In case you missed it, there is a hilarious Tumblr blog floating the web that depicts "Why Millennials Don't Go to Church" in LOLCat format. One picture featured twirling cats and the words, "We can haz liturgical dance to attract the youngz" and another showed a cat lounging on top of a guitar asking, "Maybe u would like a praise band?"
OK, I realize that you might not be laughing, but I sure was. While some might consider the format utterly ridiculous, it is undeniable that these silly pictures' messages capture a hunk of truth. Christian denominations are trying to crack the code when it comes to attracting Millennials to their congregations. But as recent news suggests, the successful formula has little to do with popular Christian trends.
This week I learned that the church denomination I was raised in, Assemblies of God, is booming. According to an Assemblies of God (AG) press release, denominational membership increased 1.4 percent to 1,805,381 and major worship service attendance grew 2.0 percent to 1,918,686. More hopeful is that Millennials encompass of 21 percent of growth over the last decade.
Keep in mind the Assemblies of God tradition is not known for bending conviction to culture for the sake of attendance. Believe me, the AG is anything but squishy on hot topic issues like same-sex "marriage" and abortion.
Many liberals among the Religious elite would prescribe the AG denomination to that harsh "fundamentalist" category. Remember back in the spring when World Vision made its flippant choice to embrace employee's same-sex "marriages" and later reversing the decision after contributors expressed their outrage? It was the Assemblies of God General Superintendent, George O. Wood, who encouraged AG members to "begin gradually shifting their support…to Assemblies of God World Missions, and other Pentecostal and evangelical charities that maintain biblical standards of sexual morality."
Wood's words clearly demonstrate the AG's stand for matrimony within the "culture wars." Even liberal blogger Rachel Held Evans assumed conservative evangelical traditions including the Assemblies of God are "losing a generation to the culture wars." Yet, the AG is thriving with youth and diversity.
Over at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), our new project "The Local Church" is uncovering a similar trend regarding where Millennials are attending church in Washington D.C.
You see, the nation's capital is filled with huge, sanctuaries waving rainbow-colored banners outside proclaiming the congregations' affirmation of homosexual lifestyles. Yet they are, largely, empty on Sunday mornings. On the other hand, new conservative churches-some with liturgy and others with praise bands-are busting at the seams with Millennial attendants.
Trying to uncover the reason for this disconnect between affirming liberal churches and welcoming conservative churches, IRD is interviewing pastors of these new conservative churches. Our biggest question raised to each pastor is, "How do you balance traditional Christian teaching with a youth culture?"
By talking with Pastor Nathan Keeler of McLean Bible Church Arlington, one of the most attractive churches to D.C. Millennials, I learned that Christian teaching always trumps cultural fads. Pastor Keeler explained that at his church, "We preach the Bible, we preach what the Bible has to say, and if we are coming in a particular passage of Scripture that talks on issues- homosexuality, on issues of sanctity of life, the role of the Christian within their government, the role of government as a whole-when we get to those issues in scripture, we preach what the [Scriptures] say and then we'll move on."
Not letting the hot topic discussions fall flat, however, MBC Arlington even hosts workshops to delve deeper into these "culture war" issues. According to Pastor Keeler, "[W]hat we do on hot-button issues (stewardship, dating life, sexuality, marriage, drinking, etc.), is we host workshops where we get to look at a particular issue and address it from a Biblical worldview in a deeper way where we are engaging in the discussion more than we would from the pulpit."
So, dear reader, what does this tell us about where Millennials are attending church? Conservative Christian traditions. Surprised? Don't be.
Millennials don't need cultural fads and popular pundits to tell us what faith and worldview is en vogue. An unabridged version of the Gospel always has been and will always be attractive. Not because of cultural trends, but because of its captivating content.