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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. whale

    Church is the biggest scam. Let all talk to Santa clause is the sky and give money to his avatar.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  2. John P. Tarver

    The last bastion of comment is Herzog. Lame much?

    August 3, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • M.R.

      "Newbies", "New Meats", "Warm Bodies"...think about it
      for just a few seconds...and that will satisfy me.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Ralph_in_FL

    Fewer butts in the pews means fewer bucks in the collection plate. It is not rocket science. It is not even science.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Norbert Not The Dragon

      And we know how much priests need butts...

      August 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      You aren't even a scientist. Why do we always talk about science, we are philosophers with a resentment against Jews and Christians.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  4. oddball63

    Rachel – Good insights and thanks for posting. I applaud your courage as anyone who follows this site knows that when you express your belief, you open yourself up to ridicule. The joy some of the commenters seem to derive from mocking another person is always surprising. You can just picture them sitting at their computer typing away furiously to heap scorn upon you and your church while they congratulate themselves for their own cleverness. Best of luck in your faith journey.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Rachel Held Evans

      oddball63, thanks and all but I don't need you to kiss my ass. I'm not a god(dess).

      August 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  5. crappygovernment

    Tim Tebow's treatment by the Neocon & Freemason League shows how much anti-Christians fear the Lord and His favorite Qb, #5.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Jay Donner

      I fear God about as much as I fear getting punched in the aura.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  6. crappygovernment

    Imagine a world without pretentious, soul-less atheists!

    August 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • LinCA

      @crappygovernment

      You said, "Imagine a world without pretentious, soul-less atheists!"
      That's easy. Just look at Afghanistan and Iran.

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

      Imagine a world without god and church! Religion poisons everything. Humanity faces so big issues such as survival but religious people can only talk about matters that really don't matter such as abortion!

      August 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  7. dean

    Meh, I don't need a church but whatever.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  8. Anon

    Churches would probably pretty great if they would just drop the religion part of it.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Jim Jones was an atheist who agreed with you and since you already drank the kool aide there is no barrier for you.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
      • Tim

        Jim Jones used the techniques he learned as a minister to control his flock, and you know it. Stop being disingenuous. If you have a point or a message, let's hear it, instead of you trademark snark, Tarver.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Jim Jones was an atheist who wanted to have church without God and he did.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  9. JFKman

    Sheesh, CNN is as simple as a theist.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      You sound like a genius. Way to go! Welcome aboard.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Daniel

    because the church needs MONEY

    August 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  11. mike

    Church tax exempt status cost us 71 Billion dollars annually. Imagine all we could do with that cash.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Wouldn't it be nice to take that money and focus it on infrastructure, in turn creating work?

      August 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Vic

      You do realize that the congregants who contribute all that money are taxpayers themselves, and revoking tax exemption status from those organizations will cut food and shelter for the poor and/or homeless, don't you?

      August 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
      • Tony

        Vic, you do realize the flaws in your statements, don't you?

        Giving money to church generally gets only a tiny fraction of that money to the people who need it. Better to bypass the church's cut altogether.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  12. George

    Funny, last I checked baptism was not a requirement for Salvation and babies are not doing it willingly. As for communion, yeah I miss it. But as it was, often became once a month if at all and if you missed it two months....

    August 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • bubba

      read acts 2:38 'repent and be baptized' , also the story of the ethiopian Phillip told him must be baptized, also Jesus spoke to nicademus and told him must be reborn .....water baptism.....very crucial .............

      August 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • bubba

      you are correct about babies being baptized, they do not have sin, (a sin is a trangression against God, they are innocent)

      August 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • G to the T

        Reference please or are you going "extra-biblical" on this one?

        August 6, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
  13. vehementgoat

    Perhaps the author needs to read, "Just Pretend" -Dan Barker. She should be able to grasp the concepts. My child loves it.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  14. Bob Dole

    LOL I BELIEVE IN A MAGIC MAN IN THE SKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    August 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      LOOK AT YOU GO! YOU ARE SO AWESOME!

      August 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  15. Roger

    Why NO ONE needs church: Because the theology is bogus. As with all of the thousands of religions in existence the theology is all made up. There is absolutely NO foundation in fact when it comes to theology. The religion you believe is almost 100% determined by what your parents believe. That should be a strong clue to everyone that it is completely arbitrary as to what you believe.

    The answer: Be good! That's it. No need for a belief in some imaginary being.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      Be good. That is all. If somebody else is bad, don't worry or do anything. Just be good. If you find you can't be good, just pretend like you are good. You are the judge of what is good. So whatever you think is good just do it. If it feels good, do it. Don't be bad at anything. Don't ever fail. If there is a God, He can't be as good as me, so don't look to Him. Look to me. And just be good.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
      • snowboarder

        @al, do you think your trolling is "christian"?

        August 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          I'm not "christian"

          August 3, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          I despise hypocritical and arrogant atheists that give me a bad name. They are worse than the looney religious people.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Why NO ONE needs ignorance: Because the atheism is bogus. As with all of the thousands of know it alls in existence the theories are all made up. There is absolutely NO foundation in fact when it comes to atheism. The atheism you believe is almost 100% determined by the fact you had a bad relationship with your father, if you had one at all. That should be a strong clue to everyone that it is completely arbitrary as to what you believe.

      The answer: Be educated! That's it. No need for a lifetime rant against something that supposedly doesn't exist.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
      • Skeptic Al

        Religious people are mentally ill and delusional. And that is why I come here. Because I like to make fun of mentally ill and delusional people. It makes me feel better than myself. And nobody on here can prove me wrong, because I just talk about my opinions. And my opinions are always right.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
      • OTOH

        Elliott Carlin,
        "No need for a lifetime rant against something that supposedly doesn't exist."

        Atheists do not believe that a god or gods exist. Believers, however, *do* exist - that's who we are talking with (and yeah, sometimes it even devolves to 'ranting').

        August 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
      • 'The' atheism

        Ha ha ha ha ha!

        August 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
      • Jay Donner

        I wouldn't feel the need to rant against something that didn't exist if it wasn't being used to make laws, oppress women, and set the direction of social evolution in reverse. If Christians would just keep their beliefs to themselves, I would have no problem with it - but they never do and so I will keep educating people and fighting against it.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  16. star22

    Religion at best is a bad joke, at some point we tell our children Santa isn't real when are people going to run away from these myths that cause more war and strife than just learning to be nice. Do we need a boat load of guilt or fear of damnation to get through our day is that how we should live? Really? Do we truly need a fear of hell to help out our fellow man? In my opinion religion, church or whatever label you give it is just another mental crutch for small minded people. Again my opinion only.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Saint Nicolas is real. Your problem is that you can not tell what is real from what is imaginary. At what age did you begin to use meth-amphetamines?

      August 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Skeptic Al

        Yeah, John. Santa, my hero, and you are too.

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

        He said Santa, not St. Nicholas. We all know Santa is derived from St. Nicholas, but at what point do you abandon your condescending 'wit' and start acting like the learned Christian you pretend to be?
        Shut up, you pompous ass.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          Yea, you won't be judged by God.
          You will be judged by atheists posting on the internet. We hold the keys to reality and truth.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      Thank God (not literally) we are not like those small minded people.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • bubba

      just because you dont believe in God doesnt mean there isnt a God , that is Satans job to discourage anyone from believing in God ! .......

      August 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
      • LinCA

        @bubba

        just because you don't believe in the Easter Bunny doesn't mean there isn't an Easter Bunny , that is the Tooth Fairy's job to discourage anyone from believing in the Easter Bunny ! .......

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

          The Creator and creature are never equal, conceptually, fictionally and actually.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
        • G to the T

          Vic – false analogy. Name one other creater/created relationship that doesn't involve theism.

          August 6, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  17. cfbastian

    Here's a thought - maybe Millennials are drooping out of religion because the internet has put them in touch with a treasure trove of science and history, so they don't have to rely on a 5,000 year old book of stories about a talking snake and a burning bush.

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

      Atheists do a good job of resisting science on the internet.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      @cfbastian,

      That's a possibility. Of course we know that the information coming off the .net can be view as no more reliable the the Bible. The edge being towards primitive man as oppose to under thr influce with cut and paste from another nut-job.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Atheist nut jobs control Wiki, so there is not much science after the 19th century there.

        August 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
        • Sue

          Not nut jobs, John. Very capable geeks. And they are MUCH smarter than you are.

          August 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          What are you saying? That since atheists talk about science but don't really know about science there is something wrong there?

          August 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          Sue, I bet $10,000 they can't find a religious person that is smarter than you. Nobody that is a scientist, or has a graduate degree or won something like a Noble Prize.
          Can I count on you to take my challenge???

          August 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          What am I saying?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          I was asking a question???

          August 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          John P. Tarver is me and we are one together.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Wiki lies about science to maintain atheism, not very smart at all.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Wiki leaks.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          I'm trying to say that atheists like Sue are smarter than any religious person. Any one.
          I'll bet $100,000,000 you can't find anyone smarter than her.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Up, up, up! Udon frenzy anyone?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Would you go by IQ? I am more than willing to take your money, how about an escrow account?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          Sue?? Where did she go?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Sue got in over her head.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      Yes, the internet will solve all the woes of broken humanity. All we need is more knowledge and people will start showing compassion like we do on the internet. (We don't show compassion to delusional people who believe in God, though)

      August 3, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
      • Sue

        If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

        August 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Is peddling ignorance your calling Sue?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  18. vehementgoat

    Is this a paid advertisement?

    August 3, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  19. NorthVanCan

    Halloween is becoming more popular every year where I live.
    Probably because no one takes it seriously . It's just fun.
    Religion would do well to except the obvious and just celebrate it's traditions while dropping the bigoted parts.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Harry Cline

      @NorthVanCan,

      Yeah, funny, and Halloween kills as many every years as religion does.

      "don't worry be happy"

      August 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • Reckless

        How do you figure that? Do you have any numbers to support your assertion?

        August 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Skeptic Al

      Yea, I always thought seeking the divine for absolute truth and a grown man dressing up as a pretend fireman were pretty much the same thing.

      Churches should also stop donating their time and resources to people in need. No fun.

      Let's Party USA!

      August 3, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • NorthVanCan

        I'm only trying to help the less fortunate .

        August 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      All saints day is a fun holiday, but it is not separate from the church. You just did not know you were celebrating the naming the saints, or protesting same. It is a holiday for all Christians.

      August 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
      • Sue

        Meanwhile, Dec. 25 was a Pagan holiday, stolen by Christians. Fitting, since most of the Christian lore is comprised of tales stolen (and often twisted) from earlier fictions that pre-date Christianity.

        August 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
        • NorthVanCan

          So true, Sue.
          So true.

          August 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
        • Skeptic Al

          And they didn't even put Dec. 25 in the Bible. Idiots. Some countries and cultures celebrate it on a different day. I'm not sure how that shows they stole the holiday, but they are still idiots.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        Ba'al was the reason for the season ans Easter is a goddess from Babylon. By taking a star chart backwards in time we can know the astrological event in Luke and Mathew occurs May 14, 6 BCE. Jupiter appearing in the house of Judah as a morning star, eclipsed by the moon tht morning. The trip to Bethlehem had to occur in 7 BCE when their was a Roman census for the purpose of paying for purchased Roman citizenship; but that interferes with the Roman Catholic worship of Peter, the poor illiterate man and Papal ascendancy.

        August 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
        • G to the T

          "The trip to Bethlehem had to occur in 7 BCE when their was a Roman census for the purpose of paying for purchased Roman citizenship" – for which I have yet to find any extra-biblical evidence. Think about it – what if everyone in the US was required to go back to where their ancestors several hundred years ago were from? Where would you go? The whole scenario makes no sense, would take years to pull off and would cause massive disruptions for an entire empire...

          August 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  20. JM

    Flee from churches that spew hate and racism and ignorance.

    If you read the Bible, they sound like the Pharisees Jesus despised.

    Fortunately there are still some really good pastors out there.

    The pope walks the walk.

    August 3, 2013 at 3:20 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.