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 and Facebook presence, although I have yet to get in on Instagram. 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 audio, video, blogging, screen capture, WebEx, and Zoom. I sometimes don’t wear a tie to church. Christian music that’s upbeat, original, and uplifting makes sense to me, and we’ve introduced many “new” songs to our church. I bought a tall table for our platform and helped the bulky wood pulpit find a final resting place. We sing from “words on the wall” in our services and show announcement slideshows. Our song service incorporates several platform singers instead of a song leader (no praise band yet…). We’ve installed projectors in multiple locations, two flat screen TV’s in the lobby, and we LiveStream our services on YouTube. All the while, memories of life without personal technology are still alive and well in my mind. So 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’m friends with guys who preach in jeans. I may not necessarily be a suckerfish for everything Millenial churches go after, 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. 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 intact, we’ve managed to change 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 pointed out twenty aspects of church and ministry that Millennials have done away with. 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. 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 39. What would our grandparents think!
One of the 20 “relic” programs Rainer identified was one I feel strongly about, and one which I’ve had to defend to good people on a few occasions. Despite changing ideas about what’s “cool”, I’m still 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 we’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 get out into 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 neighborhood. We’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 has met with some resistance. I’ve met this in two ways: 1) It’s not all that well-attended, and 2) It’s minimized by those who don’t come or by those who used to come. I see a few general reasons for these issues:
- This is an easy one: We love our personal time, and spreading the gospel is just not that important. To boot, it’s pretty inconvenient.
- We 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.
- We get used to the busyness of church programs, most of which simply cause the church to spiral in on itself rather than outside its walls. I find myself often being just a consumer of church functions.
- 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. Some say we are actually harming the world’s perception of the church.
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 unlikely that those who are uninterested in taking on the greatest calling through the local church are actively developing a better program on their own.
A church-sponsored outreach program gives us 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 we begin to think “It’s not working”, I think we should ask, “How do we 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. We are barely just a vapor on God’s timeline so who we to demand or expect instant results? 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 we spend thinking about ourselves? 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 spiritual needs of others.
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 a meltdown, 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. Extending our limited time into the lives of others provides a satisfaction that is God-given.
- 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. So, have we really lost interest in outreach because it’s outdated, or is it because we are just prone to giving up?
- 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’re concerned with how we look, how we’re perceived, or what people will think, whose pleasure are we prioritizing?
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 justice, 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 lives.
So there you have it: A Millennial’s little defense of an old-school method that God can still use to change lives. The field is white unto harvest, regardless of the generation to which one belongs.