This is installment 5 in our series. You can find the other posts here: (Millennials Talk Millennials).
This week, we hear from Kerri Ann Cruse. Kerri Ann is 27, mother of 1 year-old Jacob. She is the Social Media & Video Coordinator for the OPC. Kerri Ann is also the wife to Jonathan Cruse who we heard from last week! She is a member of Community Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Kalamazoo, MI.
The rest of this post is a summary of each question we posed followed by Kerri Ann’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?
Kerri Ann: The younger generation is all of what is described above. It’s a generation that has always had the world at its fingertips. Because of this it’s harder to generalize because they can be who they want to be and if the people around them aren’t the same that’s okay because they can find people who are like them on the internet. Sadly, this often also means they are always “on”. The older millennials remember a time when they would go home from school, play with friends for a bit, and then not see them again until the next day. They could relax, spend time with family, and do their own thing. Now, when we leave people, we are still tied to them. We watch what they are doing on different social media platforms, know who’s hanging out with whom, know where you weren’t invited, and we develop serious cases of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There is a pressure to have an “Insta-perfect” lifestyle all the time.
This pressure of always being watched and feeling like one needs to be picture perfect causes stress, anxiety, and depression. It also causes a search for others who are “authentic”. We know deep down no one has their life all together, but many are afraid to admit it. So millennials tend to search out not just friends, but also brands, companies, politicians, and churches that are “authentic.” People and places that are true to what they believe in their hearts. Sadly, there is a consensus that if you go against your feelings and heart you aren’t being true to yourself.
The younger generation puts feelings above all else. An argument often heard, now even from news sources, is that a point or perspective is true because it’s how someone feels. In the age of “fake news” the only way many believe something is true is if it feels true to them. No one seems concerned or aware that “the heart is deceitful above all things”(Jeremiah 17:9). They think if you don’t live according to how you feel, then you are a hypocrite.
Similarly, the religious often tend to follow their hearts. Because they are being true to themselves they want their worship to be authentic. For most this means they need to feel something at church. If they don’t then it can’t be real. Because of this there is a trend towards concert style music with dark lights where you lose yourself in the music and ‘feel’ the Holy Spirit (or maybe it’s just bass) pumping through your veins. For the same reason there is also a different trend towards deep liturgy in services. This group wants to do what the ancient church did, they want to get back to the roots and be real and authentic. Frequently in church people don’t understand what is happening and end up feeling bored. When these deep liturgical elements are added they feel as if more is happening.
When we are reaching out to the younger generation for the gospel, we need to be authentic. They can tell if we’re trying to put on a show or cater to one specific audience. Instead focus on Christ and serving him. If He is the main focus, they will sense that and want to be a part of it.
The main struggle with this generation is fighting against feelings taking the first place and putting truth, in particularly God’s Word, in the foremost position. They may come ready to accept the Gospel, but still want to believe that other religions are fine for other people if they really believe them and feel they are right. Time and patience is needed to show how we can love others and yet disagree with them.
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?
Kerri Ann: The first thing I would note is that a church’s website is the new front door. Before someone even visits your church building they are going to check out the church online. If the website looks like its been made in the 90s, has too much text, and has links that don’t work, then more then just a sign that the congregation might be a bit older. It signals to millennials that the church isn’t competent. It can lead them to think that if the website isn’t put together then the church service won’t be either.
Another key area for churches to focus on is Podcasts/Sermon Audio pages. Millennials are used to having a good idea of what they are going to experience before they ever set foot in a store or restaurant. They want the same from a church. Being able to listen to a pastor’s sermon is a huge plus. And as for millennial members, they like to listen in car rides, on runs, around the house, etc. They tend to be a generation that is uncomfortable with silence and being alone with one’s thoughts because they grew up never needing to be alone. If they missed church one Sunday or want to listen to a past sermon series, many would readily turn to an audio archive.
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?
Kerri Ann: Having places in the church to address issues milliennials are seeking answers to is a great way engage with their questions and seek answers together. Small groups or “Pizza and Theology” nights, for example, are avenues to address topics such as discrimination, mass shootings, immigration, mental illness, pro-life movements, or Christianity and art. Each church needs to see what its members and visitors are questioning and be willing to do some research and look for answers together that will lead them all to glorify God.
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.
Kerri Ann: One challenge we face in reaching this generation is that we are firm on the truth, which is obviously something we will never/should never change. I think we need to work on showing how there is one way, one truth, one life, but if you don’t follow that way that doesn’t mean the church hates you or is judging you.
Many OPC churches also face the problem of welcoming in young professionals who aren’t married, or married women who are in the work place. There is a strong emphasis on getting married and, for the women especially, to then be in the home and home schooling. We need to find balance in these issues, and we need to learn to fellowship with single millennials in a way that isn’t always trying to set them up with all the other single people in the church. Young women who want to work shouldn’t feel like they are sinning in doing so. God has given us all different talents and callings. The millennial generation is filled with hard workers who are often passionate about their work. Encourage them to go and be a light in these places.
A theological problem we face is turning our worship services into lectures rather than preaching. The preacher should be able to speak to the newest believer and the life-long theologian in the same sermon. The gospel is for everyone and we can’t expect newly visiting millennials to do their research so they can catch up with the rest of the congregation. The OPC is thought by many to be too heady. We need to learn how to value truth and theology, and make it accessible to everyone.