Pastor Nate has spent over fifteen years working as a youth pastor in the Evangelical denomination. Because of his experience and unique vantage point on youth and the various culture shifts that have taken place over the last decade or so, I thought he was a good person to talk to about Millennials and the church. Here is part one of the interview I had with Pastor Nate.
Zak: There’s all kinds of articles online discussing Millennials and their future in the church right now. I know you have been in youth ministry for fifteen years. Statistics are saying that there is a decrease in the church, in your experience would you say that is accurate?
Nate: N: I would say that’s accurate. I think Millennials are a by-product of their parents. When my parents grew up, everyone went to church. You just went to church because it was the social norm, whether or not someone was necessarily a believer is a different question.
Regardless, you went to church, because that was your social outing. Sundays you went to church and afterwards you might go to someone’s house. The next generation wasn’t quite like that. There were so many other outlets by that time for socialization so church didn’t need to be high on their priority list.
Ideally Jesus would be someone’s most important relationship and everything else would filter through that, where now everything is on the same level. If you look at people’s hobbies and religion now, everything is on the same shelf. This is what has been modeled for the Millennial generation, so the millennial generation is the most non-religious as a result. Religion and a relationship with Christ are very different things. In the past there were at least many people who were somewhat religious and attended church.
I think you just find a whole lot less of that now. So are less people attending? I think so, but I think it has progressively gotten there. I think it has happened partly because of culture and partly because of the generations before them.
Millennials in particular are not impressed with inconsistencies and that is so much of what generation x and baby boomers have modeled to them; inconsistent faith.
I think we (as previous generations) have done a lousy job of modeling what a relationship with Christ should look like. Living our lives as Christians has been so inconsistent with the priorities of our everyday life. The inconsistences didn’t impress us (generation x) with our parents and now I think it is even more so with Millennials. When they see an inconsistency they are not impressed at all.
Now for the Millennials who have seen legitimate faith it is sticking, because they have seen what true faith can do. But when it comes to those who are inconsistent, Millennials are looking at that and saying “What’s the point? It’s just another thing.”
Z: Over your 15 years in ministry have you seen any changes in how young people are expressing their faith?
N: I think there are less people faking it. I feel early on there were many people who would say one thing but would be totally inconsistent. Now, they are pretty honest with where they are at. If they are trying to live it out, they will say they are trying to live it out. If they are struggling they will tell you that too. They are just real about it. I’m not so sure people would have admitted that 15 years ago; admitting that they were living a double life.
Z: In the larger church as a whole would you say you still see that unwillingness to come forward with the double life in the older generations that are still involved in church? Do you see a distinction in the honesty of the generations today?
N: I don’t think the older ones are honest at all. I see so many adults that are inconsistent, but they wouldn’t admit that. It’s pretty clear in watching them for ten minutes, or talking to them. There is definitely a shallowness of people’s faith from people who would call themselves solid Christians and may even consider themselves leaders in the church. Don’t get me wrong there are some real solid leaders in the church but you also have the ones that leave you asking “Where are you? Where do you stand?”