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:
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most optimistic things about the millennials is that they are rejecting organized religion - for that I greatly respect them and I have hope that this country and the world will slowly become a more rational and better place. Religion in all its forms is the single biggest disease this world must overcome.
That's a bit of an overstatement, isn't it?
Quite a massive understatement, actually.
I really wish CNN could start being a news site.
AMEN and AMEN. I left the ORGANIZED religion years ago. It seemed to me that the organized church was nothing more than a means to cut down others from the pulpit rather than embrace each and everyone like Jesus did. Therefore, I am not an atheist, but I have a personal relationship with God/Jesus that is STRICTLY between me and God/Jesus rather than between me, God/Jesus and other people's judgments of who I should be. Jesus/God and me working together on myself is just fine with me. I'm through with pedophile Baptist preachers who torment children (yes, it happened to me from age 9-15, at which Time either God or Jesus whispered in my ear that day when I was fifteen, that "you don't have to take this anymore."
The social aspect of church is unnecessary if we EACH AND EVERYONE of US take the time to care about people we run into each day and assist as Jesus would have done.
Religion is nothing more than an antiquated relic from an age of ignorance.
I promise I'm not asking to be a jerk. But why do you believe that? Do you believe in anything? I'm honestly very interested in why people believe what they believe.
Show me some evidence, not testimony, not some shoddily thrown together bronze age manual, but real evidence for the existence of your sky man, and I will apologize for all my doubting. However, without real tangible evidence, you're just blowing smoke out your bum. The burden of proof lies with the believers, not the doubters. If you go around believing in things because of faith, without any requirement of evidence, then you'll find yourself believing in all sorts of nonsense.
@rj, believe in anything such as? magic? gods? devils? no.
what would be the purpose of such beliefs?
I hear where you guys are coming from. I have a lot of the same questions. But, honestly, I haven't seen any evidence one way or the other. People have been trying to disprove religious beliefs forever. No one can disprove it 100%, just like no one can prove it 100%. And I can't help but wonder where we all came from, where anything came from. I'm not saying you need to have a religious answer to these questions, but you should have some sort of answer, right?
@rj, why would anyone try to "disprove" religious belief. over the course of history man has invented innumerable deities, doctrines and religions. that fact alone provides more than enough reasonable doubt to assume that all deities are the inventions of men unless otherwise proven. also, adding the fact that the Christian doctrine is absurd and how could one possibly believe in that particular god?
@rj, also notable is the fact that nearly all things once attributed to divine cause have been determined to be of natural origins. the realm of the supernatural is simply a placeholder of ignorance waiting for the determination of the natural cause.
R.J., your problem lies in seeing a lack of evidence as having equal weight as evidence in an argument. If I were to tell you that I am the King of Mars, and that we ride rocket powered dinosaurs out beyond the orbit of Pluto lassoing comets and meteors with rope made of unicorn hair, can you prove me wrong? Do you see now the problem with arguing evidence vs lack of evidence? Because if you believe me based solely on my testimony, well, good luck.
Sorry, I wasn't very clear. Strictly speaking on Judeo-Christianity, no one can disprove that God created the universe. The universe had to start somewhere. I have sincere doubts that the earth just popped up in the absolute perfect place to generate life. My wife is pregnant. The development of human life is absolutely miraculous. And, that just happened? Over the course of billions of years, we (meaning all living things) just developed these highly sophisticated processes? No matter what you attribute it to, our existence is simply beyond the scope of human understanding.
@rj wrote "Over the course of billions of years, we (meaning all living things) just developed these highly sophisticated processes?"
now you're getting it.
@rj, no one can disprove that any god did not create the universe. that is the fantastic thing about gods. they have been placed outside of the corporeal universe by their believers to allow them to be unchallenged. it is incredibly convenient for them.
Again, I'm genuinely asking, where did it all start?
It all started with the 1st Commandment: "Thou shall have no other gods before me." That is, "Before me in time". With out that postulation of a deity, and deriving everything else from that, there is no deity. If that postulate does not exist, then who created God? And then, who created the thing that created God, ad infinitum?
Exactly what would be the "first cause" of anything? There is no first cause, because the Universe, yes, Multiverse has always existed. Matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only change form. No deity is needed at all, and hence, one does not need a God to be a fine, upstanding, loving and decent human being.
Religion is all invented, and it is designed to specifically be "exclusive for the believers", and discriminatory and hateful towards the "non-believers". It is purely an evil invention wielded as like a sword.
NO religion == NO sin!
R.J., you state another assumption, that the universe was created, or had a beginning. While this knowledge may seem intuitive, much of physics has proven to be counter-intuitive. The universe may not have had a beginning, this may only be one of an infinite number of universes that had neither beginning nor end. The desire for an answer does not mean that any answer should do. Science shows us that, as far as we can tell, the Big Bang occurred about 13.7 billion years ago. It also shows us that this "moment of creation" could have been caused by gravity alone. There may never be a definitive answer, but again, on one side you have physicists making precise measurements and calculations, and on the other side you have no evidence whatsoever. Scientists will tell you that they do not know for certain, whereas believers know without any doubt or need for evidence. Which side sounds more credible to you?
@rj, we don't know yet. ironically, that does not somehow open the door to every magical option. imagine all the things thought impossible only a few hundred years or even just decades ago.
is there some force in the universe or outside of it that we do not yet understand? possibly. does it in any way validate the absurd religions practiced my man? not a chance.
It takes as much faith to believe the universe always existed as it does to believe it was created. It also takes faith to believe that after death there is nothing or something. Faith is trust and ordering your life after something that cannot be proven empirically. So, we all live to some extent by faith. The atheist has faith in the absence of God and orders his life thusly while the theist has faith in the presence of God and lives that way. Neither can be proven empirically. Science will never be able to tell us where we came from (M-Theory is their best guess) or where we're going (No guess for after death). Those will always be in the realm of faith no matter what you believe. The best any of us can do is say, we will see or we won't.
@Quasi, so is it safe to think you don't believe in the Big Bang or the expansion of the Universe? There is quite enough to study and try to understand in this 'whatever'-verse without bringing in other ones you can't prove.
Can you grasp the concept that a lot of people actually don't believe? I'm not saying this to be rude, I'm sincerely curious because a lot of my religious friends ask me why I "believe in no god," which to me sounds like asking me why I believe I'm not a dog. Any belief that anyone holds is quite literally a leap in logic, and it's an individual choice, and I respect that. But when I talk about this with many of my religious friends, they fail to understand that a lack of belief is not the same thing as a belief, and a conversation about "believing in not believing" is beyond silly in much the same way that Saturn is beyond Santa Monica.
Logic, reason, and rational thought have nothing at all to do with religious beliefs. If they did, no one would believe, and religion would recede into that dark corner of ignorance where the geocentric universe resides along with unicorns, dragons, and faeries.
I can respect anyone's choice to believe or not believe something. But I think we should all have our reasons.
@rj, disbelief is not a choice. I can not force myself to believe something that is plainly unbelievable. I would simply be lying to myself.
> I can respect anyone's choice to believe or not believe something. But I think we should all have our reasons.
The reason for disbelief can only be the lack of evidence. There is no credible evidence of the existence of Bigfoot. I logical person should conclude with present evidence that Bigfoot does not exist.
A believer in Bigfoot, may ignore logic, and say "but you cannot disprove Bigfoot".
One cannot prove a negative.
10% of the population is not many. Face it, you are vastly outnumbered by believers and you will never convince the otherwise.
> I promise I'm not asking to be a jerk. But why do you believe that? Do you believe in anything? I'm honestly very interested in why people believe what they believe.
When people ask what I believe in, I will say that I believe that the scientific method is the best tool we have to understanding the world.
If the specific questions is about religion, I will state that I do not believe in magic of any kind. Not in the present, past or future. Not magic/miracles in the bible, not ghosts, not psychics ...
If the question is about "agnostic" or "atheist", I do not like describing myself by what I don't believe in. But there is little difference between the two if you are honest and logical.
Agnostic: I don't believe there is enough evidence to believe in Bigfoot or not ...
Atheist: I don't believe there is enough evidence to believe in Bigfoot.
The statements are equivalent. The 'or not' adds nothing, as you can't have evidence in something not existing ...
CNN has a lot more articles that lean left. People who 'believe in science' are misguided. Science is HOW god made the universe. Anything goes wouldn't be a test for the afterlife. If god appeared and said obey life wouldn't be a test for the afterlife.
I can just hear the reaction of many super-conservative Christians: "Sacraments? Go practice your witchcraft somewhere else."
..."now I'm going to go drink God's blood".
About 9 hours ago, and every Sunday and Holy day since and in the future. He Said It, I believe It. The difference between Catholicism and Protestantism (or atheism).
NO ONE 'needs' the church. Society as a whole would be so much better off without ridiculous religion.
Sunday School was and is (in most cases) the most powerful tool to teach basic respect.
