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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. MagicPanties

    And small children need Santa Claus just as much as he needs them.

    No, we do _not_ need fairy tales masquerading as truth.
    The author confuses tradition and community as somehow not being available outside of religion.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  2. Jill

    Rainer Braendlein, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

    So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

    Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

    Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

    Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

    And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • tony

      Here endeth the lesson. Go forth and populate the word by knocking up naive young virgins

      August 4, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  3. bostontola

    Leadership would be the most important role of a church. Unfortunately, they have done an abysmal job of that teaching fear, conditional love, arrogance, and certi.tude, instead of tolerance.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • tony

      Why should a church "lead"? Who asked "it" to?

      And which one is the authority when there are 30,000 denominations in the US alone?

      August 4, 2013 at 10:52 am |
      • bostontola

        Any organization, large or small, needs leadership to accomplish its goals. If you don't like where they are going, you don't join it.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:54 am |
        • tony

          The children don't usually get the choice.

          August 4, 2013 at 10:59 am |
        • bostontola

          tony,
          Exactly why good leadership is needed, and as I said in the OP, is missing.

          August 4, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  4. MaryM

    Humans today have access to Factional information, more than any other time in history. That access has opened their eyes to wonders of science and the hypocritical nature of religion and some of the people that claim to be religious

    August 4, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • tony

      I think you mean factual.

      Of course it that was "the word of god", put out by a "good" religious leader, I'd be an heretic.

      August 4, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • bostontola

        My spell checker does similar things, there's no edit capability on this blog.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  5. Alias

    Posters in general were a lot kinder to the author when she was criticizing the church for pushing young people away.
    She had te same narrow view of the world then, but her agenda was less clear.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  6. dzerres

    Please. Those are all reasons NOT to go to church. Just a bunch of made up rituals and guilt-ridden reasons to have you come back for more. Hey, the Druids had some great routines also – why don't you check those out as well? I prefer my quiet Sunday mornings (no Republicans on TV, thank you) with coffee, the paper, and good conversation. Why ruin that with this "we gotta hurray and get outta here to make it to church on time" drill? Relax. God is everywhere, even on your patio in your own back yard. God is not confined to a building otherwise why would He allow them to burn down, flooded, be destroyed by a tornado or an earthquake? Proof positive He's not tied to a particular spot.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • just me.

      Proof positive of absolutely NOTHING.Do religious folks even know what the word,"proof" means?

      August 4, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  7. Jim

    "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."

    The intelligent reader will notice that this is the equivalent to saying the "you need the church because the church tells you so."

    August 4, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Who am I to judge?

      Agree

      August 4, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • tony

      Nicely pointed out

      August 4, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  8. Buck Rogers - Earth is Fixed

    @ Ryan,

    No, I'm not joking, Earth is fixed and the sun moves as the Scriptures proclaim. Point being – there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth. This creation is temporary and "awaits fire". The geostatic (Tychonian) model is nothing new, it was just 'buried' by false Copernican philosophy. Nick asserted that we are to 'worship the sun' which to him was the 'visible g-d'. Sun worship is nothing new either, and God says we are not to worship creation in any form.

    Nonetheless, as I mentioned Galileo even confessed that the Copernican model is indeed false;

    "The falsity of the Copernican system should
    not in any way be called into question,
    above all, not by Catholics, since we have
    the unshakeable authority of the Sacred
    Scripture, interpreted by the most erudite
    theologians, whose consensus gives us
    certainty regarding the stability of the
    Earth, situated in the center, and the motion
    of the sun around the Earth. The
    conjectures employed by Copernicus and
    his followers in maintaining the contrary
    thesis are all sufficiently rebutted by that
    most solid argument deriving from the
    omnipotence of God. He is able to bring
    about in different ways, indeed, in an
    infinite number of ways, things that,
    according to our opinion and observation,
    appear to happen in one particular way. We
    should not seek to shorten the hand of God
    and boldly insist on something beyond the
    limits of our competence….

    D’Arcetri,
    March 29, 1641. I am writing the enclosed
    letter to Rev. Fr. Fulgenzio, from whom I
    have heard no news lately. I entrust it to
    Your Excellency to kindly make sure he
    receives it."

    6 Le Opere Di Galileo Galilei, Antonio Favaro, reprinted
    from the 1890-1909 edition by Firenze, G. Barbèra –
    Editore, 1968, vol. 18, p. 311, translated from the original
    Italian by Fr. Brian Harrison.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Alias

      TROLL ALLERT!

