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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 Religion Editor

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

soundoff (4,825 Responses)
  1. Boris

    Satan is good. Satan is our pal.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Satan is a good friend of the atheist.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
      • EvinAR

        So the evil demigod YOU believe in is friends with your enemies, is he? You don't say!

        August 3, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          That is how the devil works.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  2. RE

    The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends. There is evidence that within the U.S. strong disparities in religious belief versus acceptance of evolution are correlated with similarly varying rates of societal dysfunction, the strongly theistic, anti-evolution south and mid-west having markedly worse homicide, mortality, STD, youth pregnancy, marital and related problems than the northeast where societal conditions, secularization, and acceptance of evolution approach European norms.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Evolution as a means to species has been a lie for 40 years. Teaching racism in schools leads to dead Trayvons.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
      • R.Q. Veldmann

        Christianity is mostly lies. All the god bits, anyway, and much of the rest too. America is finally starting to get out of the grip of the extreme Christian nutbars and evangies. That's just wonderful to see. Put that in your pipe and stick it you know where, John P. Tarver. You lose and change is leaving your idiocy behind.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          America is seeing the consequences for blacks of teaching Darwin's racism in schools. There is real science to replace the nonsense.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          JPT. OK I'll bite. What racism in Darwin's work? What lies about evolution? There is a mountain of evidence for evolution and none for creationism.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
        • Buck Rogers

          Check this out....
          http://apolloscam.atspace.co.uk
          Since the astro-evolutionists at NASA faked the moon landings (and everything else), then this means that the prophecy in Revelation 9:11 is true as their "king" is Apollo. Christ is the truth, and Apollo (Satan) is a liar.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          JPT
          I have watched how steadily the general feeling, as shown at elections, has been rising against Slavery. What a proud thing for England, if she is the first European nation which utterly abolishes it. I was told before leaving England, that after living in slave countries: all my options would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character. It is impossible to see a negro & not feel kindly toward him; such cheerful, open honest expressions & such fine muscular bodies; I never saw any of the diminutive Portuguese with their murderous countenances, without almost wishing for Brazil to follow the example of Haiti; & considering the enormous healthy looking black population, it will be wonderful if at some future day it does not take place. ― Charles Darwin to Catherine Darwin (May 22 – July 14 1833)

          August 3, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
      • Gadflie

        John, do you have any evidence at all against evolution that isn't either an obvious logical fallacy or an equally obvious misuse of statistics?

        August 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
    • Peter

      Really? You're going to just "cut and paste"? Why even bother?

      August 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  3. John P. Tarver

    My grandfather's name was Benjamin Franklin Tarver, for our ancestor, but he went by the name of AJ because his name made folks in thew south angry. Y'all atheists are the devil worshipers here, spewing Darwin's racism as though it was science.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Tarver do you even know what Darwin studied or are you just trolling because you still don't have an education?

      August 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Darwin was a racist who made up his own idea of what makes a theory, divergent from the scientific method. I would have to go with art as Darwin's education, as the ant study is beautifully illustrated. It is clear that Darwin was a racist with no scientific background whatsoever.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
        • Peter

          Ok... I'll play along. Please give us an example of Darwin's "racism". Be specific.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          The chain of life to man, for one. Darwin's work is the basis of the UK operating slave States in Africa a full century after the US outlawed slavery. The first concentration camps were in Africa, as "blacks are cattle." The quote is part of Darwin's ant study, but it was the point of the original work, rejected for lack of scientific content in 1853.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
        • Athy

          Don't hold your breath, Peter.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          JPT. You do know that the UK banned slavery before the USA?

          August 3, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          JPT, look up the slave trade act of 1807 which abolished the slave trade (though not slavery itself) throughout the empire.

          The Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron was formed in 1808 to enforce it and prevent *any* slaveships leaving Africa.

          Then look up the slavery abolition act of 1833 which banned slavery throughout the British Empire.

          For reference, Darwin's voyage on the Beagle began in 1831.

          August 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      What does atheism have to do with southern bigotry for Yankees?

