It should come as no surprise, church attendance is on the decline. Now one must ask, what is church? But for the sake of getting to my point, we’ll define church as the building we travel to once a week for one to two hours to hang out, worship, and hear the gospel with other Christians. Millennials aren’t doing this, though, and their evangelism is different, too.
There’s article after article after article illustrating why Millennials have dropped out of church. While some of it may be rather shallow (I loathe hearing how some of my peers don’t feel fed), some are pretty dang soul shattering (one friend refused to go to church after being told her dad went to hell after committing suicide).
But there’s an interesting trend that shows Millennials may be done with church in the traditional sense, but may have picked it up in a more practical sense.
The Barna Group reporting on evangelism noted:
While the evangelistic practices of all other generations have either declined or remained static in the past few years, Millennials are the only generation among whom evangelism is significantly on the rise. Their faith-sharing practices have escalated from 56% in 2010 to 65% in 2013.
Now evangelism is “the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness” (thank you Google). Here’s the funny thing: when we hear the word evangelism, what comes to mind? For me, it’s the guy on the street corner shouting, “repent from your sins or you will go to hell!” Friends, I hate that guy.
I mean, I get it. One could accuse Isaiah or Amos of having been that guy. But I refuse to evangelize because of that guy. I wear a cross around my neck every single day, but I tuck it under my shirt. My four-year-old son finds this strange. Why not wear it on top of my shirt? Truth is, I don’t want people to see me as that guy.
I posted that Barna Group statistic on Facebook and received feedback that got me thinking. A friend noted that Millennials gather with people who are like minded, sharing the same hobbies and interests. Hobbies like gaming, beer, movies, social justice, etc. In essence, they’re connecting with people who enjoy things that have nothing to do with church. This opens them their world to people who would never think of going to church. Over time, Millennials establish friendships based on those hobbies and interests. It’s providing an opening that may not have been there before.
Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “Always remember to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” These words are disputed (nobody is sure if he actually said this), but we can still learn something from them. In a society where church attendance is on the decline, leading with words about hell or belief is the worst way to evangelize.
But leading with common interests may actually be the perfect starting point. I have another friend who works in the tech industry and holds his faith close. He doesn’t want coworkers to see him as that guy. But people still notice something different about him. Over time, he’s had some rather powerful faith conversations with people he never thought would be interested.
Evangelism is easy if you’re not afraid of rejection. I suppose Amos and Isaiah were both content to push people away even as they fought for God. But we’re not in ancient Israel, and the church can’t afford to reject. Perhaps the most effective way of spreading the gospel is to make it a part of our hobbies and interests. Not in a blatant, repent-or-go-to-hell way, mind. Nobody likes a sales pitch in disguise. Instead, in a way that says, “that guy (or girl) has something I want. What makes him so joyful?”