      August 4, 2013 at 10:34 am |
      • Buck Rogers - Earth is Fixed

        Tycho Brahe and Galileo are not trolls.... they were scientists who declared that the Earth does not move as the Bible proclaims and true, observable science confirms. The Bible is Holy Writ, i.e. inspired by the Holy Ghost who is not to be blasphemed (Luke 12:10).

        August 4, 2013 at 10:46 am |
        • snowboarder

          all which has been thoroughly refuted.

          August 4, 2013 at 10:50 am |
        • ME II

          What observable science confirms a non-moving Earth? That's ridiculous, i.e. it goes against all known evidence.

          August 4, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • snowboarder

      that is just plain loony!

      August 4, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Jill

      Buck Rogers, don't obfuscate the primary prenuptials with rasberries. Often, the pertinent cat presents fabled necessities in the parking chamfer. Realize your net precedent. Triangulate! Save the best for the alligators. Ever the bastille notches the orchestra but Wendy is not green and horses will capitulate. Filter out the log from the turnstile and cry prevalently.

      So there brown stare. Feed your inner walnut and resolve. Subject your lemon to the ingenious door in the presence of snow and animals. Aisle 7 is for the monetary cheese whiz. Faced with the kitchen, you may wish to prolong the sailboat in the cliff. Otherwise, rabbits may descend on your left nostril. Think about how you can stripe the sea.

      Regale the storm to those who (6) would thump the parrot with the armband. Corner the market on vestiges of the apparent closure but seek not the evidential circumstance. Therein you can find indignant mountains of pigs and apples. Descend eloquently as you debate the ceiling of your warning fulcrum. Vacate the corncob profusely and and don’t dote on the pancreas.

      Next up, control your wood. Have at the cat with your watch on the fore. Aft! Smarties (12)! Rome wasn’t kevetched in an autumn nightie. (42) See yourself for the turntable on the escalator. Really peruse the garage spider definitely again again with brown. Now we have an apparent congestion, so be it here. Just a moment is not a pod of beef for the ink well nor can it be (4) said that Karen was there in the millpond.

      Garbage out just like the candle in the kitty so. Go, go, go until the vacuum meets the upward vacation. Sell the yellow. Then trim the bus before the ten cheese please Louise. Segregate from the koan and stew the ship vigorously.

      And remember, never pass up an opportunity to watch an elephant paint Mozart.

      August 4, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • huh...

      "No, I'm not joking, Earth is fixed and the sun moves as the Scriptures proclaim....."

      I see they got the computer working in the patient lobby at Western State again. Buck, do be a good lad and let your fellow lunatics have a turn this time before you launch the thing again...ok?

      August 4, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  9. I sin, I need forgiveness.

    John 3:16-17

    16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

    August 4, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Jon Price

      So, how come Christians die like the rest of us?

      August 4, 2013 at 10:13 am |
      • Buck Rogers - Earth is Fixed

        We all die and will "sleep the sleep of death" as the Bible teaches. Christ was raised from the dead, and now "all power and authority" has been given to Him. We are all in Adam, and thus die, yet in Christ "all shall be made alive" as the apostle Paul proclaimed and if Christ is not risen, then our faith is "in vain" and the dead will forever remain dust, from which we are made.

        There are two resurrections: 1) at His coming when He reaps the Earth at the "end of the age" (John 5:25), and 2) 1,000 years later which is the general resurrection (John 5:28, Rev. 20). All are then judged in the Kingdom of God on the 12 thrones as Christ said.

        Death is death, and life is given back through Christ alone who will resurrect both the "just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). You don't hear this much from preachers because the fact that the dead are indeed dead is not popular (truth is never popular...), but this lie began in the Garden of Eden, "surely you won't die...." and we've been dying ever since.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • Doan

          Nice Buck. And to continue the plotline of your arbitrary man-made mess of fictions, Snow White has a torrid virtual affair with Anthony Weiner, Hagrid and Gandalf get married to each other and go on to live happily ever after in the pope's former residence, and Dumbledore gets convicted for casting tax avoiding spells while wearing an underheight hat.

          August 4, 2013 at 10:50 am |
        • G to the T

          Ah so you believe the words of Paul even when they conflict with what Jesus is supposed to have said... interesting...

          August 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Lou

      Makes sense that a deity needs a blood sacrifice to make everything better....

