A millennial’s perspective on church and authenticity
There’s something really wrong with a church when the message sounds more like an advertisement for the church than about being drawn closer to God, when worship is the best part of the morning, and the message snaps you out of the presence of God.
You’ve heard it many times before, seen the research many times: there’s an age gap missing in the church, and each year that gap grows bigger and bigger. I’ve noticed that every year more and more of my friends stop attending church, especially those who grew up in the church. Ironically, or perhaps not, those who grew up in the church are more likely to abandon church before they are thirty.
What’s changed? Has the church changed? I’d argue that the culture’s changed, and therefore, the culture surrounding church and the idea of church has shifted.
In 2012, Christian Piatt offered seven reasons why young adults quit church. I agree with his reasons. But I want to add my own: we want authenticity, realness. We want to feel close to a God we’re allowed to doubt, we’re allowed to question in a sanctuary full of broken people. Broken people coming together to worship the God who can truly restore.
We don’t want perfect. God already dealt with perfect. We don’t want the church of politics, divided by hate instead of united in love. We want the imperfect.
We want to find God in a place full of integrity, transparency, honesty, grace, and truth. We want a place where we can form relationships with God and each other.
There’s something beautiful about proper worship–true worship. Worship that does more than fill a room with voices singing of how great our God is. Proper worship, at least as I’ve come to define it, is those moments when you feel the spirit move, whether in a room full of people or when you’re by yourself.
This is the worship we so crave; authentic, real worship, where we can raise our hands, dance in the aisles, kneel at the altar without fear of judgement. Where we can be broken and have it be okay.
Church is not a business; it’s a relationship. It’s not a building; it’s a group of people doing life together.
Church is about the people, not about the number of people, but about the relationships formed. Church started out with Jesus and 12 others. And Jesus knew these men intimately and fully–they weren’t numbers to him. Church should be like that–a place where you can know others and be known, and a place where you can stand unashamed with who you are. Jesus even loved the man who would betray him. Do we love those sitting next to us in the same way Jesus did? In a sacrificial way? Do we even know them enough to love them that way?
On the top of the white board in my cubicle is the phrase “Authenticity is King!” I read it somewhere along the way as I was doing research for my job. Millennials are leaving the church because of authenticity or, rather, a lack thereof. We want authentic community, and when churches don’t provide it, we make our own communities–some good, some bad. Communities where we can be lost, hurting, seeking, questioning, and breaking. Where we’re free from judgement.
I love the church and the God it stands for and the God whose message it spreads. But, oftentimes, I find myself longing for more. More stories of personal hardship. More stories of doubt. More stories of God meeting people in the hard places. More stories of God answering prayers in undesirable ways. I hear it from people my age all the time: “We want to know that we are not alone in our struggles, that people understand, that our Pastors aren’t perfect people.” We want to find the love of God in other people; we crave to see how God has worked in other people’s lives. And we want to be able to share that same God with others.
We do not come to church to be entertained, to have things nicely tied up with a bow by the end of the service. we come to have our tough questions answered, our brokenness accepted, our easy answers ripped apart. We come to feel close to a God who knows what it’s like to be broken, to be shamed, to be rejected. We come to hear about difficult topics. We come to tell our truths, even the ugly ones, in a place so filled with the love of a God, in a place so filled with the knowledge of who Jesus is that we leave the building as more of a church than when we entered.