Life Over Lamborghinis: The Reasons Young America is Trending Pro-Life

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(This article was originally published at

My generation, the millennial generation, tends to take a lot of flak for moral relativism, sense of entitlement, and an “everybody gets a trophy” hypersensitivity. Fair enough. I’m not crazy about that either and as a pastor am regularly addressing such issues.

But I’d encourage Christian leaders (and Christians in general) who’ve been disheartened by this generation’s less-than-spectacular Sunday morning church attendance to not write them off too quickly. There’s reason to be optimistic.

Specifically, there is legitimate, renewed hope for Christians that Roe v. Wade, which has made abortion legal in our nation for the past 40-plus years, might eventually be overturned. If so, millennials will have played a large role in it.

For starters, the abortion debate is changing due to the fact that young pro-choice enthusiasts are waning. Since millennials have lived their entire lives with abortion as legal; it’s not really considered by them to be a “right” worth fighting for anymore. On the other hand, pro-life youth are as active and adamant as ever.

Nancy Keenan, former president of NARAL, the country’s oldest abortion-rights group, even knows this. This is the reason she stepped down several years back. She recognized that the face of pro-choice today is a postmenopausal baby boomer. This contrasts the continuously fresh face of the pro-life movement. Keenan herself, commenting on a recent March for Life campaign in D.C., suggested, “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them, and they are so young.”

Second, millennials are inherently sensitive and, therefore, inclusive. Since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, beginning with Georgia, every single U.S. state has adopted anti-bullying legislation. This generation has been taught from day 1 to be inclusive of all, sympathetic to those in need, and go out of their way to protect the oppressed. This is the reason why millennials were the ones who made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Yes, I understand there are no millennials on the Supreme Court. Make no mistake though; this generation’s overwhelming support for same-sex marriage, due to their inclusive and influential disposition, was largely responsible for this.

Here’s the catch: the same impulse that led millennials to protect homosexuals, whom they perceived to be legislatively marginalized, is moving that same group to recognize that aborted children are the ULTIMATE in bully victims. They are the minority with literally no voice. Right or wrong, millennials carry a lot of guilt from the unjust treatment of previous generations, and they’re consequently trying very hard to counteract that.

Third, if we make any attempt to eliminate our biases, the science is suggesting that the tissue being aborted absolutely constitutes human life. Bernard Nathanson, one of the cofounders of NARAL, had a change of heart later in life. What caused his shift in attitude about abortion? The invention of the ultrasound. Advanced technology made it undeniably evident that the cells growing in pregnant mothers were, in fact, fully a human person.

Millennials are inclined to trust the best technology available. They’re smart enough to recognize that if we found the exact same living cell cluster on Mars, NASA would be proclaiming, “We’ve found extraterrestrial LIFE!” So it cuts both ways. If you put those cells in a human woman, you have to call that life too.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we’ve now seen the seventh video released by David Daleiden, the project leader at the Center for Medical Progress. The most recent video shows Holly O’Donnell, a former Planned Parenthood technician, recounting the horror of being asked to cut open a baby’s face in order to harvest its brain. This is the same fetus from which, moments earlier, Holly’s colleague had shown her the still-beating heart. Never mind the “technology.” This woman’s own natural senses told her this was a human.

This video has come on the heels of numerous recorded statements by Planned Parenthood doctors that most have characterized as fairly callous. The most infamous of these comments was made by Dr. Mary Getter, who haggled prices for baby parts over a casual lunch, joking, “I want a lamborghini.” Most generations probably disliked that. Millennials, however, are uniquely calibrated to be disgusted by such a thought of profiting off the weak.

Furthermore, millennials are also conditioned to think that people lie to them. Marketers have been lying to them from birth. That’s the reason these videos are so important. Videos don’t lie. Technology doesn’t lie. There’s no “out of context” argument here. We’re not going to forget all this anytime soon, because its graphic content is available on YouTube, hits counting.

I do want to offer a word of caution here for Christians though, not to stifle enthusiasm that the tide appears to be turning against abortion. If this occurs, many of us would consider it to be the greatest thing that’s happened socially in this generation.

But my encouragement would be to stifle self-righteousness.

It’s very easy to fall into “I can’t believe THOSE people did THAT” type of thinking and speaking. So let’s not forget that Scripture is clear that every single one of us is responsible for the murder of God’s innocent Son, Jesus. This was, in a sense, the quintessential abortion, the greatest injustice against a truly blameless child.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23,24).

We all caused Jesus’ death. And the debt for all of our sins was paid in full by the blood from that death. At this point then thoughts like “better” or “worse” or words like them or us are not only not helpful; they’re not accurate. We’re all guilty and all saved exclusively by grace. Only when we realize that will we be able to boldly yet humbly share the truth about both the sanctity of human life and the beauty of life in Christ with the world.

