Denver Seminary

Engage Magazine - Fall 2013

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MAKES YOU THINK AMERICAN MILLENNIALS, BORN BETWEEN 1982 AND 2001, ARE 85 MILLION STRONG AND THE LARGEST GENERATION IN AMERICAN HISTORY. HOWEVER, THEY ARE THE LEAST LIKELY TO HAVE A RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION, LET ALONE A CHURCH HOME, AND ONLY ABOUT 20 PERCENT IDENTIFY AS CHRISTIANS WHO "HAVE MADE A PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO JESUS CHRIST AND BELIEVE THEY WILL GO TO HEAVEN BECAUSE THEY HAVE CONFESSED THEIR SINS AND ACCEPTED CHRIST AS THEIR SAVIOR."1 As a faith community, it is imperative that we (collectively) seek to understand, welcome, and engage this generation (Matthew 28; Judges 2:10). We have a part to play in raising up the next generation with the full recognition that Millennials can be exponentially more influential in this culture for the Gospel than older adults simply because it is their culture. As part of an insider ministry, they have the ability to Jim Pruitt/ navigate and engage it as "natives," gaining an audience that no outsider can. While there are various reasons why Millennials may be leaving our churches, my focus will be on the one I believe underlies many of the others: doubt. MULTICULTURAL FREE THINKERS As children of Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) and some older Gen-Xers (born 1965–1981), Millennials were raised by parents who had instilled the importance of individual expression and free thinking. They were taught that individuality, a shunning of "the man," and organized conformity were the highest expression of self and personal development. The coming of the age of the Internet allowed them speedy, easy access to a world of information, blogs, and varied perspectives from all walks of life. For this generation of people, multiculturalism, diversity, and valuing those who are different have been part of their ethos from the beginning. The issues of diversity for Millennials are no longer focused only on race and gender as with the Boomers and X-ers, but on spirituality, social class, and sexual orientation. Combined with an exposure to diverse ideas, cultures, and education, Millennials have been taught to question everything. They doubt the absoluteness of any one proposition, are accustomed to learning that claims of truth are usually refuted by the next research study, and look with reservation and (sometimes) judgment on any one person who claims to have any sense of absolute moral, cultural, or religious truth. ASKERS OF QUESTIONS, SEEKERS OF TRUTH For Millennials, truth is about relational context and is open to a subjective reinterpretation rooted in practical application. Contrast that frame of reference with a church experience that is generally fearful of engaging doubt, presents theology without relational context or empathy, and asks these young people to "simply believe." Too often, Millennials experience the Church as seeking to train theologians, or at least people who behave like good theologians, rather than developing disciples who are equipped to thoughtfully and relationally engage their culture. In light of these experiences, Millennials have learned to ask questions as a way to learn and engage the world. Contrary to Boomers who often see questions as disrespectful and undermining of 1  Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer, The Millennials, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group (2011), 231. 8  FALL 2013

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