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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. Loathstheright

    The church wants their money.....Religion the greatest hoax on mankind ever.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  2. David

    "The astute reader will notice that ....."

    –yes, the reader already noticed that your agenda is simple, you want to push a certain 'lifestyle choice 'inside the church.

    What the church truly needs is godly and spiritual pastors and clergy who are there to serve The Lord, honestly and in truth , with fear and reverence for God.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Roger that

      'there to serve The Lord, honestly and in truth , with fear and reverence for God.'

      Sort of like... There to serve their leader, honestly and in truth, with fead and reverence for Kim Jong-un.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  3. Reality

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    Now with that information:

    As good students, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

    August 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Buddy

      Awwwww, how cute, an anti-theist shows up to display his ignorance and bigotry.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
      • Reality

        origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

        New Torah For Modern Minds

        “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
        Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

        The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

        Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

        The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

        The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

        August 4, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
        • Reality

          AND THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD

          Joe Smith had his Moroni. (As does M. Romney)

          "Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."

          Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

          Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

          Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented. (As does BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

          The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

          Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn-blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

          Some added references to "tink-erbells".

          newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

          "The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., "Praep. Evang.", xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and As-syrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: "He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed."
          Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

          "TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel."

          And tin-ker- bells go way, way back:

          "In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don't convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...)."

          "The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. "

          "The 'Magic Papyri' contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. "

          For added information see the review at:

          en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel
          "The prophet Ezekiel described an incredible vision of cherubim angels in Ezekiel chapter 10 of the Torah and the Bible, mentioning that the angels’ wings were “completely full of eyes” (verse 12) and “under their wings was what looked like human hands” (verse 21). The angels each used their wings and something “like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (verse 10) that “sparkled like topaz” (verse 9) to move around."

          For a rather extensive review of angel wings, see http://angels.about.com/od/AngelBasics/a/Angels-Wings-And-Things.htm

          August 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Morgan

      "Reality," all the things you listed are some (but not all) of the reasons why I don't practice any of the Abrahamic religions. I'll happily stick with my Wicca. 🙂

      August 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • Reality

        Mocking Wicca and Paganism?

        Spells, curses, covens, black magic, witches, voodooing dolls, hoodooing the results, shadow books, maypoles,
        god(s) and goddess(es), Gerald Gardner et al??

        Never!!!!

        August 4, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  4. god isn't dead because god never existed

    THIS WHOLE ARTICLE=LOL

    There is no Santa Claus, people...and stop trying to force your delusions on others especially my family.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  5. Craig

    I'll consider believing that I need the church when I can see a church that actually lives the teachings of Jesus. I was raised a Methodist, and my parents were very active in the church. It was a second home for me and my sister. Ultimately both of my parents were lay pastors. However, when I see "the Christian Church" deny human rights to people, to advocate for the creation of the theocracy, and listen to it's "leaders" threaten the wrath of God upon entire states simply because they disagree with a piece of legislation, I know that Jesus, like me, would find no home in "his church."

    I'm not a millennial, I'm a boomer, but much of what is expressed herein is simply presented as "you'll feel better" and not a reason to spend time in a hating, bigoted organization that wants only one thing: Power! Organized Religion has always been about power, not morals or ethics, not people or goodness. Jesus lived in poverty and taught under trees. Religion has built huge gaudy buildings to show off. Jesus said "love one another" and the Christian church says "hate these folks." In short, I have great respect for Jesus, unrelated to religion. I have no respect for his fan clubs.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Momof3

      You forgot the second thing that organized religions want from you...MONEY! They do need you more than you need them...to pay their bills, and for the leaders' lifestyles.

      Totally agree with everything you said!

      August 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
    • Jester

      See the nasty poster lol??'s words for a glimpse of what. "True Believer™" acts like. I don't blame you.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • MisterBTS

      My journey through Christianity has led me to believe basically what you said above: organized religions were created to give certain men power and leverage over other men. How else could a priest rein in a king but by declaring "your salvation depends upon me". My own beliefs have become far simpler: "There is a God, who loves us, and wants us to love another". I wonder whether a religion could be created around such basic beliefs and none other, but then I realize, there wouldn't be any money in it.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
      • allenwoll

        .
        MrBTS - Your God has indeed a strange way of showing love.
        .

        August 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • Ryan P

      Luke 19:27 "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'" -Jesus I used to believe Jesus was all about peace and love too until I actually read the Bible. The Bible is filled with hate and violence even from Christ himself which is why I can no longer in good conscience believe in the Christian god.

      August 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  6. indysteve9

    Everyone should drop all religions because they are all about Power, Mind Control and most of all MONEY!!!

    August 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  7. Colin

    I would encourage any millennial who still gives any credibility to Christianity to do a little research of their own on the historical Jesus. This topic covers the way the gospels and the rest of the New Testament were written and compiled over the decades and how they made their way down through the centuries, through the various laguages, to be the Bible in most US homes today.

    Bart Erhman is great on the topic.

    August 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Reality

      Added historical Jesus scholars: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      A synopsis:

      :Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ

      Earl Doherty
      Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

      Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past

      Alvar Ellegård
      G. A. Wells

      Jesus the Hellenistic Hero / Zealot

      Gregory Riley

      Jesus the Revolutionary / Zealot

      Robert Eisenman

      Jesus the Wisdom Sage

      John Dominic Crossan
      Robert Funk
      Burton Mack
      Stephen J. Patterson

      Jesus the Man of the Spirit

      Marcus Borg
      Stevan Davies
      Geza Vermes

      Jesus the Prophet of Social Change / Zealot

      Richard Horsley
      Hyam Maccoby
      Gerd Theissen

      Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet/ Zealot

      Bart Ehrman
      Paula Fredriksen
      Gerd Lüdemann
      John P. Meier
      E. P. Sanders

      Jesus the Savior

      Luke Timothy Johnson
      Robert H. Stein
      N. T. Wright

      August 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Deidra

    I'll pass on Christianity. I dropped it like a bad habit when I was in college after reading the Bible and realizing that I actually did not believe the text (or several of its messages). I was most disappointed to read that Jesus came for the Jews primarily...everyone else would have to wait. That didn't fit my prior understanding of him at all. Now if I could only drop my carbs and cheese habits.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Leah

    Sad that the only thing the church has to offer millennials, and most other people, these days is sacraments. And that most everything else grouping on there is counter productive to faith.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Leah

      *going

      August 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  10. Fred Evil

    “you cannot very well baptize yourself.”
    This is evidence enough that Baptism is an unnecessary ritual. Why would god doom the ignorant or solo-dweller?

    August 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  11. Mark

    And should we keep sitting on Santa Claus's lap just because it is nice and makes us feel good? Does reality play any role here?

    August 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Bureau of Mything Persons

    Has anyone seen Jesus Christ? He's been missing for a very long time. He was supposed to have come back within one generation, but here it is 100 generations later and still no sign of him.
    Description: A Northern European man with pale skin and light brown hair ( odd since he was allegedly from the area around Jeruselem)

    August 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • One one

      According to the bible he appeared before hundreds of people after his crucifixion. But since then, for some strange reason he's MIA.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
      • G to the T

        And not ONE extra-biblical source exists from those hundreds of people. Now THAT's miraculous!

        August 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  13. Richard

    You do not have to be saved by Jesus...All the people that lived before Jesus weren't Christians. Also, there is no recollection of Jesus between ages 12-30. Jesus was a Rabbi, and all Rabbi get married and have kids. Why is there no information on more than 50% of the most influential man in the history of mankinds life?

    August 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • One one

      Because he didn't really exist ?

      August 4, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  14. Joe

    We should not go to church for one simple reason: ITS 2013 already!! Any science textbook is light years closer to god than all the religious books of the world combined. Its hilarious to think that crap written more than 2000 years ago can be interpreted as the "word of god" and is worth fighting for. Religion is a "belief system"; nothing more. Any critically thinking person should have a serious problem with belief systems!

    August 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  15. Makes perfect sense

    GOD. The belief that there was nothing and then god suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and made everything after that. And he hates gays. Ya, that sounds plausible.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • John Sharp

      Well of course he hates gays. That is why his son traveled with 12 other men "followers" and never married.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • One one

      It's all a miscommunication. What Jesus actually said was "I hate figs"

      August 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  16. One one

    The author likes baptism.

    So what exactly happens in a baptism ?

    Is it different than jumping in a pool or taking a bath ?

    Does something magic happen ?

    If so, does the person conducting the baptism have magical powers ?

    August 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i peed in the baptism font.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
      • One one

        That magically transformed it into holy water which can be very usefull when performing an exorcism.

        August 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Arielle

      Can we be nakkie?

      August 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • CGAW

      So a sacrament (which is what baptsm is)is an outward sign of inner grace – in other words its a visible/physical sign to something that is soulful/spiritual. It is not magical or carry physical properties contained in the physical universe.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Bob Bales

      Baptism is a symbol. It's power comes from what it represents - that a person has decided to follow God. The power comes from that decision. A graduation does not give knowledge. That comes from the 12 or more years of (hopefully) learning that preceded it. An inauguration means nothing if the participant has not been elected to office. Baptism is the same. It is a symbolic act, a point of reference that by itself does nothing. I said it's the same. Well, not quite the same, because it is also an act of obeying God,

      August 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
      • Johnny

        Then why baptize a baby as a baby clearly hasn't decided anything?

        August 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  17. Bootyfunk

    i think it's pretty safe to say the church needs millennials more than millennials need the church....
    there is no good that can be done with church that can't be done without it.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • leah

      Exactly.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  18. debbie338

    No, any thinking person does not need the church.

    August 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  19. aydon

    All I read was guilt. It is just sad that you feel the Church cannot live without you, nor you the Church.

    August 4, 2013 at 1:43 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.