Why Choose Church?
Marilyn McEntyre has written a fabulous essay appearing in the Fall 2017 edition of Comment entitled, “Choosing Church.” You can read the article online here. Taking part in a church fellowship is a choice, one that is seldom made among Millennials and Generation Z. Why should one choose to take part in the life of a local body of followers of Christ?
McEntyre notes several reasons to avoid attending church in her essay:
Some churches are clubby and exclusionary.
Some churches offer easy, oversimplified preachments that provide scant help to those grappling with the complexities of contemporary life.
Some churches' efforts to be relevant lure them into imitating popular culture in language, music, and technology, all rather less effectually than their secular counterparts.
Some churches are boring.
Some churches are partisan.
Further, she curtails her list because it is both depressing and there are no shortage of reasons to stay clear of certain churches. But her list is helpful because it is honest. Churches can become cliquish, shallow, inauthentic, dull, and unapologetically sectarian. And all of these can be cause for Millennials and Gen Z’ers to abandon church.
If your congregation wants to reach future generations with the gospel, it is helpful to be evaluative and discerning concerning the overall health of your congregation as well as the manner in which you conduct your ministry. Churches are never perfect, as they are composed of sinners who have been redeemed and are still on the way. But it is reasonable to expect your congregation to be welcoming to outsiders, honest about the complexities of life, authentic in their expressions of worship, joyful, and bold in confessing a foremost allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. Whether you are a congregant or a pastoral leader, you may be the person called to offer a prophetic word regarding the present state of affairs in your fellowship and then help lead the way toward an increase in faithfulness.
McEntyre also notes reasons to attend a healthy church:
A healthy church will help you get over yourself.
A healthy church will allow you to acknowledge guilt and experience forgiveness.
A healthy church will invite you into countercultural community.
A healthy church will give you access to a treasury of words and music.
Healthy churches are places of divine encounter.
Just as McEntyre’s list of reasons to avoid church may cause us to reevaluate the well-being of our fellowship, these positives may help us connect with Millennials and Gen Z’ers. We have a case to make. If someone has never been part of a Christian fellowship they may wonder why such a choice would be beneficial or wise.
While all five reasons are valid, I believe the last is the most important. Recently I attended a lecture at Baylor University by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The lecture, “Is There a Future for Evangelical Cultural Engagement?” was sponsored by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
Moore observed that a secularized culture will discard the church the moment the goods it offers can be obtained just as easily elsewhere. Therefore, the divine encounter is of greatest importance, found most fully and profoundly in the preaching of the cross of Jesus as our means of redemption and as the way of our sanctification. Churches have focused on felt needs, like raising good children, having strong marriages, and managing one’s finances, when answers to those questions are just as readily available from secular sources. But what makes Christianity distinctive is the cross in its redemptive power and indispensability for the path of discipleship.
Millennials and Gen Z’ers who are disaffiliated and among the “nones” will already have sources they have chosen for wisdom concerning the felt needs in their life. While I do not discount programs, classes, and sermons that address those needs, those efforts must always be cast in light of the Gospel. In John 12:32, Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John tells us that Jesus said this to suggest the kind of death he would die upon the cross. How strange that the crucifixion would be the very point at which God would be found attractive. But it is upon the cross that we see the love of God for those who fall short, which exalts and humbles us at the very same time. It draws us near and supplies us with grace. It gives us a reason to choose church, for in Christ we have been made part of the company of the redeemed. We choose church, for we have been chosen.
Even still, this is a case that must be made. McEntyre helps us along the way. Her justifications for choosing church are exquisitely stated. These truths should be proclaimed. They must also be embodied. It is one thing to tell the next generation what we believe, and yet another to demonstrate our convictions through our love.