Substance Over Style

My latest article – published in the Morganton News Herald today – follows in its entirety:

No doubt you’ve noticed the unbalanced demographic in most mainline churches. The younger generation (Millennial) is noticeably absent.

Many people expend a lot of effort to reverse this trend, bending to reach young people. Non-traditional “seeker-sensitive” churches proliferate.

worship1Some seek an edgier vibe, cooler youth pastor, or more hip worship band. Others market their casual service, coffee shop, or snazzy web site. They re-package what the world provides, hoping to reel in teenagers, twentysomethings, and young families.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Many churches seem to have found the secret. Millennials come.

The problem is getting Millennials to stay.

An article that went viral last month on may surprise you. Rachel Held Evans stated, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”

Surveys report that Millennials would prefer church to be less political and old-fashioned; more inclusive and concerned with social justice.  But isn’t it short-sighted to let them dictate how services are run?

Generations ago, C.S. Lewis defined “chronological snobbery” as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

Millennials long for something deeper than style.

Their finely-tuned radar notices anything that hints at fakeness. They don’t like feeling advertised to or performed for. They long for authenticity.

Brett McCracken, in his book “Hipster Christianity” agrees. “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

Just like every generation before them, the deepest need of their hearts is for a relationship with Christ.

Evans further stated, “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

Ouch. Are we trying too hard to make things palatable?  The apostle Paul warned, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate healthy doctrine, but with itching ears will surround themselves with teachers who cater to their people’s own desires.” (II Timothy 4:3.)

Style can get Millennials in the door, but only real discipleship will keep them there and turn them into growing followers of Christ.

To reach Millennials, be yourself. Authentically live out your faith and act your age. I had to remind myself of this when I started ministering to college students again. Now in my fifties, I feared I’d no longer relate.11651991-stained-glass-church-window-depicting-the-crucifixion-of-christ

Churches are often too obsessed with how they are perceived. Many Millennials have turned to ancient forms of liturgy that are refreshingly unconcerned with being “cool.”

We should stick to the basics of what we’re for – Christ – and not what we’re against.

That’s what Paul did. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (I Cor. 15:2-4.)

McCracken added, “What I need is something bigger than me, older than me, bound by a truth that transcends me and a story that will outlast me; basically, something that doesn’t change to fit me and my whims, but changes me to be the Christ-like person I was created to be.”

That’s what the church is supposed to be.



1 thought on “Substance Over Style

  1. Shandra Galloway

    great article Taryn, I’m going to use it with our leadership team at church. BTW I met your brother this summer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *