I recently attended a discussion for church leaders on ministry with Millennials (the so-called Generation Y, or those who were born from the late 1970’s through to the turn of the century). Within the discussion it was assumed that members of this generation do not like "traditional" worship, "traditional" Sunday School, "traditional" Bible studies, the "traditional" way of doing church.
But there’s a difference between "tradition" and the way we customarily do things in the church. Is it "tradition" they don’t like, or is it the (often poorly executed) way we do things in the church they don’t like?
- That is, do Millennials not like 17th century hymns because they’re old and supposedly irrelevant to today, or do they not like such hymns when they’re played and sung as funeral dirges and inappropriately revered as the highest pinnacle of religious and musical achievement?
- Do they not like traditional liturgy because it is (supposedly) rigid, or do they not like traditional liturgy because we do a poor job at planning and executing the liturgy faithfully?
- Do they not like preaching because they are suspicious of authority figures and/or are attuned to a world of constantly-changing multimedia presentations, or do they not like preaching because most preachers are not very good at it?
- Do they not like traditional Bible studies or Sunday School because such Bible studies are rigid and dogmatic, or because they’re usually poorly planned and unwelcoming?
- Do they prefer to sleep in on Sunday mornings because that’s their nature, or because we haven’t given them something worth waking up for?
I’m convinced that our churches need to worry less about post-modern ministry techniques than we do about simply doing our "traditional" (modern, ancient, whatever) ministry techniques a whole lot better. It has been my experience – as a church leader, a church member in non-leadership roles, and an observer of "effective" and "healthy" churches – that churches which engage in intensive planning and preparation, churches that show up on Sunday morning and midweek Bible study ready to proclaim the Gospel, are often doing just fine.
It’s when we’re planning Sunday School lessons in the car on the way to church that we get in trouble. It’s when we’re writing sermons exhausted late on Saturday evening – when the time for reflection, review and editing is rapidly waning – that we get in trouble. It’s when we throw untrained people into leadership roles that we get in trouble. It’s when we have no cohesive vision to pull this whole church enterprise together that we get in trouble.
Everyday Millennials go to rather traditional schools or universities or workplaces, and they thrive within these "traditional" institutions. They know how to do the "modern" thing. That is, they don’t live in an exclusively "post modern" world (oh my, just imagine what that would be like!).
I don’t deny that the church can learn a few things from the postmodern project. I’m just not convinced that we need some turn-the-church-on-its-steeple radical reformation. Perhaps we just need to build a better steeple. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.