Article after article after article tells the gruesome story about how Millennials—my generation—have abandoned their faith. But have we? Or has my generation simply stopped going to church? Why is it we keep thinking church attendance is the same thing as faith?
It’s one of the worst perceptions about my generation. Sleeping in on a Sunday morning doesn’t mean our faith is in any way smaller. In point of fact, the decline in church attendance didn’t begin with us. Take a look at this interesting graph. Church attendance has been declining every generation.
These statistics measure only one kind of church, though: the buildings we’ve all come to associate with the word “church.” Which brings up an interesting point: what is church? Church didn’t begin as a building. When Constantine joined our religion in the fourth century, things began to change. He commissioned buildings dedicated for the sole purpose of the Christian faith. Before that, churches were most often found in the home of a wealthy patron comprised of families who knew each other. They found whatever safe space they could get.
What we’re seeing today is not that Millennials have abandoned church. Millennials have abandoned buildings. In essence, the church has left the building. Church has become more organic, completely reflective of the Millennial generation. dare I say, reflective of the early church? Rather than designating a specific day to church attendance, Millennials are doing church whenever it fits the mood.
I’ve seen churches reduce our religion to mere rituals and symbolism. Constantine gave the church legitimacy and power, but he also gave it bureaucratic nonsense.
Think about it. Communion, a practice Jesus commanded done “in remembrance” means so little anymore has become an empty ritual. So many people treat it as just some symbol. Millennials are beginning to take it back. Every meal together becomes community. No longer is the Eucharist a little wafer and tiny cup of juice. My Quaker Friends like to remind me that communion is every meal.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a downside to this organic approach, as there seems to be in about everything. When church is a building people travel to be at, community is more complicated. I get to choose my friends, but not those I worship next to. My friends have the same interested I do. They often believe similar things as I do. It means God ends up being a lot like me.
Being part of a church community not of my choosing means dealing with people not of my choosing. While that may sound rather irritating, it means getting a different view of God. The benefit of joining a church community is getting to see how other’s view God. And many of those perspectives disagree with my own.
One could see that as a bad thing—but I do not. Shunning those people with whom I disagree pushes out any aspect of God I am not comfortable with. In time, the God I worship becomes more and more like me. And lets face it, I’m not that great a god.
Churches, much like a group of friends, can begin to reflect exactly what I want. When we’re close minded, we push out those who are different than us. That’s when Millennials leave. There are times when my friends are more diverse, more open minded than church members. It’s in finding the right church that I begin to grow in my faith.
See, having a building or a place we call church isn’t the important part. What matters is the community you surround yourself with. Whether it’s your friends hanging out or church people in a building, church is more than you. The early Christians gathered together not to follow empty rituals. They did so to deepen their spirituality. Seems a building can be useful, but isn’t always necessary.