Millennials are the generation that is criticized for getting everything they want. Well, as they’re getting older and their values are changing, they might actually now want something we, and the world, actually need—the defense of unprotected life. As our society seems to be moving in this direction, perhaps our hearts will beat more in rhythm with that of our God, who inspired the psalmist to say:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well
 (Psalm 139:13,14).

One last thing—if you’ve had an abortion, or know someone who has, I’d encourage you to read this post.


Ministering to Millennials (Part VII – An Attempt to Practice What I Preach)

blog - Res sanctuary

I am one of three pastors at a multisite church, Resurrection & Life Lutheran in Rochester, MN.

Over the past several years, I’ve gathered information from a variety of influential churches within Rochester (non-WELS) who seem to be making concerted efforts to reach Millennials. When I’ve asked what’s been tried, they’ve suggested many items I’ve read elsewhere – small groups, studies tailored to Millennial interests, and special services with a more Millennial feel (i.e. heavy video content, dimmed lighting, modern music that uses a large band, etc.). The churches reported varying degrees of success with the methodology. However, one consistent seemed to be that they were more successful at reaching young families, less successful at reaching singles, who tend to bounce from church to church, or even to reach young newlyweds. That last bit sounds relatively WELS – once young adult couples have a child and realize their decisions affect another soul, this tends to be a jolt to their desire to pursue church involvement. This is nothing really new. What’s different is that Millennials, for a variety of reasons, are waiting longer to get married and have kids, if they do that at all. And even if they do, they’re simply not “coming back to church” at the rate previous generations did. This an issue irrespective of denomination.

When we started our second site over four years ago, truth be told, I was a bit terrified.

We structured a second campus with, in my opinion, a bit of a “Goldilocks” feel to it, i.e. everything was designed to be “just right” for people searching for a church. Our second site had a highly desirable worship time (9:30am). It was a casual atmosphere with great coffee, comfortable seats, eager musicians who played a combination of traditional and contemporary songs, and the amenities of a new facility. Sixty to eighty of our most active, exuberant members claimed that second site as “home” and were eager to welcome visitors. On top of all that, we built an indoor children’s playplace right into our second site, available throughout the week to members and the community alike, which has been incredibly successful in getting people from our city onto our campus.

“Sounds great,” you say. So, why was I a bit terrified? The reason is…I was serving primarily at the original site, not the second site. Here we had built a facility and tailored it to appeal to people in their twenties and thirties, the most common age of those seeking a church. It stood in contrast to our more traditionally WELS site only five miles away. For about a year I was filled with panic, feeling like I was constantly fighting upstream, that the deck was stacked against our more traditional site. I prayed about this A LOT. Literally, every night I prayed about this exact topic. And I had almost no suggestions to offer to God either (which is unusual for me). I simply could not see how Resurrection would survive after creating a nearby option that would seemingly appeal more to worship visitors. I started tracking worship attendance very carefully, counting “worship units.” Single adults, married couples, singles with kids, and couples with kids, all counted as just one worship unit. I divided worship attenders into three categories – people in their 20s & 30s, 40s & 50s, and 60s+.

Fast forward three years. In that span, the 20s & 30s age bracket (again, by far your largest segment of worship visitors) has now become our largest demographic group at Resurrection (see Fig. 1).

Res Worship Demographics

Figure 1 – Res Site Worship Demographics

What happened? How did we not only replace the attenders at our original site, but actually get comparatively younger than we were before? Well, the only thing I know is that God’s grace is powerful. And God hears prayers. Beyond that, I can only speculate. I did, however, poll the Millennials at Resurrection and got more than enough responses to be representative.

It would appear that the items that most strongly affected the Millennial-aged attenders were relationships and variety (our worship style in recent years has varied a decent amount from week to week). (see Fig. 2)

Preferences of Res Millennials

Figure 2 – Reasons Given for Attending Resurrection


You might be surprised that something like “theological integrity” wasn’t an option in the polling. That was because there are other WELS church options in the area. In other words, theology, while of utmost importance in these Millennials’ decision for a church, didn’t fully account for the choice of attending Resurrection.

So far as I could tell from the comments, it’s nearly half and half as far as worship style preference. In other words, some feel quite strongly that we should be more traditional and reverent and others feel quite strongly that we should be more contemporary and casual. So, amongst Millennial attenders, those feelings coexist, but the final outcome seems to be that all appreciate some variety. At our church, we talk quite frequently about not becoming sinfully dogmatic in areas we are free, that this is as serious an offense as taking away from God’s Word (Rev. 22:18; Deut. 4:2). And we spend time explaining why humans get so self-righteous. As a result, people have become quite open, accepting of the beauty of variety.

Overall, the comments that survey respondents gave largely supported the high premium that Millennials place on relationships.

For instance, many responses included thoughts like:

“Through all this I have formed friendships and bonds and even though life is busy during the week with different schedules, I enjoy seeing fellow believers and friends on Sunday…it is encouraging to know there is a support system when I need to talk to a fellow Christian friend.”

“I was pleasantly surprised to learn about a living and active group for young adults.”

“Our family chooses to go to Resurrection mainly because of the connections with friends that we have there.”

“Most of my friends are young adults without kids that attend Resurrection.”

“Resurrection has a very welcoming group of young people and it has been refreshing to worship with this group and make some meaningful friendships from it. The lasting friendships have stemmed from the small Bible Study groups that have been formed.”

“We have a core group of friends that we enjoy worshipping and visiting with…”

“I like the small groups…”

“I chose Resurrection because it seems to have quite a few young people.”

Seemingly, nothing attracts relationally-minded young people like… young people.

Furthermore, if we had done a better job in the past several years of strategically fostering relationships, offering additional levels of variety, implementing new technology, and promoting more social causes that young adults could get behind, I wouldn’t be surprised if the statistics would have reflected even greater change.

The bottom line is that my congregation is living proof that a fifty-plus-year-old site with several factors working against it and few Millennials can still reach Millennials. I’d personally recommend starting with prayer and offering God no suggestions.

Final Thought

While I’ve spent a great deal of time studying, thinking about, writing about, and praying about this topic of ministering to Millennials, I hope you have not gotten the impression that I think I have everything figured out. I don’t. Not even close.

What I do have is a deeper appreciation for the brilliance of a gospel that “works” at every level for every generation. Imagine a Savior so unalterable, so uncompromising, and yet so culturally flexible that a large segment from every generation in the past 2000 years has considered him their best friend. I count myself as one. And to think, he invites us to come along on the journey of introducing him, THE Answer, to a generation of people who’ve got questions.

Ministering to Millennials (PART VI – My Recommendations regarding Social Renovation, Drama, Apologetics, and Change)

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(image credit to

Redemption and Renovation, Not Avoidance

As mentioned previously under the “Judgmental/Exclusive” section, Millennials don’t like the idea of running away from the world and hiding. They’d much rather enter, impact, and improve existing institutions. It’s not as though there isn’t historical precedent for such an idea either. Historian Rodney Stark reasons that the early church, instead of creating their own institutions, were known for joining and enriching existing ones.[1]

In other words, Christians today have the resources to build private schools, make Christian pop music and Christian movies and Christian TV and radio stations, and basically mirror and Christianize nearly everything we see in the world. Millennials appear more interested in popping that bubble and working to better the world, the institutions, and the people around us.

What implications this has for our churches and church body is hard to say. We have a long history of privatized schools. Perhaps the main issue that comes up today regarding the continuance of this system is birth rate. If our church body doesn’t grow, our schools will shrink due to decreasing birth rates. A separate issue, however, is that Millennials are probably going to be even more difficult to convince that such exclusion is necessary…or good. And when it comes to the survival of an institution, as far as recruitment is concerned, leadership is going to have to be very careful to not cross a line of binding consciences to what Christian nurture and education must look like.

Finally, another important aspect of this topic is the realm of vocation. As already mentioned, countless Christians have difficulty attaching meaning to their current work lives in the secular world. In fact, it’s not uncommon for adult Christians, once they experience some period of spiritual growth, to take that as God’s hand moving them into fulltime public ministry. Their current employment is not viewed as spiritual enough. While public ministry may be a legitimate option and noble pursuit for some adults, for others, it is not. Adults need to be able to think through what infusing their work environment with gospel grace would look like – patience, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, etc.

Millennials prefer to redeem what exists if possible, not avoid it and create a separate alternative.

Make Christianity as Dramatic As It Is

The next generation of Christians doesn’t appear to want easy. They seem to want their lives attached to a meaningful narrative that involves high expectations, sacrifice, and surrender. Would you expect less from a generation that was largely shaped in the movie theatre? Think about it – what was the last movie you saw (or book you read) where the main character had low expectations, always played it safe, and sacrificed nothing to advance any causes? Who would care about such a character? You wouldn’t. And yet that’s exactly how a younger generation perceives many Christians today – boringly safe.

Contrast this with the early Christians who were tossed to the lions, took care of the sick, shared everything with the poor but shared their beds with one or none. In the ancient document, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, we read about the early Christians:

They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all.[2]

Christianity spread in the Roman Empire because the Holy Spirit was not only working through gospel proclamation, but also because the Spirit was attracting people to that message by having gospel effects visualized in the day-to-day lives of the early Christians. That was the same “Institution of Church” as we have today, but arguably more beautiful than what we often see from churches today. No?

This high stakes drama, sacrifice, and risk-taking all actually fits in quite well with how Millennials think. The nonchalant, slacker “whatever” attitude of 80s/90s Buster teens is largely gone. Millennials care about stuff and aren’t afraid to tell you. They want to use any status and influence they gain to do good. They have a true sense of ownership in making the world a better place. Churches should be affirming this desire and tapping into the healing power of the gospel, explaining how Jesus too came here not to condemn the world, but ultimately to work for the betterment of human existence (John 3:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).

Put differently, if you are spending a majority of your time as a church communicating where you’re at in your unified budget, expounding on the dangers of interdenominational prayer fellowship, and debating the merits of various worship styles…all while Coptic Christians in Egypt are being beheaded, you’re going to lose your Millennials, or at the very least turn off any potential new ones. The Christian faith is not a line item, it’s a lifeline, and it needs to be communicated with every ounce of drama and passion that it deserves.

Update Catechism Curriculum to Include Apologetics

Atheistic thought never really gained traction in Europe until the French Revolution and Age of Enlightenment. Consequently, aside from giving some time to the Natural Knowledge of God, Luther’s Catechisms aren’t really major resources for Christian Apologetics.

With the rise of New Atheism[3] and increasingly secular academics, the Christian Church is in desperate need of good apologetic study. While the research is debatable as to the exact percentages[4], there is no denying that “university professor” is one of the most atheist professions in our country. When young, impressionable adults then enter into college and sit before men and women who are well-respected in their given fields and the students find these professional educators making disparaging comments about the accuracy of Scripture, they feel ill-equipped to defend their faith. I’ve received countless texts, emails, and Facebook messages over the years from college students who were asking for clarification on biblical stances, because their professor had made a comment blatantly disregarding the Bible in their psychology, sociology, philosophy, biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, etc. courses.

I have no doubt in my mind that apologetics is a more pressing need for God’s people in the twenty-first century, post-Enlightenment western world than in sixteenth century Germany. We need to build some of this into curriculums starting at an early age. Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel on a good portion of it. Ken Ham’s group at Answers in Genesis is phenomenal.[5] And they have an enormous collection of age appropriate study materials. Let’s start there.

Willingness To Change

All of my recommendations here require a willingness to change. Now, any Christian who truly knows the gospel understands the gospel must never change. To the degree that you believe it can or should, by definition, you’re pushing yourself outside of God’s Kingdom. However, in proportion to seeing that saving gospel clearly, you also understand that everything but the gospel can, and sometimes must, change. If you don’t understand that, you’re guilty of the manmade religion that the Apostle Paul so readily condemns. (Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 2:11-21)

Change is difficult for religious people. Sinful hearts tend to self-righteously latch onto certain practices, certain clothes, certain patterns of saying things, certain music, certain programs, certain systems, and then condemn all that is different. Our sinful hearts do this because they are hostile to Christ (Rom. 8:7). By nature, we want to justify ourselves before God apart from Christ. As a result, we make up rules, we do our best to keep them, and we condemn all who don’t abide by these rules to the same extent that we do. Then, in our minds, we are, relatively speaking, closer to God than others. The subconscious, self-righteous goal all along was to bring ourselves to God apart from Christ. The motor was unbelief. This was the same engine that powered the Pharisees. (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7)

Again, Millennials are almost perfectly calibrated to embrace the beautiful freedom of forms that the gospel presents.[6] Millennials understand that change is simply a natural part of life. Accelerating technology means that communication, organizations, and life itself are ever-changing. But the essence of humanity stays the same. Consequently, the gospel is brilliantly BOTH non-negotiable AND tremendously flexible.

As Christians, we should reflect that in our churches too.


Next week is the final installment in the series. I’ll share with you the results of my efforts to practice what I preach.  

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(image credit to

[1] Stark, pg. 55


[3] In short, New Atheism (led by voices like Richard Dawkins, the now deceased Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett) is “new” in the sense that whereas atheism in the past merely said that God didn’t exist, New Atheism is saying that organized religion is dangerous to society and should be eradicated, at least from the public arena. For more insights and details on its impact, check out Adam Lee, “Rise of the New Atheists,”

[4] Amarnath Amarasingam, “Are American College Professors Religious?”


[6] Yale professor Lamin Sanneh has some great insights on this in Whose Religion Is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West. Raised in Gambia, he makes the case that the reason Christianity is burgeoning in Africa today is precisely because, in contrast to other faiths like Islam, the Christian faith didn’t de-Africanize the continent. Rather, it enriched Africa’s pre-existing forms.

