As a college teacher, I find myself listening to a lot of speakers tell me about how to appeal to millennial students. After all, they are different than we are. We don’t understand them. They need flash and bang to enjoy what they’re doing. They need to be entertained to learn.
There’s only one problem with this. I’m a millennial.
According to this article in The Atlantic, I fall squarely into the millennial age bracket. But aren’t millennials terrible, entitled brats? Does that mean I’m a terrible, entitled brat? Maybe so, but that’s not my point here.
My point is that I have spent hours in meetings where someone who isn’t from my generation tells me how the people in my generation learn best and what entertains them. I can tell you that it isn’t all about entertainment.
In fact, I think in my case, entertainment is getting old. Yes, I enjoy being entertained as much as anyone. I enjoy a funny story. I like an authentic teacher, but it doesn’t have to be all bright colors and technology.
All of this leads me to a number of articles I have seen about why millennials aren’t going to church (here, here, here). I have to tell you that they make some good points. I agree with a lot of what these articles say. I, myself, get frustrated because there seems to be a need to rescue millennials from themselves by doing everything.
I have my own reasons for feeling disenchanted by church as well. As an educator, I feel a certain kinship with church leaders. I do recognize that they are different, but there are so many similarities that it is worth mentioning. We have evidence running out of our ears that students don’t learn well when they’re just talked at. I find that my students appreciate when they have a voice in what we discuss. That I actually pay attention to them when they are confused or lost. That I’m flexible in my pacing to accommodate for changes. I find that preachers often struggle with this. Yes, I realize that they often preach what they feel God is leading them to, but I’ve noticed that preachers make very little connection to their audience. I’m not talking eye contact. I’m talking realizing that they need to explain more, realizing that whatever they said came off badly, or going in an entirely different direction if needed.
I also find it odd that the church is one of the few places I still see that older style of teaching. The one where the preacher is the expert and the congregation is receiving his wisdom. My students teach me things all the time. They bring up points I’ve never considered. They challenge me. Shouldn’t a congregation challenge a preacher too?
Authenticity is another thing I really see lacking in the church. Especially among the leadership. Not just in being willing to tell their stories, but in being willing to be themselves. As an extremely shy person, it took me years to be comfortable enough in the classroom to be authentic, but I found my confidence in being myself. I’m quirky. I say weird things. And you know what? They still know I’m the teacher. Showing who you are isn’t going to make people think less of you.
One thing that is mentioned in articles about this millennial problem is giving them the chance to be leaders. That’s a really good point, but I think people have this tendency to think that they need to give the next generation leadership roles and then step away because they’re handing it down. That still feels condescending. Work beside us. You aren’t dead yet.
We need to think. I am so very tired of having to turn my brain off to walk into a church service. Yes, I know the story of the prodigal son. Yes, I’ve heard that spin on the lesson before. I teach English. I spent years studying old books. I have re-read a lot of books and find new things each time. Why can’t we find some new stuff to talk about in a Bible? Or actually new ways to talk about old stuff?
There are other times I feel like I have to shut my brain off to do anything related to religion. I want to be challenged. I want to have to come up with my own answers. I want to search for something.
Websites. Good gracious, people. Have you ever looked at church websites? I have. It’s amazing how little time and effort is put into them. That’s how I decide if I want to go. If you don’t have one, I don’t go. And you know what I want on a website? 1. When was this last updated (is this information still accurate)? 2. What do you believe? 3. What kinds of things could I get involved in? 4. What do I do if I visit (note: the answer is not “Tell someone you’re new! We’ll help you!”)?
#4 is actually probably one of my most important questions. I’m a shy, introverted person. Crowds make me nervous. New places make me nervous. Tell me what to expect. Where do I go? What will a service look like? What should I be prepared to do? Where do I park? I do not like the feeling that I look like a lost puppy trying to find anything. I want to at least have some clue. I don’t want to be the only one standing when everyone sits during a prayer or something. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve avoided trying a new denomination because I don’t know what to expect when I go.
And yes, I realize this is technology, but I don’t mind useful technology. I just don’t like it when it’s gimmicky.
I feel like this is a cranky post. Maybe I’m in a cranky mood. Or maybe my entitled millennial-ness is surfacing. But I don’t think we’re all bad.