Next generation of church planters, members seeking deeper involvement
Dudley Chancey, associate professor of youth ministry for Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, is in the process of a research project investigating that trend.
“There’s no involvement, no investment,” said Chancey, a board member for the National Conference on Youth Ministries, which provides training for men and women involved in youth ministry across the nation.
That could be a huge problem for Churches of Christ, Chancey said. If the millennial generation can’t feel like they belong or can be involved at one church, they’ll migrate to a church where they can.
According to a survey conducted by The Association of Religion Data Archives at Pennsylvania State University, membership in Protestant churches has decreased steadily from about 2002. But some groups, including community churches, saw memberships double.
“The idea of brand loyalty is waning,” said Matthew Blake, 29, young adults minister for Central church in Amarillo, Texas. “There is still some semblance of this idea, and I think it is found more so in young adults who have grown up in conservative Churches of Christ. I think brand loyalty was a much bigger deal for earlier generations.”
The millennial generation, Blake said, is looking for an authentic way of life, and if Churches of Christ can’t change to meet that need, then fewer and fewer of the millennial younger generation will look to the church for guidance.
Michael Potthoff, 27, has served as minister for the Dequincy, La., church for about a year. He said he’s noticed that the millennial generation, while not discarding doctrine, has become much more concerned with seeing those biblical principles lived out. It’s much less about tradition and more about living well.
“People want to be unified in the churches even if they disagree,” Potthoff said.
The Dequincy church hosts classes on Sunday mornings where young adults are able to ask honest questions — and not feel bad for asking them, Potthoff said. Many of the questions deal with young church members’ search for unity.
Young church members also are looking for a place where they feel comfortable, said Ryan Lee, 26, a member of the Naperville, Ill., church.
But Lee said he’s concerned that younger churchgoers make church too comfortable — at the expense of sound, biblical doctrine.
“I think the doctrine is the strongest thing the Church of Christ has,” Lee said. “As a Church of Christ member, I am more apt to stay in the Church of Christ because the doctrine is simply God’s inspired word.”
Blake shares this concern, and fears that some younger Christians — and their parents — are trying to “live out the values of popular culture along with a watered-down version of Christianity,” he said.
Consumerism also has changed the way the millennial generation searches for faith, lending itself to a kind of “cafeteria Christianity,” said Stephen Kellat, a 25-year-old church member from Nevada.
“Someone can pick and choose what they like until frankly nothing means anything,” Kellat said. “Being a practitioner of cafeteria Christianity means that if Church of Christ tradition looks like too much of a burden, then you’ll shy away and try to find a fit elsewhere.”
Chancey hopes his research will give a clearer picture of the millennial generation in Churches of Christ.
Meanwhile, churches should strive to create an atmosphere that the millennial generation can identify with, he said.
“We don’t seem to get it that if we don’t do something today, they’re not going to be here tomorrow,” Chancey said.
July 1, 2007