This is installment 4 in our series. You can find the other posts here: (Millennials Talk Millennials).
This week, we hear from Jonathan Cruse. Jonathan is 27 and the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI. During Jonathan’s time at Community, the number of millennials has grown to about 25% of the congregation, not because of any targeted effort just through the organic nature of the church.
The rest of this post is a summary of each question we posed followed by Jonathan’s answers.
Question: There is a lot of talk in the culture about millennials. Some say they are snowflakes and soft. Some say they are cause driven more than other generations. Some say they are irreligious; others religious. Some say the religious ones want church to be free and fun; others say they want deep liturgy and tradition. In your experience how would you describe this generation? What makes them unique and in particular what should we (OPC/Reformed people) know about them when thinking about reaching people for the gospel in that demographic?
Jonathan:In my experience, both of these descriptors are accurate. The millennial generation, like any generation, is not a cookie-cutter bunch. There is much diversity. Some hard workers, some prone to entitlement. Some are skeptical of establishment (including religious institutions), whereas others find them to be places of safe community. I think we need to recognize that millennials, in many respects, are just like anybody and everybody else. They are sinners who need the Gospel. They are skeptics and seekers who need the Truth. They are individuals who need love and friendship.
Question: Technology and digital communication is a seemingly ever-present topic when talking about this generation—especially for churches of varying stripes. Millenials are YouTubers, FB is so old, etc. What would you tell (OPC) people 40 and older about this generation’s media and digital habits that help churches better communicate to them? Will using new mediums of communication and media (video, podcast, current social media platforms) help churches communicate to AND hear from this generation? Any specific ideas or recommendations how churches could be more effective in this area?
Jonathan: This is certainly one aspect that would make the millennials distinct from older generations. The OPC needs to recognize that media and technology are wonderful tools that can be used for great good. I think when millennials, who love tech, see a denomination (I’m painting with a broad brush, please understand) that doesn’t care much about it, or doesn’t care enough about it to utilize it well (e.g., we have a website, but do we have a good website; do we have good, clean, crisp, compelling design work down by graphic artist professionals who are up-to-date on the latest trends; are we utilizing new media like Apps and Podcasts?) the impression that they could come away with is that these are a people who are not for them. Maybe some in our circles are fine with that. We shouldn’t be. This is something that is relatively easy to do to reach out to this generation. My recommendation is that every church has a website AND a Facebook page. My exhortation is that every website meet the standards of truth, goodness, and beauty–which are ancient (and I think divine) standards, but have found a new appreciation in this generation. Church’s should make room in their budget for things like web designers and web administrators. If they cannot afford them, there are SO MANY cheap options that basically do it for you: Squarespace, WordPress, Wix…it really is inexcusable to have an outdated or unsightly website. Showing we care about these things is a way of showing we care about what matters to this generation.
Question: There seems to be a sense that strongly Reformed churches aren’t always asking and answering the right questions for this younger generation. They engage with sources the older generations don’t even know about. They are engaged in cultural conversations many in the OPC are unfamiliar with……What do you think about the types of questions younger generations are asking and whether the church (as in OPC) is interacting with those questions? Biblical truth is of course timeless, but how we engage with the cultural moment–its institutions and ideas isn’t…..any specific examples of questions or categories of questions millennials are asking that the church (think OPC) isn’t engaging or isn’t effectively answering?
Jonathan: The big issues today are obviously gender, racial, and sexual identity. Can we affirm that people matter? Do people’s feelings matter? I think many non-Christian millennials need to see we can indeed affirm those questions before the conversation can continue. They need to see we can both affirm that every person matters, and yet at the same time hold a biblical ethic of identity. But the culture is so toxic and sensitive it’s hard to get to that point.
Also, I think something that is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s Christian society is the idea of “de-conversion” or “deconstruction” … Josh Harris being the most recent example. Lead singers of the once-Christian band Gungor are another. Millennials make up many of these so-called de-converted. What do we make of that? This might be an area for the church to think about answering.
Question: Are there particular challenges that strongly Reformed churches face in reaching millennials—whether cultural, theological, relational? Obviously, there may be challenges over things we would never change or want to change, but others may be things we could work on. Either way, we’d be interested in your thoughts on what challenges we, in particular, face in reaching this generation and any ways we might work on overcoming those challenges.
Jonathan: I think no. 2 above answers this question. Let’s keep preaching the same sermons. Let’s keep the same liturgies. We have convictions about how we worship that are based on God’s Word. Millennials, in theory, should be able to appreciate convictions! I don’t think once they are “inside” the door anything needs to change. What we could probably all be working on is how to get them to the doorstep in the first place.