Hope and the American Church

I spoke recently in a church that had a large number of college students. Indeed the presence of the university in the town was so dominant that the community was best known as a college town. After one of the worship services, a young college student sought me out. He just wanted to talk. The conversation was not that long, about twenty minutes; but it was of sufficient length to introduce me to several facts about the college sophomore.

He told me that he came from a middle-class home in a neighboring state. He was a middle child, and had that quick wit that I notice in many middle children. The young man was a finance major. Since that was my major in college many years ago, we talked about the pros and cons of that academic path.

The Unspiritual Generation

Naturally, since we were in a church, our conversation moved to matters of faith and spirituality. He shared with me that his parents rarely attended church. There was certainly no expectation for him to be in church as he grew up. Indeed, matters of spirituality were really never discussed in his home.

At this point in the conversation, the young man fit well the profile of the Millennials I have been studying for several months. My youngest son, Jess Rainer, and I are working on a book called The Millennials, which includes a massive survey of the older portion of this generation. As a reminder, we date the Millennials' birth years between 1980 and 2000.

So when the young man told me that he grew up in a non-spiritual home, I was not surprised. Our study showed that only 13 percent of this generation considers any form of spirituality important. Of course, my obvious question asked why he was in church now. What moved him from no interest in spiritual matters to attending church regularly?

His response caused me to ponder.

Looking for Hope

"You know, Dr. Rainer," he began. "There are so many reasons to be hopeless in this world. You can't listen to or read anything without feeling a sense of hopelessness. I started attending this church because I was looking for hope."

Read that sentence one more time: "I started attending this church because I was looking for hope."

He then shared with me that he had visited several churches in his hometown looking for hope. His parents really didn't mind one way or the other. But in each church he visited, he sensed as much hopelessness there as in the world beyond the churches. "It just seems that a lot of churches are going through the motions. I could sense no life, especially no hope."

Our conversation concluded as I asked him what brought him to the university in the town. I should have anticipated his answer. He had visited the church where we were that day while he was visiting the school. It was the church that helped him decide to attend that particular university.

"I guess I found a church with hope," he said with a faint smile. "That's why I'm at this school today."

As I walked away, he asked me a question with total sincerity. "Do you have any idea why there are so many hopeless churches today? It really seems counterintuitive."

When Hope Comes to Church

It is counterintuitive. We have the greatest Hope in the world. We have the promise of the resurrection. We have Jesus.

But we know the story. In too many churches "minors" become "majors" and focus is lost. Critics outnumber the messengers of hope. And "that's the way we've always done it" becomes the death cry of too many congregations.

He was looking for hope.

The Church must be the messenger of Hope.

Time is too short.

It's time for hope.