The Millennials’ Church: Not Cooler, Just Real

“God is attractive. His love, care, and concern for us make him appealing. His belief in us makes Him desirable. His expectation for us is inspiring. His willingness to forgive, forget, and give us a second chance makes Him irresistible.” 

-Russ Ewell, When God Isn’t Attractive

In her article, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool,’” Rachel Evans from the Washington Post supports the above quote. “When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.”

In his chapter “When Religion Becomes God,” Russ Ewell writes that part of the reason why a large population of people are not pursuing God is due to the confusion between God and religion. 

The millennial generation is growing more distant from God than any other generation before, as they are becoming less affiliated with any type of religion or faith. Why is that? What is it about church that turns them off? In her article, Rachel Evans expresses that it’s not about making church or Christianity “better- produced,” but rather making it authentic and sticking with what the Bible speaks.

You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.”

Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

One of the major disruptors that produces in us an unhealthy view of God is that we often have a negative association with religion. This taints our perception of who God really is as we can misinterpret his genuine characteristics that ultimately make him attractive. The scripture above teaches us that when the human heart is distant from God, relationship with God is easier “said than done”. Our perspective of God and religion becomes one of performance, and we never truly experience his destiny for our lives. In his book, When God isn’t Attractive, Russ Ewell dedicates his third chapter to this very phenomenon. Using the above scripture, Russ reiterates that God does not want religion, but rather a relationship. Though the Pharisees do and say everything in a seemingly “honorable” way, they do nothing to be close to or grow in their love for God.

Rather than putting on a show, a relationship with God is about embarking on a spiritual journey, where we learn more about ourselves and seek constant growth in our lives.

Speaking again to the millenials’ growing disinterest in organized religion, Rachel Evans says, “Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”

A millennial myself, I remember entering my freshman year of college excited to get a taste of the dorm life and experience the wild parties portrayed in movies I watched in high school. Although my outward appearance was of a typical college student, I had internal questions about my life, faith, and this concept of spirituality in which God didn’t seem to fit. My perception of God was tainted because it was associated with my experience of organized religion, which I viewed as people who seemed perfect, unrelatable, and disingenuine.

“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of a cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish. Then the outside will also be clean.  

-Matthew 23:25-26 NIRV

This passage highlights how Pharisees, a religious sect of Jesus’ day, built superficial relationships. We learn is that God is the opposite, and he desires that we pursue relationships that are filled with the richness of depth and love. It is only when we turn inside and wrestle with the reality of our lives that our need for God becomes apparent.

“The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.” 

-Rachel Evans, Washington Post

As Evans explains, God can make “religion” inspiring for both the experienced and the young believer once they embrace a relationship with him that is authentic and not contaminated by the fake and empty spectacle that organized religion can often become.

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall. 

-Psalm 18:29 NLT  

Keeping God as our central focus should not be a one-time thing, but our life’s work. It’s a spiritual journey where we embrace a life of continual growth and change, one that leads to progress in our walk with God and scaling the walls in our lives. What changed my perception of God was talking to Him at Ocean Beach in San Francisco one evening and realizing that I was not living a peaceful life. How could I? I felt afraid that no one would accept me for having unresolved resentment towards my father, and I was tired of putting up a front that I had my life all together. I asked God to give me the ability to forgive my father and to help me scale this wall in my life at the time. It was that evening at Ocean Beach where I saw God, not religion. It was God that gave me the strength to forgive and now steadily work on building the relationship I’ve always wanted with my father. If the millennial generation would give “this God” a legitimate chance, I’m confident our world would be a significantly different place where people understand the purpose for their life and inspiration is sought everywhere we look. That’s the millenial’s church, which is real, not just “cool”.

To learn more about how religion will disrupt generations to come, read Chapter Two, “When Religion Becomes God” of Russ Ewell’s book, When God Isn’t Attractive.

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