Ask, "Where are we failing?"
There is nothing new in saying that churches need to strive for authenticity in order to connect with Millennials. We’ve been making that argument on this blog for years. The challenge is to discover where you’re missing the mark and to correct course, because oftentimes we’re blind to our own sins. When there is a plank in our own eye, everyone can see it but us.
So how do you discover if the plank is there? And how do you remove it?
You ask for help.
Jeff Brumley of Baptist News Global writes that there is something all churches can do to reach Millennials but few which churches practice: listening to Millennials to be sure congregational culture and doctrine match up.
They’ll tell you the truth, if you can stomach it.
An assessment question that I’ve encountered in numerous congregational contexts, whether in staff meetings or in informal surveys of congregants is, “Where is God at work? Where are we getting it right?” That’s a good question. When the Holy Spirit is healing hearts, restoring brokenness, and bringing people to faith the church should celebrate. There are numerous ways God is always at work in any congregation. The challenge is to notice. Sometimes God’s work is quiet and small. When God is working, the right response is praise.
But a question seldom asked is, “Where are we getting it wrong? Where are we missing the mark?” Healthy institutions have to sniff out corruption, decay, and drift, and leaders have to be the most tenacious in rooting it out. The truth is that people will try to hide the warts from those in leadership, either because they do not want to be a burden, upset another person, or to be perceived negatively. But if leaders do not ask tough questions about how their ministry is doing, maintenance mode is right around the corner and decline is inevitable.
If you’re bold enough to seek out Millennials and ask this question, you may hear answers that target a specific model of ministry or reveal something as small as a difference in musical preference. You might also unearth personality conflicts or discover something new about the faith background of those in your congregation. Some things should be noted but not necessarily acted upon.
You may also find ways those in your congregation have been well-discipled. That would be reason for rejoicing. Conversely, you may see attitudes and ways of thinking that diverge from the best of your theological tradition. It is important to listen to differences and concerns and to be receptive, even when you disagree.
Your greatest concern should always be gaps between your public proclamation and your public witness. If you hear of hypocrisy, arrogance, self-centeredness, lying, gossip, infidelity, and disunity, you know there is challenging and meaningful work to do in the name of Jesus Christ.
No congregation will be perfect. Churches are more like hospitals for sinners than they are cathedrals for saints, places of healing rather than places of completeness. People generally accept missteps here and there if they know there are clear standards, accountability, and leaders who wish to help and to serve.
But if you say one thing and do another, it won’t only be Millennials who leave and never return.
Pastors and church leaders should firmly grasp that in Christ we are fully secure and never in trouble, and therefore we have nothing to fear in prayerfully asking others in our congregation to help us see where we need to grow. Ask Millennials to help you call your congregation to a greater degree of faithfulness, to help you hold the congregation accountable, and to walk with you as you follow after Christ.