      August 4, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Damocles

      'For the deity so screwedeth up and its incompetence raneth so high, that it did fail miserably witheth its very first creations'. Damo 1:1

      'Verily I sayeth unto thee, that nothing so e'r (ever) screameth 'all-powerful' so loudly, yay like a thunderclap, then to fudgeth up from the get go'. Damo 1:2

      August 4, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  10. morgan

    Amen! you are absolutely right Rachel. there will be haters in this world but do not let them hurt you. I say to you congratulations on your journey back home!

    August 4, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • just me.

      It's called disagreement,not hate.Non-beleivers do NOT hate believers,they just have a completely different world-veiw than people that claim to know stuff,for no good reason.

      August 4, 2013 at 11:04 am |
      • Johnny

        Love the believer hat the belief.

        August 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  11. bostontola

    Premise: Children will believe almost anything their loving parents tell them (e.g. Santa, tooth fairy, etc.).

    Question: What percentage of people would believe in a god/religion if all were kept open until children turned 18?

    August 4, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • I sin, I need forgiveness.

      1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”[a] 4 Fathers,[b] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4

      August 4, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Damocles

        I'm pretty certain that did nothing to answer the question.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • bostontola

        Avoiding questions is the sure sign of a closed mind.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • Jon Price

      Religion should be prohibited until one is mature enough to understand the consequences, just like alcohol and tobacco.

      August 4, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • ttwp

      I came to Christ when I was 39. It has nothing to do with age and everything to do with a person's heart.

      August 4, 2013 at 10:49 am |
      • bostontola

        A sample size of 1 cannot support your conclusion that age has nothing to do with it. I never said there would be no believers.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:57 am |
      • just me.

        Lucky for you that you did not come to Allah at 39.Is it coincidence that you came to the religion that is prominent in your region?A true miracle,right?

        August 4, 2013 at 11:09 am |
        • gaymuslims

          thats a good point

          August 4, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  12. RexCraigo

    I'm not sure what a "millenial" is but sweetie your church, and NO CHURCH, is good for any sane person.

    Grow a brain and stop following the herd to the invisible man in the sky.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Understanding atheist

      Spoken like an educated person

      August 4, 2013 at 10:11 am |
      • guest

        Yes, educated, but foolish.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:45 am |
        • Richard Cranium

          Is it more foolish to believe in something there is no evidence for, or to not believe in EVERYTHING there is no evidence for?

          If you believe in a god, do you believe in ALL gods, Santa Claus, tooth fairy and all of the other things that that there is no evidence of?

          August 4, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  13. Paul

    What a load of crap!

    August 4, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  14. Lamb of dog

    Millennial run away. Don't look back at the church of lies.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  15. David DeForge

    IF you need an invisible friend as an adult, you have issues.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  16. Joan

    This has probably already been said, but may be worth repeating. When Ms. Evans says millenials need "church," she's only talking about Christianity. No mention whatsoever of other faiths and traditions. This is the bias that pervades our society.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Damocles

      To be fair, she can only speak about the things she has some knowledge of. I want my car mechanic to talk about my car, not dental surgery.

      August 4, 2013 at 9:52 am |
      • scanboy

        True. So do you drive a Ford because your parents drove Fords - especially while you were growing up? What about Chevy, Chrysler or the Asian lines, Hyundai, Mazda, Toyota...

        Answer: Most (not all) people know only the religion of their family to any great degree. I would like to know the numbers if anyone knows.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Damocles

        Ahhh... interesting. I was raised in a family that drove Datsuns/Nissans and Fords and maybe a Chevy, can't remember. I grew up driving pretty much those same types and own a Chrysler atm. Sometimes the better car has to be given up in favor of what you can actually afford, but I do try to do a little research on gas mileage and other factors.

        To tie this all in with the article, yes, she may have done some research into other brands, but she may not feel comfortable enough to speak about those. That's great, I'd much rather someone talk intelligently about what they know as opposed to just spouting off a bunch of junk about something they are unfamiliar with.

        August 4, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  17. lamelionheart

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tH2w6Oxx0kQ&w=640&h=360]

    August 4, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  18. Theism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Science changes things.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • bostontola

      Fact.

      August 4, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • devin

      Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

      August 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Maani

      Actually, no it doesn't. Science REVEALS things. Humankind USES science to "change things."

      August 4, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  19. kimeschroeder

    FYI: no matter what you write there are some people here that will just not like it because they seem to thing their gift of the Holy Spirit is being negative.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Alias

      Very true.
      I, for one, always see living in a fantasy world as a great alternative to the stress of coping with reality.

      August 4, 2013 at 10:07 am |
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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.