Ministering to Millennials (PART V – My Recommendations regarding Sex, Learning Style, Service, and Tolerance)

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(image credit to

(four more recommendations…)

Talk About Sex…Positively

Of the several hundred Millennials I’ve talked to fairly privately about their lives, most of them Christian or formerly so, almost none had conversations with their parents about sex during adolescence. For that matter, other topics that tend to occupy young brains in addition to sex – money, career, friends, identity, meaning of life – extremely few of the Millennials I’ve spoken with had these important conversations with people who loved them, who were the primary caretakers nurturing their relationships with God. I don’t know a single young adult who hasn’t struggled with the question of “how far is too far” in dating relationships and yet I’m still waiting to meet more than a handful of young adults who had highly productive conversations with his/her parent(s) about this. It’s almost as if Satan has thoroughly damaged this gift of God merely by the threat of “awkward conversation.”

Consequently, young adults have been left to base their evaluations of such issues, to form their perceptions, based on peers, music, television, movies, the internet, and media…the ways secular teens form their perceptions.

Granted, many of these young adults were aware that “sex outside of marriage is wrong.” Significantly fewer, however, were aware that “sex inside of marriage is a beautiful, God-glorifying thing.” The idea that God invented sex and designed humans as sexual beings seems odd to many young adults, unfortunately even Christian ones.

As far as young people being products of the environments in which they grow up, including sexually, I’m not sure exactly what we can do. But sympathetically acknowledging the difficulty of the extraordinary influx of hormones in young adulthood, teaching a proper theology of sex, and helping Millennials understand that the promises of extramarital sexual activity are Satanic lies that ruin relationships, both with other humans and your relationship with God…this would be a good place to start.

Socratic Learning Experience

Millennials are the generation that has access to any and all information. They can Wikipedia their way into biometrics, bomb-making, or Buddhism. In other words, they have plenty of places from which they can get information, and therefore they don’t need you to be dispensers of information per se. They need your help discerning between conflicting information.

This creates a drastic shift in learning. A generation or two ago, a minister was able to say, “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and his congregation would swallow it whole. Not so with Millennials. Millennials will challenge you on that, reasoning, “Who are you to say what the Lord says?! The Catholic priest says this. The Baptist minister says that. The Lutheran pastor says a third thing. And for that matter, the Jewish rabbi and the Dalai Lama don’t agree with any of you.” All of these individuals claim spiritual authority. But who holds the truth?

It is simply not enough to teach a Millennial the way something is, you have to show them. You have to take them down a journey of spiritual exploration, and you had better maintain a delicate balance – both a humility that leads you to listen attentively to their thoughts and concerns AND a passionate “I’d lose my life for this” conviction about where you currently stand. You forfeit your audience if you make a mistake on either side.

Connect Service To Evangelism

For better or worse, many young adults believe that evangelism must be connected to service on behalf of others. Many new studies coming out suggest that Millennials are significantly more inclined than their parents were to volunteer for causes perceived as important.

Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service says,

“We’re on the crux of something big, because these Millennials are going to take this spirit of giving and wanting to change communities and they’re going to become parents soon. I am very encouraged by what we’re seeing.”[1]

Millennials are so skeptical, and sniff out hypocrisy so readily, that they will adamantly reject any love and forgiveness talk that isn’t genuinely reinforced by a selfless, serving walk. To them, action must provide shading to the beauty of word. And lest someone think this smacks of Social Gospel ideology, let’s not become so jaded against social causes that we forget the emphasis that both Christ and the early Christians put on social concern. Historian Rodney Stark describes how such service by Christians led to interest in the Christian faith in the early years of Christianity…

“alien to paganism was the notion that because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another.”[2]

Further related, a whopping total of 96 percent of Millennials believe that they will someday “accomplish something great.”[3] That’s right – 96 PERCENT! Here’s the catch though – while previous generations may have defined greatness in terms of personal wealth, power, and fame, that’s not how Millennials see it. They still want the money, but their end game, at least from their own mouths, is a greater good for humanity. They’d like to sponsor a camp or build wells with clean water for kids in Africa. The generation that’s concerned about things like carbon footprints is very conscious of leaving a positive impact on the world. Without question, this is something churches will want to tap into – Millennials want to live out the gospel, especially when it comes to social causes.

Be Sensitive To Their Tolerant Disposition

Okay. Okay. Yes, we all know Millennials have work to do on their problem with moral relativism. But before immediately correcting their inconsistent and illogical attempts at morality, let’s start with a positive – these young adults are eager to find a point of commonality rather than a point of contention. This is drastically different from previous generations. Many Christians and Christian churches in the twentieth century largely defined their faith and denominational affiliation on the basis of what they were not, e.g. a Lutheran was not a Catholic because…, a Baptist was not a Lutheran because… Certainly such doctrinal differences are serious and at some point in time need to be worked through, but Millennials don’t want to start there. Older WELS members often do appear to.

So it’s worth reminding ourselves that statements of inclusion are important to communicating the gospel clearly. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) John says, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2) Jesus himself says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) These are clear statements of gospel inclusion. The gospel is so overwhelmingly inclusive that it works for EVERYONE. It’s intrinsically inclusive. So let’s not be too quick to stomp out a good, but often misguided trait of Millennials.

