Know Jesus—No evolution / No Jesus—Know evolution
Know Jesus—No progressive political views / No Jesus—Know progressive political views
Know Jesus—No gay friends / No Jesus—Know gay friends
Know Jesus—No dialogue about social justice / No Jesus—Know dialogue about social justice
Know Jesus—No climate change / No Jesus—Know climate change
Know Jesus—No science / No Jesus—Know science
Last week I was talking to a Millennial co-worker in Boulder about his faith journey. Nick eagerly let me know that he was very familiar with church. He had gone to a parochial school through high school and became absolutely enamored with the beauty and logic of science during his later years of high school. It was in his senior year of high school where he was told that he couldn’t believe in God and science at the same time. They were contradictory truth systems and he’d have to choose. And Nick chose science. Nick is a very good young man and a great software engineer. He’s still a seeker exploring other avenues to spirituality but he joins the 33% of adults in the U.S. who were once very active in church but now are completely de-churched. Nick is part of the 1/3 of all Millennials who according to Barna believe the church is totally out of step with science.
In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinneman identifies six reasons twenty-somethings are dropping out of church. The church being “anti-science” is among them. He writes,
Many young Christians have come to the conclusion that faith and science are incompatible. Yet they see the mostly helpful role science plays in the world they inhabit—in medicine, personal technology, travel, care of the natural world, and other areas. What’s more, science seems accessible in a way that the church does not; science appears to welcome questions and skepticism, while matters of faith seem impenetrable.[i]
Why do people leave the church? Researchers can give you a plethora of insights here but I suspect that many, like my friend Nick have concluded that the church table is not set for them. Nick was asked to choose between Science and God. There was no middle ground for dialogue, or ongoing discussion. His journey of faith and discovery played no part in the church’s answer. Truth is, there are a lot of binary, black and white choices young people are asked to make to stay in good standing in the church (see the above memes). And when they are asked to choose, Millennials more often than not follow their own hearts and leave.
Is there a better way? Is there a way where church can be a place of first answers not just final answers in matters beyond…say the Apostle’s Creed? Can the church be a safe and welcoming space for exploration and curiosity? Can we move from “either-or” to a conversation about “both-and?” (I’d hate to see us have to define whether Jesus was the Alpha OR the Omega, or whether he was full of grace OR full of truth.) As you have probably discovered, Millennials are very comfortable with “Know Jesus–Know Craft Beer…Know Evolution…Know Gay Friends, etc.” They did not inherit many of our same boxes. Will Millennials be given real opportunities to shape the church experience as much as the Boomers did (Chuck Smith, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, etc.)?
[i] Kinneman, David. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. Baker Books (Grand Rapids) 2011. P 92