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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. Pest

    Sorry, author, I'm quite sure that churches need me more than I need them. All of the benefits listed are still irrelevant until legitimate evidence supporting the underlying theology is presented.

    August 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  2. manangdi22

    Eventually these millenials will get old and empty and realize that the church because of these reasons. Right now, they think they are invincible, distrust of authority because they are so arrogant that they only believe in themselves. When the time comes that their own cognitive abilities fails them ... they're view of themselves will change ... that they are no longer full of themselves!

    August 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • snowboarder

      lol! the ignorant fallacy that people are empty without religion. what a joke.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Pest

      You're right about one thing. Failure of cognitive abilities is consistent with religious belief.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • birch please

      So essentially, people will get old and fear death so they will go to church....

      August 3, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
      • snowboarder

        it is no coincidence that the elderly are the largest church demographic.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Fear of death.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Jeebusss

      OH noes! My life is so empty! Only your delusional fairy tales for adults can fill it up! LOL.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  3. hankmccain

    LOL CHURCH

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

    People need church as much as babies need to beat to death.

    August 3, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      How about babies sliced into little pieces?

      August 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      As long as the slicing is done in the church where it belongs.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        It is why abortion should be illegal after the first trimester.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
        • snowboarder

          somewhere around there. I can agree with that.

          August 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  5. Redoran

    Always remember – -Faith is a LIE.

    August 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Faith and hope and love are wonderful delusions.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
      • G to the T

        Not delusions. Emotions – i.e. what we call it when our brain chemistry is doing something specific. They feel great, but they are only as real (in the objective material sense) as fog...

        August 6, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  6. dgsfgsdf

    VENTA DE VENEZOLANOS NICOLAS MADURO VENDIENDO HABITANTES PARA ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA.
    CASO DE 100 000 NINOS IRRADIADOS DESDE SATELITES.
    http:://mudpgi.blog.com

    August 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • dgsfgsdffasdfasdf

      VENTA DE VENEZOLANOS NICOLAS MADURO VENDIENDO HABITANTES PARA ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA.
      CASO DE 100 000 NINOS IRRADIADOS DESDE SATELITES.
      http:://mudpgi.blog.com
      dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd

      August 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
      • dgsfgsdffasdfasdf

        PROGAMAS DE CHINOS PARA CREAR ASESINOS UTILIZANDO SATELITES.
        VENTA DE VENEZOLANOS NICOLAS MADURO VENDIENDO HABITANTES PARA ESTUDIOS DE LA RAZA HUMANA.
        CASO DE 100 000 NINOS IRRADIADOS DESDE SATELITES.
        http:://mudpgi.blog.com

        August 3, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  7. tony

    churches need canon fodder, like her

    August 3, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  8. Apple Bush

    See me, hear me, touch me, stop lying to me.

    August 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Welcome seeker.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  9. dgsfgsdf

    sfgsdfg

    August 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Athy

      Very profound indeed.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  10. simple minds

    hi

    August 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  11. Jeebusss

    Ahem.......HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Yeah, I need 2000 year old barbaric fairy tales written by goat herders to lead a happy life. Please, tell me another......

    August 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  12. JCS

    Remember this universal truth:
    .
    .
    .
    Adults with imaginary friends are stupid.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • jazzguitarman

      I wouldn't say there are stupid, just immature. While there are a lot of terms one could use I believe immature is the best one. Take a kid that believes in Santa. It isn't that the kid is stupid (e.g. he would be getting all A's at school), but just immature. Note that any believers what they think of an adult that still believes in Santa and they will agree he is immature. But they fail to see that there isn't a difference between a belief in Santa or some so called god.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • snowboarder

        not even immature. they were simply indoctrinated into the belief.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Mark

      And people who judge them should not say that it's not nice.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
  13. Richard Hicks

    Churches are nothing more than a racket and they take in your hard earned cash. No such thing as gods, ghosts, souls and other nebulous words.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Jakuho Raikoben

      No such thing as ghosts? Just you wait. Someday, you'll have a paranormal encounter. I'll be saying "I told you so" because ghosts are nothing to joke about.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
      • snowboarder

        lol! sure you will. paranormal experience my @ss!

        August 3, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
        • Jebus.H.Christ

          no there's some truth to it. I have had several – one that was very profound. It proved to me that there is something else to all this – its just not the bronze aged man-made fear-based mythology of organized religion.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
        • snowboarder

          and austin continually tells us about his revelations from god. everybody should be believed.

          August 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Jakuho Raikoben

      No such thing as ghosts? Just you wait. Someday, you'll have a paranormal encounter. I'll be saying "I told you so" because ghosts are nothing to joke about.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Mark

      It's given voluntarily. Maybe they should go to the casino and feed satan's machines.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Mark

      Nothing nebulous about Jesus. He is the savior.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
      • Raoul Duke, Jr.

        And I am the Walrus. Goo goo gah job.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
        • Mark

          Go on a diet then. Gluttony is a sin.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
      • Jebus.H.Christ

        no... more like false prophet (as all of them are) – read 'r buybull Matt10:23

        August 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
        • Mark

          I did..I am the way and the truth and the life. Blip!

          August 3, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
  14. jazzguitarman

    I wonder why the author decided to say ‘the church’ instead of ‘a church’. The church implies a specific church or that all churches are alike (i.e. have similar values and practices). They clearly don’t, which she mentions.

    She and others like her, need to find a church (sect) more consistent with their values instead of wanting to change any specific church.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • HieTide

      It's because "the church" is not a building or a denomination, but rather a group of people. It is a family, and just like any good family it has its downs but a lot more ups.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
      • snowboarder

        it is funny how they pretend that theirs is the only religion.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          The first amendment is written around the Freemason notion that a man without religion is not whole. There is a spiritual component to a human being under that piece of social engineering.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
        • snowboarder

          spiritualism, religious or otherwise, is a person standing alone in a silent room expounding upon the sounds he hears.

          the "spiritual" component is purely wishful thinking.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Then half a man you shall be.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
        • snowboarder

          nobody is going to fall for that john.