Rather, for confronting a misguided common belief in culture – in this case, the native tolerance of Millennials – I would prefer to approach it with the methodology that Timothy Keller proposes:

“Our premises must be drawn wholly from the Bible, yet we will always find some things in a culture’s beliefs that are roughly true, things on which we can build our critique. We will communicate something like this: “You see this ‘A’ belief you have? The Bible says the same thing – so we agree. However if ‘A’ is true, then why do you not believe ‘B’? The Bible teaches ‘B,’ and if ‘A’ is true, then it is not right, fair, or consistent for you to reject ‘B.’ If you believe this – how can you not believe that?” We reveal inconsistencies in the cultural beliefs and assumptions about reality. With the authority of the Bible we allow one part of the culture – along with the Bible – to critique another part. The persuasive force comes from basing our critique on something we can affirm within our culture.[4]

So, for instance, on the issue of tolerance, it works like this: What if someone says, “I think you’re being intolerant – and therefore, unloving – of other beliefs and other Christians by not (e.g.) allowing them to commune with us.” At that point what you do is say that you agree that the gospel does promote radical, almost otherworldly, inclusiveness. However, tolerance of beliefs has nothing to do with it. In fact, by saying that I’m being “narrow-minded” or “intolerant,” you’re being just as intolerant of my beliefs as you claim I’m being of the beliefs of others. Neither of us is more or less tolerant than the other. BOTH of us are claiming authoritative spiritual insight. At that point, you’ve both affirmed their desire for a good, gospel-flavored attitude, but corrected their misguided application of what is or is not loving.[5] This affords you the opportunity to then walk them through 1 Corinthians 10-11, at which point they’ll be impressed to see how loving and compassionate the idea of close Communion really is. If you come in with, “Well, that’s just wrong” you’ll run into that Nietzscheian Millennial distrust of authority and institutional power plays.

Affirm the good. Gently walk them through what is incorrect.


Enough for this week. Again, I’ll have four final recommendations next week. Thanks for reading!

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(image credit to


[2] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 86

[3] Rainer, pg. 16

[4] Timothy Keller, Center Church, pg. 125

[5] Perhaps a better example of this methodology, I’m constantly using this teaching technique on the issue of Evolution. Most young adults operate with “macro-evolutionary beliefs” since that’s what they learned in their science textbooks. However, most young adults also often have particular compassion for the oppression of human rights around the world. So, what I’ll do is establish that such human sensitivity (an ‘A’ belief for them) is a wonderful attribute, but gently point out how this is inconsistent with their ‘B’ belief of evolution. Evolution is predicated on the idea of “survival of the fittest” and “the strong eat the weak.” So, if you believe in macro-evolution, you cannot logically say that it is “wrong” for a stronger country in the Middle East to devour a weaker country. That’s merely the advancement of the species. See, at that point, their ‘A’ belief trumps their ‘B’ belief, and they feel compelled to correct the cognitive dissonance. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained macro-evolution to a young adult that way and had them not say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting.”

Ministering to Millennials (Part II – Who Are They and What’s Driving Them Away?)

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(image credit to

Last week we said that the research suggests Americans are less frequently labeling themselves “Christian” and those who are have lost a great deal of Christian orthodoxy in beliefs and practice, i.e. basic Apostles’ Creed truths and regular public worship. The Millennial generation, by far, is the one that is disengaging from Christian churches most, and in historic numbers.

So who are these difficult-to-please “Millennials?”

Technically, someone of the “Millennial” generation was born between 1980 and 2000. However, as mentioned previously, when it comes to worship habits and other areas involving engagement in Christian faith, there is generally a large behavioral difference starting during the college years. So, while as of today, a 15-year-old is technically a Millennial, the faith engagement of a 15-year-old is comparatively quite good in our country. For our purposes here, when “Millennial” is used, it’s primarily then referencing an independent adult somewhere in the ages of early twenties to late thirties. Many generational researchers consider that the better categorization for Millennials.[1]

These Millennials are currently getting a pretty bad rap in the media. In his YAHOO! FINANCE column, Rick Newman notes that CNBC’s research has discovered a general impression of Millennials in the workplace as “narcissistic, godless, precious, lazy.” But Newman makes the case that Millennials are simply products of their Boomer parents. At least in our country, Boomers, rapidly increasing the nation’s debt and emptying the coffers of Social Security and Medicare, will never be remembered as careful stewards of the institutions they inherited. Furthermore, the tremendous institutional skepticism that Boomers birthed, Millennials have now nurtured. Newman says, “Why is anybody surprised Millennials are turning out to be cynical, untrusting and mercenary? In the world they see, those traits are necessary to survive.”[2]

