After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in all 50 states, marriage equality rapidly took the main stage in the news and on social media. This includes varied points of view about the way Christians and churches should be handling this landmark change.
Churches that decide to ignore or speak against same-sex marriage may want to consider that they run the risk of alienating more of their congregation, especially Millennials. A new Pew Research Center survey found that those who identified as Christian fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent since 2007 and more than one-third of Millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 percentage points. It makes me wonder if Millennials are leaving Christianity or are they leaving the "Church"?
I think of the Big "C" Church as the institution with the rules, regulations, denominations, culture, and the overall organization that may turn people off from the idea of an organized religion such as Christianity. It's not only the very real and flawed history of Christianity as was interpreted and practiced by fallible men and women, but the present day exclusion of minority groups such as gays and lesbians that lead many of the inclusive thinking Millennials to be turned away from what Christianity and the Church seem to stand for.
As a Millennial I've had my love-hate relationship with the Big "C" Church which many years ago sent me on a journey of discovery to really understand what I believe to be the universal Truth and truly identify why I believe what I believe. I grew up in church and had always identified myself as a Christian. There was never a time in my life that I didn't believe God to be real and a very present part of each area of my life. I attended Christian youth summer camps and was a part of Christian student organizations. I remember reading Leviticus in the 10th grade and quoting the scriptures found within that chapter almost daily to my family.
My journey to unpack the why of my Christian faith oddly enough was also at a time when I was attending a Christian college and attending one of the most well-known churches in Dallas. I felt what I was hearing from the pulpit was life changing and sustaining gospel but the actions of those in the church and the overall Big "C" culture was what led me to question if this Christianity thing was really the foundation of what and how Christ intended us to share the good news.
Studying the books of the Bible from an academic standpoint assisted me in experiencing scripture and the word of Christ not purely from a spiritual sense but from a knowledge of the historical context and intentions of the message of the Bible. The universal truth of love and mercy illuminated during this time of discovery conflicted with what I was seeing. It was the harsh words and judgments about others whose lives may not mirror our own and whose decisions or lifestyles may not be viewed as traditional. It was the hateful speech towards those who most needed to see the love of Christ in human form that completely turned me away from the Big "C" Church. This time was followed by an insatiable desire to understand other religions and religious practices. I began studying Eastern religions and philosophies and really connected with Buddhism.
As I lived many of the next few years partaking in a spiritual and religious buffet of sorts, I began to come back to my Christian roots. I began to understand my disdain or unhappiness with the Big "C" Church didn't have to mean my turning away from Christianity. I may not have been accepting of the regulations, rules, and overall culture found in many Christian churches but the universal truth of love transcends those outward actions. Christ has called me, and all of His followers, to be the salt and the light in the world and this even means being that salt and light within our own churches and amongst our own believers in Christ.
The Big "C" Church may be turning away many people, especially Millennials because they and we haven't fully understood our mandate of spreading the gospel. The good news of Christ is about someone who loved us, the flawed, sinful us soo much that He sent his one and only son to die on the Cross for all of our sins. The universal truth I discovered is love, the Big "L" Love, no matter who you are. As Christians, the concern over numbers in the church pews or the numbers of people who identify as Christians shouldn't supersede our life's work and mission.
What I conclude is this: There's no need for Churches to attempt to lure the seemingly wanderlust Millennials to their pews with pyrotechnics during Sunday service, louder praise and worship music with a hipper look and feel. Pastors don't have to make regular posts on Twitter or Instagram only in an attempt to connect with the digitally savvy Millennial.
Instead, I would suggest a simple reevaluation of how welcoming and inviting your church and congregation may be to those who differ in their appearance and who they love, understanding the need to focus on including individuals in the whole church experience. Enveloping and accepting "others" into the family and body of believers that is our church. The true work of Christ and of Christians is done outside the walls of the Big "C" Church.