As Millennials reject organized religion and leave the church to never return, many bluster about the implications of such trends. Some secularists take this as a signal of their victory over religion; while many Christians wring their hands and furrow their brows as to what we can do differently to attract millennials. Christians have largely responded to this crisis in two ways. Either they go the route of high church formalism, crafting liturgies full of sanctimonious “mystery”. Or else they bring in the most bizarre forms of entertainment to try to perpetuate the good times these Millennials had in youth group; nothing like nostalgia, right? One route is über-sacramental living mumbo jumbo, the other is just mumble-jumble. The striking thing though is that for all these efforts, Millennials still have lost interest in the church. Before we concede that the Church has bungled this entire generation, and let the secularists gloat that they’ve taken one more step in sidelining religion, we must take a firm stand that mankind is, at his core, religious.
We were made in a sanctuary, and it was in this Garden-sanctuary that we broke fellowship with our Creator. We have not forgotten the worship we were called to render Him, and so we have spent millennia worshipping pseudo-gods, hoping to atone for our misconduct. It really is inescapable, this thing known as worship. The fact that Millennials have walked out of the door of the Christian religion, does not mean that the have suddenly enter the Twilight Zone where religion can’t go. Rather, they’ve very quickly constituted their own church.
Case in point is this news story about Amazon HQ in Seattle opening a homeless shelter. Google and other companies have done similarly. The human heart is a factory of idols, as Calvin wonderfully said, and this is quite evidently the Millennials’ attempt to form a diaconal board in the Church of Secularism. It’ll even come with two day shipping. We should be grateful that private companies have entered in upon caring for the poor. But notice how the Millennial tendency is to view this as an act of duty, a sacrament even.
A duty? To whom? Our fellow man? Why should we care about him? We see that what really follows from all this is a shared system of religious values, despite their alleged abandonment of “organized religion.” The irony is as thick as a $14 cup of free trade coffee. The fact that Millennials are not attending Christian churches anymore, simply means they have “transferred their membership.” This should hearten us. It is not as if the human nature has changed, but rather a false god has enticed and deluded this generation. As Christians, we know how this plays out, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction are certain to come. Which means that we must not try to coax them back with the false gods of either liturgy or entertainment.
Millennials are not a different species, and the human heart is fully revealed and explained to us in Scripture. This means that what we must ask is not what is relevant to Millennials, but what is relevant. The Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Pt. 1:24-25), so it would be nothing but folly for us to proclaim and present anything other than the authoritative Word. Tradition & trends both are inadequate foundations for the soul to build upon.
There isn’t a place or people on this planet that can escape the fact that we are wired to worship. Secularism has enticed a large swath of the Millennial generation and catechized them to think that “good works” are the way to please the gods. Their sense of morality–their God-given conscience, albeit darkened by sin–leaves them with a sense of obligation and duty to worship and serve God by loving their neighbor. This of course drives them to do the sort of things Amazon is up to. Yet, by doing so without the undergirding foundation of doing it all to the glory of the Triune God, it will all crumble to dust. All their good works are simply vague tributes thrown to the void, which will only lead them to the inevitable question, “Does any of this really matter?”
When Millennials come around to this question, we must be ready to meet them there with the plain truth of Scripture, and unapologetically proclaim that. That is after all the only place where redemption and healing are found. The Church of Secularism has had lots of transfers in this generation, but we must not forget that worshipping the void will leave Millennials empty. You become like what you worship, and Secularism’s god is one of nothingness. Their good deed program has no context without a Risen Christ; and Millennials will come to realize this and either repent or rebel intractably. How do we know? There’s nothing new under the sun, and this is a truth which every generation must face. It must be either down with their particular idols, up with King Jesus, or down with Jesus, up with their idols.