To reach Millennials, do we need a politically-active, “progressive” Christianity?
That’s the advice given in two articles about reaching millennials written by a Millennial.
Sure, being a millennial does NOT make someone an expert in reaching millennials.
And yes, the titles of the articles Churches Could Fill Their Pews With Millennials If They Did Just This and Christianity Needs a Progressive Revolution) might indicate a certain naiveté.
Those of you who actually know how hard it is to “fill the pews” will be tempted to dismiss these articles. You will correctly surmise that the author, as the title suggests, thinks there is a one ingredient formula to “filling the pews” with Millenials. You know that’s too simplistic.
Others of you may dismiss it because you know “filling the pews” with Millennial is not the goal anyway.
But, as the GOP and DNC debates and the upcoming presidential elections take center stage, it’s a political season in the USA again. And, the author seems well intentioned, good hearted, and motivated. So, let’s stop for a moment and consider this question: Do we need a politically-active Progressive Christianity in order to reach Millennials?
As the second title suggests, the author believes that Christianity needs a progressive revolution. In the USA, theologically conservative people often identify closely with politically conservative ideology. That’s often a problem.
For example, how does a religious movement that has at its core a story of immigrants — Abraham was an immigrant, Moses and Israel were immigrants, Jesus was the ultimate immigrant, and the church is instructed to migrate to the nations and is characterized as pilgrims and strangers in the world — and that is called upon to love the stranger and the foreigner not lean towards favoring immigrants?
Or, how does a faith commanded to be stewards of creation not take the world’s ecosystem seriously?
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the church’s message from the conservative message. In part, it’s because the American experience is seasoned with biblical influences. In part, it’s because of syncretism. We have married gospel and culture and sometimes can’t tell the difference.
The author of the article believes that, because Millennials tend towards more liberal politics, the key to reaching millennials is to create politically active progressive churches.
Is a counterpart to the religious right what we really need to reach millennials?
In the article, the author describes a bit of his experience when returning to his former church.
“…this was an LGBT-accepting church. Nobody mentioned hell or punishment, nor was abortion ever a topic. On paper, it was the perfect church for me.
I haven’t been back since that visit and don’t intend to. I still feel bad because many of the members were noticeably excited to have me as a new, younger member, but it simply did not offer what I am looking for in a church — and what I’m certain most people my age are also looking for.”
I know what you’re thinking. The author is projecting his own preferences on other Millennials. (I’m sure that Conservative and Libertarian Millenials might have different ideas about how to reach their own generation). But let’s stay with it. Here are a couple of more excerpts to give the gist.
“The church I briefly attended … met all the criteria that someone like me should require: welcoming, friendly, not dogmatic.
So what were they missing?”
Millennials are not interested in a celestial Jesus with a permanent smile and open arms, unconcerned with the goings-on of planet Earth. We’ve heard about that Jesus our entire lives, and we’re not buying it.”
“Those of us that are amenable to the idea of joining a congregation want it to mean something. We want more than just a group of people to sing songs and hold hands with. Those of us that are open to such things are the same ones who are active and engaged in the world around us, which, unfortunately for mainline denominations, includes politics.”
Here’s what I’m hearing. From the point of view of the author, millennials want churches that serve the progressive agenda. If churches do this one thing, then millennials will flock back to church.
What is this church like?
It seems (from the second article, Christianity Needs a Progressive Revolution) that what the author wants is a Christian church for people like him — one that…
- stands with Planned Parenthood (that sells baby parts for a profit)
- rises up to silence the heroes who fight for the lives of the most vulnerable among us, namely pre-born infants,
- limits liberty and advocates for the (failed) economic socialist/Marxist agenda, an economics fueled by envy and class hatred
- (in keeping with the progressive agenda) will make the saying “all human lives matter” a form of hate speech, and
- champions the “right” to indulge any individual desire regardless of its consequences to society, especially children.
