheist birds of a feather
Don’t gather in churches–the more is their loss;
The warmth of community, gathered together
For singing, and praying, and burning a cross.
(oops. wrong example.)

The monks in their abbeys, preserving the writing
Of ancients, when everyone’s future was black;
They strove for salvation, while kindly inviting
The godless among them to stretch on the rack.
(dang. wrong example again.)

The New World and Africa, ignorant, dismal,
Called for new Missions, converting each brother;
Heathens were called–they could choose their baptismal–
Christ’s blood or their own; it’s one or the other.
(crap. I suck at this.)

When people are gathered, they still remain people,
They’re good and they’re bad, both alone and in unity
You can meet in a bar, just as under a steeple
Good and bad don’t depend on religious community.


  1. MaryL says

    “And millenials, too, long for that prescence.” She knows what all millenials want? She reads minds? Nor has she figured out that our parents are our initial “mentors”? She’s skeptical of authority? The lady doth protest too much.

  2. says

    And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us – sometimes kicking and screaming as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.

    Made me laugh aloud; my first thought was domestic abuse, “he doesn’t mean it, he loves me”.

    But if her point is that millennials are suffering the blinders of internet-powered echo-chambers, she should look into scientific communities, where not only are debates common and beliefs & assumptions are frequently challenged, but the ideas debated are about things that are actually known to exist.

    And then the blatant self-delusion:

    No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

    On the one hand it is sad watching people fumbling to fit their square ideas into the round reality, continually failing to see the obvious. On the other hand, the doubling down on bad ideas in lieu of, say, more accommodationist strategies that might further prolong the demise of the churches, that’s fantastic — good riddance. Reminds me of the republicans following the 2012 elections, “we’ll have to do a better job getting our message out,” and all the other diagnoses by the very people whose predictions had just failed so epically.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    The only way I can think of for a gate to “prevail” involves staying closed when somebody wants to go through it. Not a very cogent usage in this context…

    I know Evans did not come up with this phrasing on her own – sfaict, she has yet to write anything original – but such language (very frequently invoked by “Operation Rescue” and suchlike hyperchristian activists) indicates a failure to give any thought whatsoever to the words coming out of the mouth speaking them.

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