by Jesse Dan Yusuf
More and more millennials are leaving the church in America, reports the 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre. A lot of millennials (anyone born between the years 1980 and 2000) currently identify with no religion at all. I wonder what the data is like across other nations. Here in Nigeria, you, the reader, may know one or two persons that have “left the faith”, is “bored of church” or “not sure anymore” and for many other reasons are leaving church. But why are they leaving? What can the church do about it?
Because there’s no statistical evidence on millennial interaction with the Church in Nigeria I do not have solid figures to present in this write up. I can only write from my experience working and interacting with youths. I have seen so many young people struggle with their faith in God or just plainly walk away from the faith. Recently, a friend of mine, a believer, told me he is done with church. For him, the Nigerian church isn’t living up to what it preaches. Christianity is a personal race, he argues, and it doesn’t mean he has to go to church to prove he loves God. It is true that church attendance doesn’t necessarily lead to having a better relationship with God, but where I think he’s wrong is that the Church is bigger than what we think it is. The Church, the global Body of Christ, His Bride, wasn’t instituted by man. Jesus Himself instituted the Church and said He will build it. And if we’re to follow Christ fully we must also belong to the family he founded, the Church.
Our fathers in the Faith, the first apostles did not only help build the church but gave their lives to see the Church and its message grow. They advised us to meet regularly and painted a picture of what church should look like. Church, the Body of Christ, is not only important because it is supposed to be the representation of Christ on earth but it also serves as the way Christ reaches the world. The Church’s message, The Gospel, does not only transcends all tribes, races, etc but also is (and should) be trans-generational. Why then does it seem like the Church is losing its youth population, the ones they are supposed to be handing over to?
Another survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre shows that Christianity is rapidly growing in other parts of the world like the Middle-East, Asia and Africa. Especially in Nigeria, Pew predicts that by the year 2050 about 50% of the Nigeria’s population will be Christians. If Christianity is growing why then are we losing the millennial generation, the youth generation, the generation that is supposed to be groomed to further the gospel.
In my interaction with youths these are some of the reasons they feel the church has failed them or is failing them.
- Authenticity: One of the reasons millennials feel the church has failed them is the lack of authenticity they see in the lives of some Christian leaders. It is one thing to preach a message, it is another thing to live it. The millennial generation learn a lot by seeing what people do and not just hearing what they say. So many “men of God” are actually “men OFF God”. They do not practise what they preach therefore making the church look like a theatre house rather than the House of God.
- Doubt: Another reason millennials feel the church has failed them is unanswered questions arising from doubt. If we are all honest most of us have struggled with doubt at some point. We have doubted God’s existence, authority, the authenticity of scripture, miracles etc. Some millennials feel the church has done little or nothing to help heal their doubt. Some of us asked questions and were instantly condemned or shut down. “How dare you question God?”, “Who can know the mind of God?”, they asked. But thank God for Christian Apologetics! Ministries like that of Ravi Zacharias’, they “help the believer think, and help the thinker believe”. Ravi and his team have been instrumental in arming me personally with reason to not doubt my faith and thousands of others. The issue is churches in Nigeria have not seen the need for apologetics and this is dangerous because when young people leave the nest of their churches and find themselves in new environments with opposing worldviews, they are defenseless and unable to back their beliefs.
- Generational Gap: The generation currently leading the church doesn’t really understand the Millennial Generation. They tag us as lazy, distracted etc. but only pounding out commands on how to live holy lives won’t get to the youth of today. Reaching the Millennial Generation requires dialoguing and empathy. The older generation must know and understand our interests if they really want to impact us. The generational gap is getting wider and wider. Something must be done be done to bridge the gap. The Message of the Gospel is trans-generational and we must find ways to get along.
