Millennials weren't surprised by last month's discouraging jobs report -- only 54,000 new jobs created and unemployment falling to 9.1%. According to a recent Rutgers University survey, half of all college graduates from the past five years (2006-2010) are working in low-paying jobs that don't actually use the education they worked so hard to acquire. Society's under-appreciation of Millennials helps explain the fact that a third of 20-somethings are feeling depressed.
Where's the creative outlet for Millennials? Where's the opportunity for Millennials to change their world? For all the 20-something Millennials out there reading this, I have a job offer for you: church planter, faith community organizer, community architect, whatever you want to call it. You've got creative ideas about the future of the faith, and the time to start building that future is now.
The Creative Call of Church Planting
What is "church planting" or faith community formation? It basically means organizing communities around faith and spiritual practices (e.g., worship, prayer, etc.) and, in this instance, I'm talking about forming distinctly Christian communities of practice. Millennials are already leading small groups that are organizing for justice, living in small intentional communities, blogging on following the way of Jesus, meeting in bars for worship and poetry readings, and gathering in living rooms for meditation.
Mike Friesen is the kind of person I'm talking about. He's 24, he sees the dire shape things are in, he sees the apathy and the hopelessness that many in his generation are struggling with, and yet, in the middle of all that, he writes, "My generation, despite its depression and anxiety has great self-esteem and great dreams. If the Church is able to tap into the dreams and gifts of my generation, my generation can truly be a generation that changes the world."
Mike's optimism is one of the reasons I'm hopeful we will witness nothing less than a creativity revolution in faith communities in many metro areas of the U.S. and Canada -- a complete revolution in Christian community led by Millennials like Mike. So I want my invitation to be clear: Millennials are the ones who can form the faith communities of the future, and the good news is that mainline churches, unlike our wider society right now, welcome your vision and creativity as never before.
Traditional Churches Taking Note
As Millennials shake up the expectations of what "church" is, traditional churches are taking note and supporting the creative revolution. Many churches are waking up to the fact that they are following a script perfected in the 1950s but which does not communicate well today. My denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), predicts that 600 of its 3,700 churches will shut down in the next 10 years. Traditional churches now realize that the broader population as much as the faith landscape has shifted in the U.S., and it's time to move the church spatially and temporally into the diverse urban areas of the 21st century. Older churches know that things have to change, but they need new ideas and perspectives.
The Disciples have developed a program called "New Beginnings"* to help older churches evaluate their situation and suggest new options for them, including supporting a parallel faith community led by Millennials within the existing congregation, or simply closing the church and using the remaining resources to help Millennials start newer communities in the neighborhood.
Programs like this are really a partnership between generations. Millennials supply the creativity and leadership while the older generation supplies the resources that allows the creativity to take form. Millennials get to imagine a new kind of Christian community, while older generations get to see their legacy live on.
Of course this kind of work will entail great personal sacrifice and a missional perspective on life. While it's true that over the next 10-20 years a lot of resources and buildings are going to change hands, from one generation to the next, the motivation to do this creative church planting work should not be money, but rather God's mission. It's going to take hard work and commitment and a Spirit-led entrepreneurial drive to join in this missional movement.
The point isn't that someone else is going to be writing you a paycheck to do this creative, entrepreneurial work. You're probably going to have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, but the work is going to be creative and life-giving and transformational -- for you, for the people in your community, and for the world.
If you're feeling called to create a new faith community for the future, then now is the time to start. And I want to talk to you. In fact, a lot of people want to talk to you!
*Full disclosure: The Disciples ministry that I work for is the one that developed this program and that sells it to congregations in the Disciples of Christ, as well as churches in other denominations.