Cable television entrepreneur Bob Buford discussed the uniqueness of Millennials in a fascinating interview he conducted with researcher David Kinnaman. Noting the shift in the self-assessment of various generations, he said that, in his surveying, when the Elder generation was asked to describe themselves, the most commonly used words/phrases were: “World War II and Depression, smarter, honest, work ethic, and values and morals.” Boomers described their generation using terms like “work ethic, respectful, values and morals, and smarter.” Busters (or Gen X) used terms like “technology use, work ethic, conservative or traditional, smarter, and respectful.” And then he noted Millennials. The phrases they most commonly used? “Technology use, music and pop culture, liberal or tolerant, smarter, and clothes.” He concluded, “Where has ‘respectful’ gone? Where is ‘work ethic’? To me, this shows that the next generation is not just sort of different; they are discontinuously different.”[3]

Scott Hess is the VP of Insights at TRU, one of the most respected and influential generational marketing consultants in the world. Hess has been quoted by major periodicals as a foremost authority on American youth. In his San Francisco TED Talk in 2011, his presentation “Millennials: Who They Are & Why We Hate Them” chronicled the major differences between Millennials and the generation before them, the Busters or Gen-Xers.[4] Citing some clear and drastic generational differences, Hess says that where Busters were lean-back slackers, Millennials are lean-forward engagers. Busters were cliquish and judgmental. Millennials are inclusive and tolerant. Busters were anti-corporate. Millennials believe in commerce guided by conscience. Busters perceived parents as authority figures. Millennials perceive them as friends and helpers. Busters consumed mass media. Millennials prefer personal media.[5]

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the nature of Millennials is by deconstructing their favorite brand for five years running – Apple. Apple is a premium commodity in its genre, yet still accessible to almost all. There is no such thing as “high end” Apple. Everyone gets the same one, everyone starts in the same spot, but then you can go crazy with templated personalization. The technology is both fun and massively practical. Constant innovations and updates are applauded, not seen as frustrating change. Finally, the Apple brand also feels a bit like a movement. They have added philosophy to form and function, the perception that they are advancing humanity. More than any brand, Apple embodies the spirit of Millennials.

What’s Driving Millennials Away?

We’ve already established that Millennials are leaving churches and that Millennials are “discontinuously different” in their outlook on life from previous generations. But what is driving them away? To simply say “this is a wicked and godless generation” and “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:3) might apply here, or it might simply be dismissive, failing to acknowledge that we have yet to do the humbling, difficult, personal-preference-sacrificing work the Apostle Paul alludes to when he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23) In other words, while acknowledging that they, like us, are sinful and naturally resistant to the truth of God (Rom. 8:7), perhaps ministering to Millennials is primarily a matter of acknowledging that they think differently, not inherently better or worse, but different, from many of us.

For starters, Millennials had a massively different upbringing than previous generations. Kids today are eight times more likely to have come into the world without married parents than were Boomers.[6] Understandably, without the influence of a healthy, functioning parental unit, they are then slower to grow up. And because the two figures (i.e. parents) that humans are created to trust most intrinsically cannot fully be counted on, not as a unit/institution anyways, these young adults are tremendously skeptical. Because their God-given authorities have often proven themselves untrustworthy, Millennials have had to navigate a different route to find authentic authorities. Authority tends to come only after personal investment and communal accountability, i.e. genuine connection, has been established. In other words, don’t expect Millennials to willfully submit to long-standing systems or structures of expertise. Traditional structures have largely failed them from birth. They feel very little sense of obligation and therefore care far less about pre-existing “rules” than their predecessors. Diana Butler Bass states the shift in the perception of authority like this:

“In the post-World War II period, Western societies underwent what philosopher Charles Taylor calls ‘an expressivist revolution,’ whereby obligatory group identity – whether of nation, family, or church – was replaced with a new sense of individual authenticity and the ‘right of choices’ based in personal fulfillment. External authorities gave way to internal ones, as we moved away from conformity to social structures toward the authentic self in society. Whether the switch is good or bad is beside the point. This revolution has happened.”[7]

Without question, personal choice now trumps social obligation. Consumer mentality wins over organizational loyalty. This has significantly shaped the landscape of American church. What is a congregation to do if they try to enact church discipline? Only 59 percent of Americans currently believe in hell and far fewer think there is any chance that they, their loved ones, or the neighbors they don’t even know, would ever go there.[8] This young American “under church discipline” will simply find a new church that will be more accepting of their behavior, beliefs, or desires. Much like the average coffee chain that literally has nearly 100,000 possible options for drinks, the Millennial who doesn’t like some things that his/her church teaches will simply determine that this church “isn’t for me.” Unfortunately, the desperation for growth and survival has led many churches to accommodate. As we’ll see later, this is ironically one of the things that Millennials claim they dislike about churches – they are too shallow and unable to change lives.