- Social Issues: I can’t count the number of times my friends have complained about how the church is failing society by not contributing to some societal need. In America, for example, there have been complaints from the African American communities that White Evangelical churches are not doing enough to speak out against the systemic racism going on. For instance, you find that a lot of churches teach prosperity, which I do not mind, but do not pay attention to other things like unemployment, education, the refugee crisis, racism and so much more. Granted, some churches are paying attention and starting to help reach out with various programs and projects but more churches need to get involved. Millennials feel the church is failing them cause the church doesn’t attend to social issues or they are too late to respond to it. We can be more, we should do more.
These and more are amongst the many reasons young people feel the church has failed them or is failing them. What then should the church do about these things?
What is the responsibility of the church to the millennial generation?
Millennials want to be somewhere that matters and makes us feel appreciated. We want to be part of something great. The vision of whatever community they are in matters a lot. The older generation accuses us of wanting “cooler” or “funkier” churches but that’s not necessarily the case. Of course there’s a lot of us who want our egos to be massaged but that’s not true for all of us. Yes, we may want a worship experience that is less orthodox but there is genuine hunger for spirituality amongst millennials. If we feel we’re not being fed, we will leave. Churches shouldn’t just be thermostats alone, they must be thermometers too. Churches shouldn’t just be about setting people on “fire for God” it should also be about testing their spiritual and physical temperatures. Know your youth and you have the future.
The Church, if they want to keep their millennials, must engage them. You see, we the millennials have been lied to a lot! Growing up we were promised the future, “You’re the leaders of tomorrow” they said, but it’s starting to feel like tomorrow may never come. The church has an amazing opportunity to turn its youth into leaders. To equip and empower them with knowledge and skill on leadership. They should engage millennials by giving them opportunities to lead. Engage them by dialoguing, have a sense of all that interests or concerns them. Engaging and encouraging us to be leaders equips us with self-awareness and self-confidence that can’t be taught. Especially if the church wishes its vision to be trans-generational then it must equip its youths, it must equip millennials.
We do not just want to be told what to do or how to do it. We want to help do it too. We do not want to be told that we will be part of the future, we want to help build the future, today. I can’t remember where I first heard this quote but on so many levels it rings true, “one of the most dangerous weapons on earth is the youth”. The church must turn these “potential weapons” into tools for change in the spiritual arena and on the national scene. Plato also said, “give me the music of a nation’s youth and I will change a nation’s mind”. Basically, if you want to change a nation, change its youth.
Millennials, what then is our responsibility to the church? Because complaining and doing nothing solves nothing. Firstly, it is our duty to find a spiritually healthy church. We must also realise that there’s no perfect church. Ravi Zacharias says that the day we find a perfect church, we will ruin the church by joining it. There is no perfect church but there are bad ones. Find a church where the Word of God is taught with love and boldness. And if for some reason you’re not yet sure about a church you’ll want to belong to take CS Lewis’ advice. Lewis sees the Church as one large house with many rooms. The House is the global Body of Christ and the rooms are the various denominations/ministries: Anglicans, Pentecostals, Baptists etc. Lewis advises that you shouldn’t judge anyone in the other rooms but stand in the corridor and pray for direction to know which door to go through.
Secondly, do not just ask what they church can do for you ask yourself what can you do for the church. It will be irrationally selfish of us to think we will just be part of a church community where we are continually being fed and not serve in that church. Identify your spiritual gifts and use it for God’s glory.
Thirdly, we must recognise that the Church is One Body. There should be no segregation of any sort. Whether jew or gentile, male or female, young or old we are all One in Christ Jesus. We must never forget that. So we should not have an us-versus-them mentally. Love Christ and love His Church.
Finally, dear Millennials take comfort in the words of Jesus telling us in Matthew 16 that he will build his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I know many of us have been hurt by the church, to be honest, sometimes, it’s our brothers and sisters in the faith that hurt us the most. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the church. The church is a place where people (embers) come together to set themselves on fire for God.
Do not be discouraged, dear millennial, there is an army rising up. Pray for and join the army. The Church cannot and will never fail!
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija