I’m a Millenial…minus the skinny jeans.
I was born in 1979 which puts me right on the cusp of the generation considered “Millenials”. I came into adulthood at the turn of the millennium, and I remember well the hysteria over Y2K. I got my first cell phone when I was 22; my first mp3 player when I was 24; an Ipod when I was 28. As far as social media, I do maintain a modest Twitter presence, although I’ve never taken the Facebook plunge and have never regretted it. I read books and listen to podcasts by thought-leaders who weren’t raised the way I was, and I’ve even used some of their ideas. I teach grad classes online using video, blogging, screen capture software, and WebEx. I sometimes don’t wear a tie to church. Christian music that’s upbeat, original, and trending makes sense to me, and I’ve introduced many “new” songs to our church. I bought a tall table for our platform and helped the monstrous wood pulpit find a new home. We sing from “words on the wall” in our church services and show announcement slideshows. Our song service incorporates several platform singers instead of a song leader (no praise band yet…). I’ve installed projectors in multiple locations, a flat screen TV in the lobby, and figured out how to LiveStream our services on the cheap. And yet, memories of life without personal technology are still alive and well in my mind. In that sense, I’m a “digital immigrant”, one of the chief markers of a Millennial. “Cool” is certainly not a descriptor my kids would use for me, but I will say that when they have a “techy” question, they come running to Digital Daddy.
I say all that to say this: I get it.
I get what it means for church to be “relevant”. I understand the lingo; I’ve read the leadership books; I know guys who preach in jeans and I’m ok with it. I may not necessarily be a suckerfish for everything Millenial churches are doing, but I also don’t resent change, unique ideas, or running ministry outside the traditional box. Many of the things we do in our church now are very different from what we were doing 20 years ago, and yet there are also many things we’re still doing that we need to ditch. Part of that has to do with the crowd. Part of that has to do with leadership. And part of that has to do with stewardship. Take your pick, but times are always changing, and with our theology still firmly intact, we’ve changed a few things for the better.
I was reading a post by Thom Rainer the other day called 20 Relics of Church Past in which he objectively pointed out twenty aspects of church and ministry that Millennials have set aside. Several of them I nodded in agreement with, some I chuckled at, and a few of them I wondered whether they really should be jettisoned after all. Overall, it brought back memories of churches I grew up in, served in, or attended over my lifetime. My how things have changed…and I’m only 38. What would our grandparents think!
One of the 20 “relic” programs Rainer identified was one I feel very strongly about, and one which I’ve had to defend to good people on a few occasions.
Despite the changing times of “cool”, I’m still strongly in favor of a church-sponsored program that many have come to believe is outdated and “uncool”: Outreach.
I’ve thought about this again and again over the last several years as I’ve worked to maintain our church’s interest in an outreach program I started about 4 years ago. We call ours “Saturation Saturday”, and we essentially canvass local neighborhoods with tracts, church invitation cards, and flyers for kids programs. In fact, we just finished up an outing a few minutes ago in which we hung 250 door hangers in a local mobile home park. I’ll tell people tomorrow in church that “250 homes were prompted to think about Jesus” because of our efforts. To me, it’s a pretty good feeling to have been part of it with my kids in tow.
I mentioned that our outreach program has met with some resistance. I’ve met this in two ways: 1) It’s not well-attended, and 2) It’s belittled by those who never come or by those who used to come but quit. I see a few general reasons for these issues:
- This is an easy one: People love their personal time more than they love the Great Commission.
Obeying Christ’s command to spread His gospel is just not important enough. To boot, it’s pretty inconvenient.
- People see a lack of response from outreach and start thinking it’s “not working”. We expect to see immediate results or for the church to be packed out because we visited some homes or passed out a few tracts.
- The church does not have a strong philosophy or culture of evangelism.
We forget sometimes why the church exists as we relax in our seats, punch the church membership time clock, and become consumers rather than distributors.
Complacency is easier and is quite arguably the norm in many places.
- Visitation, bus ministry, and door-to-door outreach are outdated. We don’t want to be seen as “corny”, and besides, people don’t want to be bothered in their homes these days. Perhaps we are actually doing more harm to the perceptions about our church than good.
And the list could go on, but I think the bases are probably covered. So here are my best explanations for why our outreach program should continue and why every church member should be involved:
- The Great Commission is still alive and well. Now, this does not mean that we have to do things the way we always have, and I’m wide open to other ideas for evangelism. However, it’s very likely that those who are not willing to take the greatest calling to task through a church program are probably not developing an alternative, better program on the side.
A church-sponsored outreach program gives members and their families an opportunity for obedience.
In parenting, we say “make it easy for your kids to obey”. I think helping Christians obey is a big piece of the outreach argument, and I’ll also add that when my kids are involved, they too are obeying God.
- When skeptics suggest, “It’s not working”, I think we should ask, “How do you know?” The results of spreading the seed may not necessarily be seen by us…ever! But what is our usual standard: Right now! What is God’s standard: All of eternity… The gospel message is timeless. It never had a beginning and it will never end. I’m barely just a vapor on God’s timeline so who am I to demand or expect instant results? I’d also like to add that the Great Commission does not tell us to count plants, it tells us to cast the seed.
Don’t get sidetracked looking for results that you have no control over. Spread His gospel but leave the results to Him.
- How much time do you spend thinking about yourself? If you’re like me, the answer would be somewhere north of 23 hours a day. Multiply that by 7 days. That’s a lot of time committed to me. I sure do love me! My point is that outreach helps us come face to face with the important concept of other people. Have you ever been on a missions trip, or perhaps heard a testimony from someone who just got home from one? Missions work is an eye-opening experience, and I can personally say that missions work and missions trips altered the course of my life. Why is that? Because of the concept of other people!
Outreach forces us beyond the boundaries of self and awakens our thoughts to the needs of others. Especially so when it comes to their spiritual future.
Today as we walked through the neighborhood on Saturation Saturday, my seven-year-old’s little legs got tired. As she teetered on the edge of whining, I said, “Macy, when Jesus was here, do you think He ever got tired for you?” The correct answer of course would have been, “Yes, of course He did Daddy. And because He got tired for me, suffered a cruel death in my place and rose again, I can certainly walk a few more blocks for Him.” Instead, I got “No, He never got tired. He was God…” Well, that backfired. How do you argue with that? The point is that because Christ gave all for me, I am compelled to get out of myself for Him.
Pushing ourselves out of our own comfort and extending our limited time into the lives of others provides a satisfaction that is God-given.
Getting out of ourselves sure feels good, and rightly so: It’s the gospel plan!
- I tend to agree that some conceptions of traditional outreach can seem outdated. Call it what you want–bus visitation, doorknocking, soul-winning–it’s how churches were built in the 60’s (many of them were also packed out!). So I’m ok with churches moving on to something modern, something current, something more trendy. But that’s the catch…most churches have not replaced “old” outreach with anything better. They’ve just stopped altogether. Another trendy option is to mistake a fun kids program that attracts church kids and a few friends with reaching outside your borders into the fields that are white unto harvest. Now, let me ask you, is outreach easy work? Is outreach always fun? The answer is obviously no.
So, have we really lost interest in outreach because it’s outdated, or is it because we are just prone to being lazy?
As we’d say down south: “The proof is in the puddin’!” Has your church replaced traditional outreach with something equally difficult? Is there hard work being put into a better program? I’d suggest that this is rarely the case. I also find a certain irony in the fact that so much complacency for outreach is found among the old guard: Those who will tell you that they built great big buildings, drove herds of buses, and marched upward and onward door-to-door “back in the day”.
If anyone should be trumpeting outreach, shouldn’t it be those who have seen it work?
- I would much rather be seen as obedient to the One who matters than as relevant to those who are still on the fence about Him. Relevance in many cases is very simple: Misplaced priorities. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone to walk into our church and get the impression that we are still “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” and happy about it. I want buildings to be attractive, the music to be enjoyable, and the preaching to be applicable. However, we ought never confuse who we’re obligated to keep “happy”. When we dismiss outreach as irrelevant or old-looking, who are we putting first, God or man?
When we’re concerned with how we look, how we’re perceived, or what people will think, whose pleasure are we prioritizing?
We don’t want to be so weird that people are turned off, but think about it: We’re worried about turning off folks who are already turned off! It’s the Spirit of God Who pierces the heart, not the coolness of man. It’s God’s Spirit who convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment, not the perception of with-it-ness. If we attempt to win people through the power of people, we are only winning them to a shadow of the power that can change them. We do more harm than good when we draw people to ourselves through our relevance rather than to the Savior through His righteousness. Our job is not to convince the lost that we’re relevant but to give the Spirit an opportunity for them to see that God can transform their life. Is this a high priority of your church? Be careful how quickly you answer.
So there you have it: A Millennial’s meager defense of an old-school program that God can still use to change lives. I’m a Millenial who still believes that the field is white unto harvest, regardless of the generation to which one belongs.