Dear “Elderly” Churches,
I know a lot has been said as of late about you needing to accept Millenials – those people 35 and younger – into your church. You’ve been told about how fabulous and smart they are, and how they can smell the BS of your old ways of being and doing church that are disconnected from the world around you. You’ve been told they crave authentic community and find it hard to find it in your inauthentic church club. You’ve been told that Millenials are the future of the church – your church – and it’s a looming reality that the sooner you accept, the better.
However, all those labels like “Boomer,” “Silent,” “GenX” don’t mean a whole heck of a lot to me – titles mean nothing; the authenticity and the integrity of the person do. And I certainly don’t care about a bunch of people who call themselves “Millenials” and think they’re entitled to something and demand you at the very least pay attention to them. I’ve learned to mistrust such people, those who seem at the core of their integrity is this desire to “change the world” or “make their mark” on it.
I think most of us, regardless of age or generation, simply are trying to keep up with life. Life is busy, life is uncertain, life is chaotic…and life is lonely. So young or old, we come searching….and certainly in this present day, young people simply come searching, looking for a place where they don’t seem so alone – so distant from something that feels like home or life family. You’d think the world is dominated by these Millenials who want to reform the church and change the world…but really, these Millenials are simply searching for something that feels like home.
An example: The other day we had one of those “young people” meetings I’m supposed to have to get more young people involved in the church, and we introduced ourselves, including how we came to be part of the congregation. I heard this beautiful story from a “Millenial” in one of my congregations. She had grown up in the church, left like so many, and decided she needed to starting going again. So she went church shopping, and happened upon this congregation because it was nearby and she grew up “Lutheran.” As she came up that day, she was met by an elderly lady and the pastor (at that time) sitting on a bench outside the church. They greeted her, asked her what brought her by to which she replied, “I guess I was looking around for a church, and thought I’d check this one out.” The elderly lady replied,
“Well girl, you just sit your butt down right here next to me, because this is your new church home.”
That was the start of something…..this elderly lady took her and her husband in, constantly telling them and everyone that they were her “spiritual” and “church” children. And this elderly women had doted on them as such.
That was years ago….and as this “Millenial” told me this story, it was in the shadow of this elderly women’s death a week before, and funeral the next day.
I share this story with you because I want you to know there are young people out there – a lot of them, in fact – that don’t want to change your church. They don’t want to reform it or “blow it up.” They don’t want to demand and force their way in. What they simply are looking for is a place to rest, a place from the chaos of life, a place where they are known and loved – a place to call home.
And I think, perhaps you feel like you have so little to offer, the thing you have to offer that you regard as simplistic is really the most important thing of all. Beyond the popular, idealistic Millenial cry for “meaningful everything” is the need for a home. You can provide that; in fact, you might be the best group to offer that because as the years wane on and everything seems to disappear around you, your years of experience tell you to be known and to be loved in the end is really the most important thing. Experience has taught you the great lie about human achievement. You have learned through years of experience of a God in Christ who knows you and loves you….and the humble act of living that out is really the one thing that draws us and all people closer to God.
God gives us the gift of each other, so that we might know we’re not alone. You know that, and you can offer that to the mass of other Millenials who simply want, and need, a home.
A concerned “30-something” pastor