A favorite phrase in the church, I’m talking churches everywhere, not just our church, a favorite phrase is, “that’s not how we’ve always done things.” I can understand this. We all want things to be the way that is familiar to us. We want things to go the way we think is best, because it has worked in the past. That’s not how we’ve always done things isn’t a phrase for just the church, though. Many people see the world changing and think it was so much simpler when…That’s the secular way of saying that’s not how it should be.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Millenials, everyone 35 to let’s say 18. They are the ones all churches want to bring into the church. It’s not that we’ve lost them. We want them to come to church, because they don’t know the church. More than that, they don’t know the Gospel. They may catch glimpses of it in popular culture, but most Millenials haven’t had the opportunity to respond to the life-changing, soul transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There’s a lot this generation of Millenials haven’t experienced and never will experience. Their frame of reference is different. What is familiar to them and the way things should be done is much different than when I, a Gen Xer, or a Baby Boomer might think. I think it is important to understand the Millenials if we are going to reach them.
I found a fun list of things that makes Millenials different from Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
1) Millenials have never licked a stamp; they’ve always been stickers. E-mail is the form of formal communication. At one time, e-mails were special and novel. In the beginning, e-mail was for forwarding funny pictures and jokes. Formal communication required a letter. Now, e-mail is the preferred choice of delivery for most everything, including bills.
2) For Millenials, there have always been full-color photos in the newspapers. If they get a newspaper it is likely sent to their iPad or Kindle. But, most often they get their news from the Yahoo! News or the Daily Show.
3) Google is a powerful search tool and a verb. They have never smelled a new set of encyclopedias and dictionaries. They wonder how people did anything before the internet.
4) If you say around the turn of the century, they will probably ask you which one. The turn of the century for them was 2000, not 1900.
5) You get Phish Food from Ben & Jerry’s who has many flavors with milk from free range cows, cage free eggs, fair trade vanilla and cocoa, and non-GMO products because just food sources are important.
6) Everything they have done has been recorded by their parents who had a video camera mounted on their shoulders or nearby on a tripod. Now, Millenials record everything on their phone and post it to Instagram, YouTube and Vine or just go live on Periscope.
7) For most of their lives, US international diplomacy has been the job of a woman. Feminist Millenials aren’t eager to support Hillary Clinton if she’s not the right candidate, because they know there will be a female president in their lifetime.
8) They have always had cable or satellite TV, but are giving it up for Netflix on their Roku.
9) They are building a great sense of community and value experience over things. They would rather a tiny house with money to travel than a big house for entertaining. They couchsurf or book vacations on AirBNB instead of hotels. They’re giving up owning cars where possible to share cars or use Uber. All of this gives them the opportunity to get to know strangers, share resources and experience the world that isn’t that big anymore.
10) They have an app for everything.
I suppose there are some who have no idea what any of that stuff is. Maybe you’ve heard of Netflix, but not Roku. You have a smartphone, but don’t use apps. You’ve never Googled someone before going on a date with him. All these things that are so foreign to us are just part of the Millenial experience. This all feels odd to us. Millennials are changing the way the world works too much. It was one thing to welcome all this technology. It has all made life easier but it can seem all too much too quickly.
As much as all of their stuff may be hard to accept, our church may be hard to accept for them. Most churches are asking themselves, “how can we be relevant to Millenials?” There are growing movements that I’ve read about that are targeting Millenials like Sunday dinner gatherings or intergenerational learning instead of traditional worship in the sanctuary sitting in pews. I know. “That’s not how we’ve always done things” is on the tip of our tongues when I say things like that.
The church will need to adapt if it is going to survive the Baby Boomer generation. There are lots of churches who would gladly die clinging to what they hold dear rather than transform to become relevant in a culture that no longer reserves Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings for the church.
Here’s my connection to this parable. I think the church is a lot like these vineyard managers or vintners. The parables are complex. Every group who heard a parable from Jesus would hear their experience and find meaning. There are many ways to interpret a parable depending on your experience. They seem more complex than Jesus’ other teachings, because they are so rich with meaning for anyone who hears it. In this parable, you might relate to the vineyard workers, the heir, the servants, or the owner depending on your station in life. I’d like to think of ourselves as the vineyard workers.
The vintners have been hired to work the land. It is their responsibility to produce a harvest and reserve a significant portion of the profit for the owner. The workers would receive enough to make a living. The owner has sent servants then his son to collect what is owed to him, but the workers have killed or beaten everyone. By doing this they are trying to become heirs of the land. If the owner dies and he has no heir, the workers would inherit the land. If they kill off everyone, eventually, they will become the rightful owners.
The vineyard owner is trying to collect what is rightfully his profit. The vineyard workers will still have enough to live on. They will still continue to work the land. The vineyard owner just wants his profits. But, they’re trying to keep for themselves what is not theirs.
I think there is where we compare the vintners to the church. We are trying to keep what is not ours. The church belongs to Christ. We can’t hold the church hostage with “that’s not how we’ve always done it” or “if I don’t get my way, I’m leaving”. Christ wants the church to grow and produce a harvest for His glory. The church can’t produce a great harvest if we’re using old tools and out dated practices. When He comes to collect what is His, we need to have something to offer Him. We can’t grow the church if we’re just trying to just preserve it.
The Millenials that we want to reach, who are in need of the Gospel, aren’t coming to a sanctuary that doesn’t relate to their worldview. We don’t have an app for them. We have community, but they are building communities in new ways. They aren’t going to commit themselves to a community that just offers spirituality. They can be spiritual anytime and spend Sunday mornings at St Mattress of the Zs.
I know you’re all thinking big screens and drums and guitars, but I don’t think that’s the answer. That is just changing the music style of what we’re already doing. That’s not transformation. Plus, worship with contemporary music is on the decline. Baby Boomers, not Millenials, are the ones who like rock bands and flashy lights and preachers driving Harleys on to the stage.
Transformation that is going to be relevant in the future is going to require us to consider doing everything differently. We have to decide: are we willing to try new things to produce a harvest, looking to Christ, trusting Christ to transform His church and believe that the Gospel will endure through His transformation, or are we willing to do nothing and hope more people like us are going to come do things the way we like to do them?
In this transformation, Christ will leave us to manage the vineyard and work the land, but how long the vineyard survives is up to us. If we’re going to produce fruit in the future, we need to give up the intuition to say that’s not how we’ve always done things. We need to look to Christ for some new ways to manage His vineyard and produce a harvest.
The first step I’d like us to take in transformation is in our approach to evangelism. I’m going to challenge the Board to start thinking out of the box on this. I want us to start doing more things to get people in the church. Sunday mornings aren’t necessarily our goal. We’re just going to try to create traffic, especially among Millenials. We want to get people to come to the church for something, anything. I’d like us to do more things like Kids Movie Night and the Easter Egg Hunt and the Angel Tree. We’ve been invited to host a Girl Scout troop – I’ll ask the Board next week to okay that.
Start thinking! If you have an idea and are not on the Board, tell me and I’ll share it with the Board. Let’s get more people to come to us. I think we have a reputation of caring about kids. Let’s build on that.
Transforming our thinking about evangelism is just the beginning. Let’s start here. We’ll take baby steps. We can transform how we do church so that it is still sacred and familiar to us while thinking about being relevant to a new generation. But, from now on, I’m banning the phrase or any iteration of “that’s not how we’ve done things.” If you have a concern about any ideas floated around, I’d like you to make it known with a solution to both honor the past and welcome the future.
We are the managers of Christ’s vineyard and we’ve been trusted with the task of producing a harvest. It’s going to take time and energy and out of the box thinking, but we can do this.