      August 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
  4. lamelionheart

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFWtsT5zRKo&w=640&h=360]

    August 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  5. Albuquerque49

    My god, aren't millennials supposed to be smarter than this?? She sounds like Pat Robertson. Run like hell and don't look back.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    August 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Brother Brosn

      Hmmmm...not

      August 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  7. Peter

    So in other words:
    Baptism= It's a social club with a hazing ritual.
    Confession= because being told that we're "forgiven" is so much easier then actually changing our lives so that we no longer have the offending behavior.
    Healing= Lets go back to that abusive relationship and hope that it is somehow magically all better now....yeah, that seems legit.
    Leadership= Because thinking for yourself is so hard....
    Communion= Really, this one is just so nuts it makes my brain hurt. Craving magical cannibalistic stale bread? Seriously???
    Confirmation= "One of us...One of us...One of us...."

    August 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  8. HeavenSent

    You atheists come on these blogs to spew the lies of the devil, who is satan. You took the wrong turn at the grocery store sinners. My camel-toe sunburned the first time we went out. It is time for you to start your walk with Jesus.

    Amen.

    August 3, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      One cannot sin for not believing in God.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      @What is going on? FREEDOM

      I hope you like worms because you will have your own personal worm feeding off your fat drippings for all eternity. The way to God is only through Jesus. I moved the kittens back to the freezer. They don't jump out any more. Let Jesus touch you privately.

      Amen.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Heavensent God doesn't touch anyone only your thoughts can touch yourself.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • chris kena

      As IF you know Jesus. You gave me the best laugh all day.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      @What is going on? FREEDOM

      God touches your heart and asks you to love and worship him so you don't have to fry in your father's kitchen for all eternity. The Bible is 100% accurate. My 12-year-old daughter switched to Marlboro Lights. They are better for you. Let Jesus show you the way to salvation.

      Amen.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Seriously? Now you are going to troll.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
      • jkflipflop

        *Slow clap*

        I, for one, get it. And I tip my hat to you, good sir. Thanks for the laugh.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Buck Rogers

      What about humbleness in professing faith? As Jesus said, God makes the "sun shine on the just and the unjust" and the Bible says that "both are His".

      August 3, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • HeavenSent

        Christians come on these blogs to spread the Truth. God gave us His message in His gift to us, the Holy Bible. I keep the flea shampoo in the shower now. Read the Bible and know the Truth.

        Amen.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
    • I AM

      Look inside yourself for salvation and redemption...the force is within you to resolve your faith.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • chris kena

      heaven sent is proof that some people DID escape jonestown. Jim Jones would be proud of you.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • BJ

      If Jesus is real he is gonna be real proud of you. Sicko...

      August 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  9. Apple Bush

    strangely displaced

    a single pulse turned inverse and a broken universe.

    it is killing me in my sopping bed where fever plays with misery

    backwards, upside down, inside out,

    wrong wrong wrong wrong

    This is the crunch

    August 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  10. michael

    Dont forget that without more cash donors to the collection basket those priest's cant afford any more trips to Thailand and the Philippines to give young boys "Special blessings" in the name of the lord...Amen

    August 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Dippy

      Priests, not priest's.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm |
    • Buck Rogers

      "And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." Mat 23:9

      August 3, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      This shaggy dog was prowling the bar and spattin’ out pussy hair like sunflower seeds.

      I have taken that walk with him.

      He never said much…that you could remember anyway. Not much difference in the pour either.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Two atheists were walking down the street when they see a dog pleasuring itself. One of them looks at the other and says, "I wish I could do that." The other replies, "you can, but you have to pet him first."

        August 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  11. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    So I'm guessing that someone put Ms Held Evans up to this confessional as an act of contrition for her last editorial on "why Millennials are leaving the (evangelical Christian) church".

    I wonder just how much blow back there was to her original piece. I haven't bothered to check her blog by the way. There wasn't really a lot of negative comments directed at her piece here – just the usual Xian v. Atheist stuff that goes on here.

    August 3, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Acts of contrition are required if you don't want god to shake rattle and roll you. Rachel did her best to roll over but I don't think god entered her being.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  12. snowboarder

    off to grab some dinner and a drink. the little woman is visiting her mother this weekend and i'm bach'n it.

    you all have a great night and be safe.