Currently, Millennials don’t see much difference between Christianity and other religions, or more specifically, between the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Book of Mormon. Nearly 60 percent of them believe these works offer the same basic spiritual truths as compared to only 33 percent of adults over sixty-four.[9] As disheartening for Christianity is the fact that so few Millennials (less than 1 in 5) consider any sort of spirituality to be important in their lives.[10] In some ways, this is the scariest possible news. If more young adults were actually antagonistic about Christianity, then they’d at least have it on their radar, investigating its claims and considering the cause of their animosity. But they’re default is distrust. They’re agnostic about everything. They have so much difficulty untangling who in their lives they can really rely on that something like supernatural religious claims almost seems too undecipherable.

Consequently, Millennials rely heavily upon what feels right. What seems fair is more powerful to them than what someone tells them is objectively right. Since so many truth claims are scientifically untestable, and since Millennials grew up hating the relational dissolution they experienced with their parents, they are constantly pushing for unity. Boomers were often skeptical of others but caustic in their attitudes. Millenials want to get along. They are forgiving and relational and have great difficulty understanding why other generations don’t feel the same way. They love family. They long for togetherness. They hate constant negative speech about other political parties, have no time for comments that suggest racial bias, and will opt out of any Christian church that is obsessed with pointing out the flaws in other Christian churches.

Perhaps surprisingly, in light of all that that’s been said, Millennials still largely believe in God. While Millennials tend to be the most unbelieving in the United States, still only 1.6 percent of the overall American population claims to be atheist. When you add together the percentages of Americans who are certain of God’s existence with those who say they have some doubts, you get to approximately 92 percent of the population.[11] That number is fairly historically consistent with previous generations.

So why are so many Millennials leaving churches? David Kinnaman says:

“When someone uses this idiom (“You lost me”), they are suggesting that something hasn’t translated, that the message has not been received. ‘Wait, I don’t understand. You lost me.’ This is what many (Millennials) are saying to the church…it’s not that they’re not listening; it’s that they can’t understand what we’re saying…The transmission of faith from one generation to the next relies on the messy and sometimes flawed process of young people finding meaning for themselves in the traditions of their parents….But what happens when the process of relationships and sources of wisdom change? What happens to the transference of faith when the world we know slips out from under our collective feet? We have to find new processes – a new mind – that make sense of faith in our new reality.”[12]

Are Millennials a lost cause? Of course not. Let’s not forget, the Holy Spirit’s basic work is to take those who are dead and make them alive (Eph. 2:1-5). It’s no less miraculous that God awakened believers in previous generations where universal morality, recognized authority structures, and belief in biblical inerrancy weren’t in question. God can and will accomplish what he desires with this generation as well. However, he has tasked us with the unique, beautiful, messy responsibility of mission work to this “discontinuously different” generation.

The things that obviously don’t change? First, we continue to recognize that our true power to make impact for God’s Kingdom is the dynamite of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Second, we come before God’s throne in prayer, asking for wisdom, opportunity, and blessing (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Third, we approach mission work to Millennials with the humility that comes from having applied the gospel to our own hearts, understanding that the only reason we count ourselves as God’s children is because, by sheer grace expressed through our Savior Jesus, while we were dead in sin, God rescued us (Rom. 5:8). We can unabashedly and accurately admit to Millennials (and mankind) that we are all fundamentally more alike than we are different – we are all sinners gifted with salvation by the grace of Christ Jesus.

With that in mind, we can work to overcome the most common negative perceptions that Millennials undeniably have about churches and the Christians who attend them.


What are those negative perceptions? I’ll have 8 of the most important ones for you next week. Thanks for reading! 

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[1] Jason Dorsey. “The Top 10 Millennials & Gen Y Questions Answered”

[2] Rick Newman. “If Millennials Are Jerks, Blame the Baby-Boomers”–blame-the-baby-boomers-200028612.html

[3] Kinnaman, pgs. 37-38

[4] Scott Hess, TEDxSF – “Millennials: Who They Are & Why We Hate Them,”

[5] Another way of painting the generational difference is to look at late night television. Millennials largely now prefer Jimmy Fallon in contrast to Busters/Boomers, who prefer David Letterman (or Jimmy Kimmel). Many Busters/Boomers consider Fallon a little flaky and Letterman witty. Millennials see Fallon as funny and Letterman as kind of a jerk. Letterman is combative and exclusive. Fallon is self-effacing and inclusive. Who is “better” is largely an issue of generational perception. Consider John Walters’ “Fallon Is the King on YouTube but Not on the Night’s Talk Shows”,

[6] Kinnaman, pgs. 46-47

[7] Bass, pg. 141

[8] Ibid., pg. 42

[9] Ibid, pg. 51

[10] Rainer, pg. 22

[11] Bass, pg. 49

[12] Kinnaman, pg. 39