          August 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • G to the T

      Because she's describing Catholicism ("THE Church") as oppossed to the rest (churches). I think error was that "church" wasn't capitalized in the headline.

      August 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  15. lamelionheart

    1. Where is the mentality's general populace of humanism heading synoptically towards in their habitual enlightenments of aspiring reasoned symmetries upon value-based copiously brazened braggart symposiums around many individually differing debutant perceptions of momentous spatially consecrated verbalized relationships..?

    2. Where then does anyone's conscience begin within the seeds of template underscoring rationalisms..?

    3. Does true self-consciousness resonate within the whole of conscious reflectiveness upon the generalized masses of the people..?

    4. Is it of none importance to the self what the wholeness of the amassed populace should do and be done towards or even against pragmatic constituencies within the general relevancies of overall subliminal conditionings of the conscious wholeness..?

    August 3, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  16. lamelionheart

    1. Where is the mentality's general populace of humanism heading synoptically towards in their habitual enlightenments of aspiring reasoned symmetries upon value-based copiously brazened braggart symposiums around many individually differing debutant perceptions of momentous spatially consecrated verbalized relationships..?

    2. Where then does anyone's conscience begin within the seeds of template underscoring rationalisms..?

    3. Does true self-consciousness resonate within the whole of conscious reflectiveness upon the generalized masses of the people..?

    4. Is it of none importance to the self what the wholeness of the amassed populace should do and be done towards or even against pragmatic consti/b>tuencies within the general relevancies of overall subliminal conditionings of the conscious wholeness..?

    August 3, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Athy

      Forgot a '<' there, lamelion.

      August 3, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • lamelionheart

        Yea Athy... Reposted it...

        August 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • Athy

          Why? It says nothing understandable.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
        • lamelionheart

          My incessancy toward the lavishness of worded psychological emanations may one day be apportioned its fair-mindedness valuations upon the future folds' fielding vernaculars of enlightening summations... Who is better to know then the self..?

          August 3, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  17. What is going on? FREEDOM

    LinCA of course Tarver is a fake. He is just another of those people that are trying to protect their extreme views and try to use science fallacies to his views.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Fakes post under troll names like yourself fool. My engineering license is a matter of public record at the department of consumer affairs here in California. Do you feel good making a fool of yourself dude?

      August 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Tarver you are a fake and have always been a fake individual. The only troll I see here is you.

        August 3, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Yet in real life I am an electrical engineer with a post graduate degree, while you have nothing. Troll as you will loser.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver you have no degree. You are just a fool trying to make himself feel superior on an anonymous blog. You are absolutely nothing in real life.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
        • Truth Prevails :-)

          I wouldn't be so quick to call this man a liar. A search in regards to the name alone leads to a facebook page under the same name in California...judging by his posts on that page, it does appear it is the same person.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Truthprevails wouldn't be the first time someone has created a fake profile name with photos from the internet. I for one have done it before in my younger years to make fun of my friends.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
        • Truth Prevails :-)

          I agree with you completely, however, if you compared posting on the facebook page to here there are numerous similarities...very bigoted, very racist, very hateful. Although lying about an engineering degree would not surprise me.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          In California calling me a liar with respect to my engineering license and degree is actionable. Be careful about you political racist atheist agenda, it could cause you trouble. Darwin was a racist man and we teach his racism in our schools, even though it has not been biology for 20 years and has not been science for 40 years. My support of Hispanics in not having to take a beating from blacks is not racism; besides that Zimmerman may be 20% black and have a lawsuit against Holder and company.

          August 3, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
        • MonkeyBoy

          He is calling the poster a liar. You can no more prove you are Mr. Tarver on this forum than you can prove I'm not Moses, Jesus or Muhammad.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
      • jazzguitarman

        John; I'm willing to take you at your word that you are who you say you are. But I don't how you can claim to be intelligent when you're so partisan. Only fools (either left or right), are that partisan.

        August 3, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  18. Brian Kosciesza

    This is ultimately a pointless article. You only highlight things that are deemed important to people who still value religion but do nothing to say "why" exactly MIllennials should return. This article is the absolute definition of preaching to the choir.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Lifelike

      You came to the belief blog. Obviously if you are an atheist already it doesn't apply to you.

      August 3, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
      • boie0025

        Because Atheists have no place discussing faith issues? I would never disallow a believer to discuss science issues..

        More to the point; the original post was attempting to show how the article wouldn't sway anyone who doesn't already agree.. someone who probably didn't agree came by and.. doesn't agree.

        ..but the point of the article was to ..

        nevermind. Time for strong drink.

        August 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
        • pinostabaum

          theists can discuss atheism, but atheists should shut up about faith. nope, no double standard at all there, is there? 🙂

          August 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  19. One one

    Last night I spoke some magic words in latin and it transformed my pizza and beer into the flesh and blood of Thor.

    Then I ate it.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • Yumpin' Yupiter

      You chose a Norse god for Italian food? Infidel!

      August 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        He eats ass, what do you expect?

        August 3, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
        • MonkeyBoy

          It's a good thing people eat ass. Where would David have gotten the jawbone to make the sling he used to slay Goliath? Personally I'd have gone with the jawbone of a pig since I like bacon.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
    • Alias

      You cannot create the flesh and blood of a Norse god by speaking a dead mediteranean language!

      You should have hit it with your magical hammer.

      August 3, 2013 at 7:06 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.