We’ve all read the nauseating statistics that disparage Millennials in regards to church. The list fails to surprise us anymore: Millennials go to church less, pray less, value the Bible less. I’m ready to move on from all this data toward a new church response.
The common line of the previous response creates church in the Millennials image. What do they value, believe, desire? Let’s use that to draw them in. Church is so desperate to reach this unchurched generation they develop a large band with loud music, buy new sound systems, promote twentysomethings to elder positions, create college-centered ministries—whatever it takes to crack the Millennial’s secret code.
What is church and whom does it exist for? Catering to this Millennial group creates a service smorgasbord where one can pick and choose his or her way across the church buffet line, like shops in a strip mall where all the needs of the customers are met in one visit. Church is a school centered on people just their age. Or church is a concert marketing itself so Millennials will attend.
The Church often sends a subtle, dangerous message that it exists only to meet all Millennials’ needs.
When the Church has extended all its resources to indulge one generation, they’ll leave the next behind. What happens when Millennials’ hair turns gray and the Church realizes it must reach out to the next generation instead?
All of this stands in direct contradiction with the picture God has given for how He intends the bride of his Son to operate. On numerous occassions Paul uses the imagery of a body to teach us what the Church should look like, such as in Ephesians 1:22-23: “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.”
Church isn’t first a building, institution or club. Church is a body comprising people, interactions and relationships. Church is a people.
When I think about interacting with friends of mine, I don’t ever first think about how my friends can benefit me. I think about how I can be a blessing to them. I think how I can spend more time with them. And if church is a body, you must choose to do the same. Looking to the needs and desires of others and figuring out how you can be a blessing to them instead of seeking to have your needs and desires met. This is what Paul is getting at by using the image of a body for church.
Jesus was once approached by the mother of two of His disciples who asked He grant her sons an honored place seated next to Him on the throne in heaven. Jesus told her she didn’t get it, it wasn’t about being honored or raised up. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Saint Francis of Assissi was once praying inside the building of his crumbling church, San Damiano, when he heard God say to him, “Francis, rebuild my church, which, as you see, is falling down.” Francis had taken a vow of poverty and had no money. So instead of paying money to rebuild the church, Francis visited church members throughout the city and asked them to bring stones they had lying around their homes, in hopes they could rebuild the church together.
That church still stands nearly 900 years later, with the stones of church members years gone fortifying its walls. The vision Francis had for building the Church is again needed today: Church as a place to serve and give ourselves versus a place that panders to and accommodates our needs. Church is a place where everyone plays a vital role—you bring your stones and I’ll bring mine.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoes Francis’ actions when he says “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others.” Before any local church body can act in this way, you must first choose to live this way. The Church as a body of people exists to proclaim good news to all the generations. A place to serve and be served, to bless and be blessed, to meet the needs of a hungry, hurting world; to be a welcoming home of safety and peace, all for the glory of God.