    August 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • Buck Rogers

      Don't forget, Christ is a wine maker. Cheers!

      August 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      I hope she comes home full of creationist swimmers.

      August 3, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  13. RM

    The reward that Jesus promises is conditional upon your acceptance of him. Sin is present in every human being, and God gave Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the sin of every man. However, this sacrifice is a gift to all people, and just as with any gift, you must receive it in order for it to dwell with you. If you don't receive the gift, then there is no "unconditional love" at play against you, but you have chosen to forfeit your own soul and pay the debt of sin yourself.

    Also, Matthew 10:23 has nothing to do with "false prophets."

    August 3, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • snowboarder

      yeah, that while god sacrificing himself to himself for his own errors in his human experiment is absurd. you've got to do better than that.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • George

      ...yawn

      August 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • Buck Rogers

      Amen, for we are all sinners (esp. me). In addition, His prepared reward is "with him" when He returns "with power and great glory" to reap the Earth, dissolve it, and then He creates "all things new". That will be glorious day!

      August 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • John

      So he killed his son for the sin in man that he created? Pass!

      At least Atheism is non prophet........G.Carlin

      August 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  14. Atheist, me?

    Faith is believing positive action has positive results and vice versa. This is what we gather from the Bible.
    Faith, anyone, Atheists?

    August 3, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Atheists can have faith that if you live well*, you will be happy.

      Why is God necessary for this?

      * Living well being generously, selflessly, kindly, tolerantly, etc.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Really? You need faith for that? It seems rather logical and hardly need a leap of faith.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • snowboarder

      that is absolutely not what faith is. faith is believing something though there is no evidence to support that belief.

      much like believing you can throw a no hitter in the world series even though you have never picked up a baseball before.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Actually, the bible has a very specific definition of faith. That isn't it. Perhaps you should read it some time.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Tim

      Is there some reason you believe that atheists aren't positive, and cannot do positive things with positive results without specifically believing in a god? That's an odd proposition.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
  15. Linda Heavens

    In the church of Scientology they have a method similar to "confession". It's called auditing (or processing) where "the intimate information he reveals to his auditor is not kept completely confidential. As many as ten people may examine these files, since a preclear's records are available to all of his auditors (who often number five or six), plus the Director of Processing and occasionally the Ethics Officer, a type of internal police officer in the Scientology organization."

    August 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • snowboarder

      I understand how traditional religions stay in power by indoctrination and coercion, but I will never understand how contemporary religions like mormonism and scientology get started. how do people fall for that stuff?

      August 3, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • G to the T

        I know with Scientology a lot of it is bait and switch. By the time you're "clear" enough to recieve the advanced indoctrination (i.e. Xenu and the whole sci-fi opera) you've already invested years of your life and potentially tens of thousands of dollars. It can be very difficult for someone to go that far down a road and then say "no". Most often they go "well that's odd, but I'm sure it make more sense later"...

        August 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  16. Stan

    Why do so many people bash muslims but not Christians or Jews? Same silly belief system based on falsehoods 🙂

    August 3, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      Same reason I prefer the wise Agnostic to the "intelligent" Atheist.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
      • Tim

        Same reason I prefer a wise agnostic to an "intelligent Christian.

        August 3, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  17. arieltouchet

    Your time and money would be much better spent tutoring an at-risk child, bringing a hot meal to and elderly person, helping someone in need than attending a church based on an old book of fairy tales.

    If Christ existed, which their is no evidence for outside the bible, he was just a man like you and me. I'm certain of this because he's been dead for 2 thousand years. God's don't die.

    August 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      He is alive.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
      • Athy

        He is dead. And will remain so.

        August 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  18. scot pederson

    Yelling at Republicans? So now that she has simmered down is she still yelling at Republicans on Meet the Press? Since we usually see Left-winger bloggers on CNN I guess most likely not.

    No surprise as she lists the sacraments that she left off the most important part of Christianity, which is Salvation through Faith in Jesus alone. It appears her understanding is of a Works-based Salvation which is not what the Bible teaches. Perhaps they just tell stories at her church and don't preach the Bible like so many do as well today. A watered-down Church gives you a watered-down gospel.

    August 3, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
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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.