It seems like you can’t go online anymore without reading an article about millenials and their relationship to church. Are they going to church? If so why? Are they not going to church? If so why not? How do churches keep millenials in the pews? Is it a losing battle to try? I’m not nearly capable of speaking for my generation (nor frankly would I want to). But I decided I wanted to shed some light on what keeps me attending the church I attend and why I love it so much.
I graduated from college and moved back home knowing I wanted to find a new church. I absolutely loved the church I grew up in, but I knew there weren’t many people my age attending, and I just felt like it was time for a change. I began trying lots of local churches around me. It was hard. Really hard. There was nothing inherently wrong with the places I was visiting, but I just couldn’t find a place that felt like home. I firmly believe in the importance of being a part of a community of believers so it was really bothering me that I couldn’t find a place to call my own. I began to read some of the types of articles mentioned above and got even more frustrated. I didn’t like being painted with a “too picky” brush and that’s what I felt like some people assumed were the reason millenials couldn’t find a church. I am well aware there is no such thing as a perfect church. But I didn’t think my standards were too high
As time went on however, I began to wonder if it wasn’t time to lower them. It was going on two years since I had moved home and I still hadn’t found a place I wanted to attend regularly. Then almost 2 years ago to the day I got a call from my best friend AJ. She was living in Philly and also looking for a new church. She had received a mailer that a new church was starting up a few block away from her apartment. She was going to go the following Sunday and wanted to know if I wanted to come in and go with her. I said sure all the time assuming it would be a one week trip. I live in New Jersey and there was no way I was commuting into Philly every Sunday for church. But sure I could do it for one Sunday.
That Sunday AJ and I showed up on the doorstep of CityLife Church and before the service was over I thought “oh boy I guess I’m commuting into Philly for church now.” When I say I instantly knew I belonged there I am not exaggerating. From the moment we walked in it was like God was affirming that I wasn’t wrong to hold tight to my wish list. It sounds like a cliche but CityLife felt like home the moment I walked inside. I wanted to touch on a few of the reasons why CityLife became my home church and what I’m so grateful I get to go there every Sunday.
1) Friendly people: I’ve been in church culture literally my entire life. I know what friendly usually means in churches. It means someone says “hi” to you when you walk in the door and MAYBE another person says “hi” when the pastor tells the congregation to great someone they don’t know before sitting down. (But let’s be serious usually that second “hi” isn’t a guarantee since most people if they talk to anyone at all it’s usually the person sitting right next to them that they probably already know.) But, when we walked into CityLife the person at the door walked with us all the way into lobby talking the whole time. She wanted to know our names, where we were from, what brought us to Philly, and if there was anything she could do to make us feel more comfortable. And it wasn’t just AJ and I that received this treatment. I saw people that came in alone not only get the same walk and talk, but also asked if they needed someone to sit with! What was this? A church where people weren’t just polite but actually friendly? I firmly believe that this attitude starts a wonderful circle. People are treated so nicely when they first come to CityLife that they themselves go on the lookout to treat new people the same way they were treated. I know this was true for me. To this day when I see someone I don’t know at church I find myself walking over to introduce myself and make sure that they know there is an open seat next to me if they need it. (It’s a great way to make new friends also. It’s how I met my friend Linda who was mentioned in my blog earlier this week).
2) Relevant preaching: It can be tough to be a pastor of this I am sure. I think one of the toughest parts must be preparing messages that are accessible to those who are coming into the building for the first time and those who have been there many many many weeks. I’m so grateful that Pastor Brad and his staff manage to hit this marker every single Sunday. I don’t pretend to think that I am this spiritually mature person who knows everything there is to know about life and godliness. (Seriously if I did think that it would be super prideful and proof that I actually don’t know everything there is to know.) Having said this, I have regularly attended church my entire life and feel very much in the “solid food” part of my spritual meal. In Corinthians Paul writes that when we are new in the faith we don’t learn the way we learn when we are older in the faith. He says in chapter 3 verse 1-2 “I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.” The church is the only organization that exists for those who are not already a part of it (copyright Pastor Brad’s sermon last week I’m not that pithy). It is imperative that the preaching be accessible for the one who has never heard anything about Jesus before in his or her life. CityLife does this each and every week, and there is always an opportunity for those who are far from Christ to come close to him. What makes CityLife really special to me is that the team manages to accomplish this while still feeding solid food to the rest of the its body. Each week there is a fundamental lesson being preached that also reaches me in my almost 22 year walk of faith. This is special. This is rare. This why I love CityLife
3) A focus on the outward community: I mentioned in my last blog that CityLife is located in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. Another reason I keep coming back to CityLife is because I know they are committed to making an impact in the community in which they live. I was reminded of how much I appreciated this last Sunday. Pastor Brad was preaching the parable of the King who after his subjects make excuses not to come to his banquet invites the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor to come and eat at his table. Pastor Brad was driving home how important it is to reach the one right outside our door and bring them into the party. He said God has called me to be a witness. What does this mean? What does a witness do in a trial? She gets up in front of the court and says what she knows. She isn’t the prosecutor or the defender. She’s just a witness. (This is a paraphrase by the way) He continued that the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to defend him and Jesus doesn’t need us to prosecute anyone on his behalf. They just want us to get up there, tell our story, and invite people to the party. And when they come to our party we don’t say “you can’t come to the party until you change your clothes/walk differently/talk differently/act differently.” We just invite them in.
4) Diversity within the body: A month ago I attended a seminar put on by the Evangelical Society for Social Action. There were many speakers on many topics but one really stuck out to me. The woman spoke about how the church body should not all the look the same and come from the same socioeconomic backgrounds. Just like in our physical bodies each part looks different and has different functions, so must our spiritual bodies be the same. We will never grow in empathy and love in our geographical communities until we can identify with and love the “other” in our church communities. I’m so glad that when I look around CityLife I don’t see a sea of people who look like me, talk like me, think like me, and live like me. The body is diverse and we need every single part.
Those things things I just wrote? If your church isn’t at least attempting those things that’s probably why there aren’t many millenials in your church. (I know I said I wouldn’t speak for my whole generation so maybe I should have just said that’s why I wouldn’t be in your church. Oh well) I see how hard it is for my friends who want to be in a church family but can’t seem to find that place where they belong. I see that and I cry for them. I pray that God will bring them to a place where they can feel at home the way I do at CityLife. Sure it takes me an hour to ride the train into the city and walk to church, but it’s worth it. I know what’s like to search for two years and not find what you are looking for. I found it and I’m holding on with both hands as hard as I can while also telling others about it as often as possible.
Tomorrow CityLife is celebrating its two year anniversary! If you live in the area and haven’t found a church home yet please give CityLife a try. Come this Sunday! We’re having a party to celebrate out birthday! (Hot dogs are being provided by Underdogs a great hot dog place in Rittenhouse) I’ll be there, thanking God for finding me a place to call home.
Here’s the website if you want to check it out http://www.citylifephilly.com/
I want to hear from you. What keeps you in or out of church? What do you think about all the press lately about millenials and the church?