In other words, he wants a church that will be as polarized as American politics. That way, he and his progressive peers will have somewhere they can go to church.
Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
Do we really want to tie the noose of these political positions around the neck of the church? Sure, we could have created this same list reflecting “leftist” sympathies. But why? I’m not trying to be sympathetic to “leftist” intentions. I’m suggesting we should not seek to intentionally tie the message of the gospel and Christ to a political flavor. We do this too much already without intention.
In this second article, he concludes with this thought,
“What millennials want, and what Christians need, is to not be safe. Christians should be on the front lines of all of these issues and more, fighting for God’s justice. As I said before: political action is worship, and social justice is love.”
Is political action worship? Which political actions?
Is social justice love? What kind of society will this envisioned “justice” create?
I’m starting to suspect that political “leftism” or “progressivism” has become a fast growing religion. The author is here demonstrating a good strategy. He would like to conscript the church into the progressive movement. In other words, political progressives like the author want to evangelize the church to their vision of the world.
So, what do you think?
Is a politically active progressive church what is needed to reach millennials? While it’s true that the church is declining in attendance, where Millennials are being reached, it isn’t by progressive churches. My understanding is that, where they are being reached, it is through conservative mega-churches — far more than progressive or emerging churches.
It isn’t enough for a church to be progressive. What the author wants is a politically-active progressive church. Is this what Christianity needs? Questions that come to mind are:
- Will a politically active progressive church reach progressive (vs conservative or libertarian) millennials?
- Will it reach them for Christ or for the progressive agenda?
- Is the progressive agenda the 21st century equivalent of the agenda of Christ?
But is the progressive movement really where the action is? It takes a biblical imagination to understand that the halls of political power are not the locus of God’s activity. The action is found in those times and places where the resurrected Jesus by the power of the spirit calls women and men to follow him, where the darkness is cast out and the light enters, where the power of Satan is neutralized and the power of God sets people free, reconciles enemies, and heals the broken.
Let’s disregard the fact (as the author apparently has) that politically active progressive churches aren’t setting a high bar for reaching Millennials. While I’m sure there are some outstanding examples out there, I suspect that they’re worse at reaching Millennials than conservative churches. Just look at the author’s own experience. According to him, he won’t go back to his progressive church. Churches that apply the author’s advice don’t fare well with anybody much less with Millennials.
It seems proverbial that conservative churches do better at reaching Millennials than progressive churches. It’s a suspicion I’m going to check. I also suspect that conservative Mega-churches and high-impact church plants (that are not “mega”) do better at reaching Millennials than progressive, organic churches. That’s another suspicion worth fact checking.
But reaching Millennials and having them “fill our pews” isn’t the goal anyway. It isn’t enough to ask, how do we fill our pews with Millennials?
We must ask, for what are we seeking to reach Millennials?
Even if the author’s strategy of creating “politically active” progressive churches would work, no one needs a church that gives itself to the agenda of progressive Millennials in order to fill the pews. What every Millennial (and every church) really needs is to give themselves to the way of Christ.
I think this is what the author truly wants.
What Millennials need, what we all need, is not a progressive Christianity. That would be as creepy as a traditional and conservative Christianity. What we need is a humanity shaped by the power of the spirit of Christ to engaged the challenges of an unimaginable future together.
Jesus gave us a way to understand the world and to live in it. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t point to the left or to the right when it comes to political affiliation. He points forward towards a third way. The progressive and politically activist left is not the future and the church should not tie itself to it. Any millennials a progressive church reaches will be left in the dustbins. The political right is not the future either. Not.
The church, as tied to history and culture as it is, is about the future. In it believers are called to explore the contours of a future in which Christ is Lord. It is called to be an expression of that universal future today in the particular ecosystem of present relationships called the church. It is not called to be progressive or conservative. It is called to be faithful and hopeful and truthful to Christ and willing to risk following him to wherever he is taking the world.