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August 2nd, 2013
08:00 AM ET

Why millennials need the church

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - For a time, I counted myself among the spiritual but not religious, Christian but not churchgoing crowd.

Like many millennials, I left church because I didn’t always see the compassion of Jesus there, and because my questions about faith and science, the Bible, homosexuality, and religious pluralism were met with shallow answers or hostility.

At first I reveled in my newfound Sunday routine of sleeping in, sipping my coffee and yelling at Republicans who appeared on ”Meet the Press.”

But eventually I returned, because, like it or not, we Christian millennials need the church just as much as the church needs us. Here’s why:

Baptism

As former Methodist bishop Will Willimon has often said, “you cannot very well baptize yourself.”

In a culture that stresses individualism, the church satisfies the human need for community, for shared history and experiences.

And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us - sometimes kicking and screaming as infants - into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.

Confession

“Sin” is not a popular word these days, perhaps because it is so often invoked in the context of judgment and condemnation.

But like all people, millennials need reminding now and then that the hate and violence we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

We can be too idealistic, too convinced we can change the world from our iPads.

The accountability that comes from participation in a local church gives young Christians the chance to speak openly about our struggles with materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride.

Healing

While the flawed people who make up the church can certainly inflict pain on each other and sometimes on the world, we also engage in the important work of healing.

At their best, local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless.

Millennials who have been hurt by the church may later find healing in it.

Leadership

Like a lot of millennials, I am deeply skeptical of authority - probably to a fault.

But when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.

We can learn a lot from the faithful who have gone before us, and the church is where we find them.

Communion

One of the few things the modern church has in common with the ancient one is its celebration of the sacred meal— the Eucharist.

There is simply not the space here, nor in many volumes of theology for that matter, to unpack the significance of remembering Jesus through eating bread and drinking wine. But when I left the church, it was Communion I craved the most.

Churches may disagree on exactly how Christ is present in these sacred meals, but we agree that Christ is present. And millennials, too, long for that presence.

There are some days when the promise of Communion is the only thing that rouses me from bed on Sunday morning. I want a taste of that mystery.

Confirmation

Many churches practice a rite of initiation, sometimes called confirmation.

Theologian Lauren Winner, in her book “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis,” quotes a friend who said:

“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.

Union with Christ

Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church.

The apostle Paul compared this union to a marriage. Jesus describes it as a banquet.

No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

As much as I may struggle to fit in sometimes, as much as I doubt, question and fight for reforms, I am a part of this church, through good times and bad, for better or worse.

The astute reader will notice that each of these points corresponds loosely with a sacrament—baptism, confession, the anointing of the sick, holy orders, communion, confirmation and marriage.

Some would say there are many others. We could speak of the sacrament of the Word or the washing of feet.

But even where they are not formally observed, these sacraments are present in some form in nearly every group of people who gather together in the name of Jesus.

They connect us to our faith through things we can eat, touch, smell and feel. And they connect us with one another.

They remind us, as writer and Episcopal priest Sara Miles put it, that “You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

This is why I haven’t given up on the church, and I suspect why it hasn't given up on me.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to her.

Evans has written two previous posts for CNN's Belief Blog: Why millennials are leaving the church; and Not all religious convictions are written in stone.

- CNN Belief Blog Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • evangelicals • Faith • Opinion • United States

soundoff (4,825 Responses)
  1. Paul Dubuc

    It's interesting to compare the social media recommendation stats of this article with her prior one about "Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church." This article about why they need the church gets 6200 Facebook shares, 254 Tweets, 17 on LinkedIn and 38 on Google+. Those numbers for the previous article are 220,000, 3408, 372, and 648. It seems fair to say that Rachel's readers and their friends are far more interested in why Millennials are leaving the Church than why they need it. Draw your own conclusions.

    September 26, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • Matt

      I have found that most people link to articles that they disagree with more than they do ones they agree with. Evan's article about why Millennials leave the church was really not that much more popular until certain famous personalities started sharing it as something they disagreed with and then their followers started re-sharing it for the same reason. But, I guess details like that really don't matter to someone that decides to judge people's intentions without knowing them :)

      February 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm |
      • Paul Dubuc

        I wonder how you have found that. From what I see it's the opposite. I don't think the statistics that I mentioned really reflect the incidence of linking to an article. Linking generally shows up in the comments section as track backs. The comments themselves are a mixed bag. The social media statistics on this page count how many times the article is shared or "liked" on someone's Facebook, G+, etc. I think it's reasonable to suggest that people don't do that unless they are pretty much in agreement with the article, but maybe you are a better judge of people's unknown intentions than I.

        February 11, 2014 at 6:23 pm |
        • Matt

          Trackbacks are generally just from when blogs post about a topic. Links from Facebook,Twitter, etc tend to be more from people that disagree than agree according to recent research. People are generally trying to rally support against a topic when they post to Facebook. Likes generally come from people that like it, but that still is just a reflection of those that actually saw the post in the first place. It generally just takes a few trackbacks by key influencers to skew likes and Facebook links. There is a lot of fascinating research out there about this, but it mostly just concludes that you can't assume anything from the numbers on the bottom of posts.

          February 15, 2014 at 10:08 am |
        • Paul Dubuc

          You're saying that the counter above the Facebook "Recommend" button at the top of this article (and the other) also tracks those who disagree with the article? Hard to believe. I'd like to see the research that proves this. Thanks.

          February 15, 2014 at 4:09 pm |
  2. patw

    There is plenty of hate in the world. You don't need to go to a church to be subjected to more hatred.

    September 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • shadowspring

      Yup. Nailed it.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  3. Steve Finnell

    CHRIST ALONE

    Jesus Christ is the only way to gain salvation, the only way to heaven, the only way to the Father. Do all Christians believe that? All who claim to be Christians do not believe that.

    A 2007 Pew research forum on Religion found that 57% of the evangelical Christians, who were polled, believed that many religions can lead to eternal life.

    Those who claim the Bible as God's word do not always use it as their guide for what they believe.

    CHRIST ALONE ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE

    Acts 4:10-12 let it be know to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

    If 57% of all so-called evangelical Christians believe that there are many ways to heaven, it is not difficult to understand why so many of them reject the words of Jesus when He said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved..(Mark 16:16). If you do not believe Jesus is the only way to heaven, then, it makes it very easy to deny that water baptism is essential for salvation.

    Did you ever notice how, well know, so-called Christian preachers will not say that Jesus is the only way to heaven? Billy Graham and Joel Osteen come to mind. They also claim water baptism is not essential for salvation. Is there a connection?

    YOU EITHER BELIEVE AND PREACH THE TRUTH OR YOU DO NOT. A PARTIAL GOSPEL CANNOT SAVE ANYONE.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. Google search>>> steve finnell a christian view

    September 10, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • shadowspring

      But why would we? >_<

      September 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Jim Jones

      The Jesus of the gospels never existed, never said a word. He is a myth, like all 'gods'.

      September 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  4. try free

    I like this web blog very much, Its a very nice place to read and incur info. "Intimacy is what makes a marriage, not a ceremony, not a piece of paper from the state." by Kathleen Norris.

    August 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  5. jjg777.

    I am a Christian so I won't even deal with the comments you made regarding other non Christian religions. However regarding the bible:

    The bible says there is only one name under heaven whereby men (and women) must be saved. The Lord Jesus.

    The bible claims that Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father. No other religion claims that a man was raised from the dead. That he was seen on the earth for 40 days after he was resurrected (by more than 500 people) and that he then went up to heaven on a cloud. That he now sits on the right hand of the Father making intersession for our sins.

    The rapture will take all born again believers to heaven. Leaving the rest of humanity in a horrible time of war and the coming of a man called the Antichrist and a season of horror for 7 years most of humanity will be killed by other men and Christ will return for 1000 years of peace. Then unbelievably after 1000 years of his rule on earth, man kind will still revote and be promptly put down.

    The bible has been incredibly accurate. Going back even to non Christian sources such as Josephus where he describes Christ in around the first century. The bible knows things that man has just recently discovered. For example in four places the bible says that "God stretches out the heavens like a curtain." If you read what Hubble discovered that the galaxies are flying away from each other in just that manner. His discovery was not made until 1929!!!

    Or how about looking at many of the (hidden) prophesies in the Psalms. For example: Each of the Psalms seems to describe events that match the number of that Psalm in the 20th and 21th century. For example Psalm 91 for 1991. It very accurately describes gulf war number one. The Psalms talks about arrows (scud missles) tipped with biological weapons (pestilences in the bible). Read the whole Psalm for your self. Or maybe you want to read Psalm 102 (for right after 9-11-2001). It describes a building (the trade towers) coming down and people in the dust! Read it for your self.

    Or maybe Psalm 46 (right after the 2nd World war) it says God ends all war and it describes the earth melting (atomic bomb). I could go on.

    Man has no other answers to why it we are evolved rather than made by God that every other planet that we have discovered is barren and weird with no chance of life.

    There is a all powerful, all knowing, all present God and he can give you eternal life if :

    You confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved!!!

    Finally, to prove this statement above read the story of the crucifixion of Christ, with 2 bad men one on either side of Christ also being crucifixion. The one bad man said to Christ on the cross, "If you be the Christ, come down off that cross and save your self and then save me." But the other bad man on the other side of Christ said to his bad friend, " You and I deserve what we are getting but this man (Christ) has done nothing amiss. Then he turned to Christ and said " Lord when you come into your Kingdom, remember me. Therefore he called Jesus "Lord" with his mouth, and must have believed in his heart that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead (because at the moment Jesus was on the Cross.) He met the requirements of the verse "Confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and you will be saved.

    What did Jesus say to the one thief who made this confession (but not to the other). He said "This day will you be with me in paradise (Paradise became Heaven).

    Fall away from the church if you will as the bible says–There will be a great falling away." But one day you will see the Lord Jesus standing before you with the nail prints in his hands and his feet and you will say "Lord I believe now."

    But it will be TO LATE.

    Yes as the bible says "EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL CONFESS (THE LORD JESUS) TO THE GLORY OF THE FATHER.

    BUT SADLY FOR SOME OF YOU IT WILL BE TO LATE. "NOW IS THE ACCEPTABLE TIME OF THE LORD."

    August 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
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    August 22, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  7. Bubba

    I have heard the Church is dwindling because it lacks "feeling", however, I disagree. I believe the Church is fading due to the wrong "feeling".
    The Church, is the living embodiment of God. As a Christian, I believe the Church, are the Hands, Feet, and Voice of Christ. Hands which currently collect lots of money, but do not distribute it to help those in need, and instead builds fancy malls to congregate in. Feet, that run away from the challenge of helping "the least of these", and run toward any like minded group that remind them of how "Righteous" they are. Voice, that spends most of its time condemning the Sins of others, while making excuses for, or completely ignoring, their own Sins.
    I am a Sinner, and I will be JUDGED. But so shall all these hypocrites who call themselves Followers, but know no love for anyone other than themselves. The Church is dwindling because of Hypocrisy, and Selfish Greed.

    August 19, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Joshua

      Bubba,
      Well said, as a group only a minority of The church is the extension of Christ it should be. I wonder if it is more our selfish American culture invading the church? The church intern has embraced this culture versus holding to Biblical teachings? Just a thought.

      August 22, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  8. pzh

    mzh who keeps pushing quotes from his evil storybook at us will go on all day with his repetitive posts trying to sell you on his god fraud. He has no proof to offer of his stories and you have to ask why his "god" needs an old, badly flawed book to get its message out. The reason is that his religion is all a big scam, entirely man-made. The god that his mythbook describes is just that, a complete fabrication. It is time to put such fictions aside and to tackle the problems of the world head on, instead. mzh's religion is one of those problems, and is the source of some of the worst ones. Witness what it demands that its followers do to "infidels" that happen to not buy into his stories.

    August 13, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  9. Kenrick Benjamin

    Thank you JEHOVAH GOD.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:19 am |
    • mzh

      Who created the Sun?

      Can you or science create anything out of nothing? what about human creation? I understand you may say the science will create human as surrogate or so on... can u then create the sperm and the ovam?

      No one can create anything out of nothing... why human so ignorance in order to believe that there is A Creator who has no partner and He is not in need of any human to help Him in order to run this entire universe? and these humen were not exist and then they come to their mother's womd and then gets out of it and then they can't even feed themselves till certain age and then once they become little young, they forget their existance... don't they use their brain to think that they were not exist? don't they think that they are going towards old age and some of them they die... who can stop these? if you can then come to me and i will accept you...

      Peace!!!

      August 13, 2013 at 9:41 am |
      • lerianis

        It is ignorant to think that there is a 'god' at all and not a collective of higher evolved beings who created the Universe.

        Just because people have powers that humans DO NOT YET HAVE doesn't mean that they are 'gods' in the slightest, nor that they should be dictating to other people how they live their lives.

        August 13, 2013 at 9:49 am |
      • mzh

        Dear lerianis:

        I am glad to hear that from you...

        Quran rejects any human god(s) or any kind of association with god inlcuding ppl say only begotten son or daughter or wife or etc... it is very simple that 'there is no ILAH worthy of worship excpt Allah who is unseen and the creator of heavens and earch and anything between them and Muhammad, Jesus, Moses and others are sent as messanger or prophets...

        My humble suggestions to you is to study the quran and get to know what it says about The Creator and who is God and so on... it may take years but please do not give up... Quran is the ONLY MONOTHIESTIC religion on the face of earth as Jesus, Moses, Abraham and all other prophets...

        August 13, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • pzh

        mzh who keeps pushing quotes from his evil storybook at us will go on all day with his repetitive posts trying to sell you on his god fraud. He has no proof to offer of his stories and you have to ask why his "god" needs an old, badly flawed book to get its message out. The reason is that his religion is all a big scam, entirely man-made. The god that his mythbook describes is just that, a complete fabrication. It is time to put such fictions aside and to tackle the problems of the world head on, instead. mzh's religion is one of those problems, and is the source of some of the worst ones. Witness what it demands that its followers do to "infidels" that happen to not buy into his stories.

        August 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  10. mzh

    25:70 – Except those who repent and believe (in Islamic Monotheism), and do righteous deeds, for those, Allah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

    25:71 – And whosoever repents and does righteous good deeds, then verily, he repents towards Allah with true repentance.

    25:72 – And those who do not witness falsehood, and if they pass by some evil play or evil talk, they pass by it with dignity.

    25:73 – And those who, when they are reminded of the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of their Lord, fall not deaf and blind thereat.

    25:74 – And those who say: "Our Lord! Bestow on us from our wives and our offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us leaders for the righteous"

    25:75 – Those will be rewarded with the highest place (in Paradise) because of their patience. Therein they shall be met with greetings and the word of peace and respect.

    25:76 – Abiding therein; excellent it is as an abode, and as a place to dwell.

    August 13, 2013 at 7:00 am |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      "Beep – whir – ping – bop – toot – beep – beep" R2-D2

      "The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." Mark Twain

      August 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • pzh

      mzh who keeps pushing quotes from his evil storybook at us will go on all day with his repetitive posts trying to sell you on his god fraud. He has no proof to offer of his stories and you have to ask why his "god" needs an old, badly flawed book to get its message out. The reason is that his religion is all a big scam, entirely man-made. The god that his mythbook describes is just that, a complete fabrication. It is time to put such fictions aside and to tackle the problems of the world head on, instead. mzh's religion is one of those problems, and is the source of some of the worst ones. Witness what it demands that its followers do to "infidels" that happen to not buy into his stories.

      August 13, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.