For locked up creationism home schooling perhaps. The rest of us interacted like normal individuals at school.
Maybe. But have you talked to people that believe in nothing greater than themselves? The self-absorption is unbearable. At least religion has the power to instill a sense of humility.
@rj, that is a common fallacy. "nothing greater than themselves"
lack of belief in any deity does not in any way suggest that humans are the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe.
"least religion has the power to instill a sense of humility."
Oh, like: "My "God" is Da' Best (actually Da' Only One), and MY religion, sect, denomination, etc. is Da' Best too!"
Which is a more humble stance?
"An all powerful being created the entire universe for the Earth and the Earth for Man. He then takes a personal interest in every single one of them, loves them and wants them to be with him forever".
"The Earth is just one small planet and an average solar system in an unbelievably large universe. Man exists as the result of millions of years of naturual processes and will most likely go extinct some time in the future."
Sunday School was and is (in most cases) the most powerful tool relied upon by Parents who are too lazy or stupid to teach their children how to respect others. The problem is that by handing over your children to others you just might get a child who is taught not to respect but to hate those that are not like them, the gays, the atheists, the Muslims or any other religion. The battle lines are drawn in Sunday school and it often takes years of therapy to get over this indoctrinated hate.
Parents are ultimately responsible for what their children learn. If they push that responsibility on Public or "Sunday" Schools then they ultimately and apparently turn out people like you. I'm sorry your parents were lax. Mine weren't.
The ad hominem is the last retreat of the defeated.
No, that is the Parent's job.
The comments here are a better exposition than any essay could be of a follow-on essay – 'Why the world needs the church.'
I found Jesus! He was under the sofa cushion this whole time...
So with all these current events happening around us CNN is recycling headlines and articles. Must be journalists day off.
the majority of the christians that I know are christian by tradition and convenience, not by belief.
I know what you mean. I know a man who has done some really terrible things in his life. He doesn't really believe the Bible, but follows it because "it's his best bet of being saved".
Careful 🙂 ! Only us Catholics believe in Tradition.
What we supposedly need:
Baptism – No thanks, I can bathe myself without the help of a priest. Besides, I'm sure that I'm a little too old for their tastes anyhow...
Confession – No thanks, I like having privacy and have plenty of trusted friends to speak with if I choose, friends whose trust has been earned through hardship, not some fancy robe...
Healing – I'll put my trust in medical science rather than ritualistic wishing(aka-prayer), feel free to use only prayer on your broken limbs if you choose...
Leadership – Do as I say, not as I do? No thank you...
Communion – As an intelligent human being, the very idea of cannibalism is abhorrent to me...
Confirmation – Atheist? Confirmed. Next...
Union with Jesus – Jesus is a great guy, he fixed my radiator for a decent price, and he helps work on my hotrod every the weekends...
Yes, I always choose Jesus from the laborers outside Home Depot.
Jesus saves...at Citibank.
Jesus cares about his adoptive home's economy. That's why he saves at a bank that repays its deaths.
and Noah "floats" a loan :-).
Mopery, don't forget Love – Just an excuse to get into someone's pants!
As excuses go, it's a good one. I'd rather lie and say 'I love you' than spend $5,000 on a diamond necklace.
Well, I am a born again Christian Protestant. While I agree with many points the author makes, I beg to differ when it comes to sacraments and rituals. I believe, as a born again Christian, that I am saved by the Grace of God through Faith ALONE in Jesus Christ as Lord and personal Savior AND apart from the works of the flesh, apart from the Law (Mosaic/Old Testament Law.) And, that I am baptized and indwelled by the Holy Spirit as opposed to water and infant baptism.
As far as the church is concerned, I love the church, and I would always go there for a spiritual lift and sence of community and support system; however, it is not what keeps me faithful in the Lord. I consider the church of Christ (The Kingdom of God) to be in my heart (Faith/Belief.) I can do without a literal construction and attendance, especially that it is hard to find a fitting one.
This bears repeating: every day is a Python day.
Sublime. Thank you.
Nooobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
So what you are saying is that you are a confirmed nutter. I'll keep that in mind when replying to your boring drivel.
Well, if you want to call it that, but by the Holy Spirit and not by a sacrament or ritual!
You have about as much Holy Spirit as I have Unobtainium...
Faith is believing something to be true simply because you want it to be true. Embrace science, embrace empirical evidence, not imaginary nonsense.
Congratulations. I am truly happy for you. I was born once, a fact my Mother appreciates :-), and (Roman) Catholic. Which is it you believe in Sola Fidei , or Sola Scriptura? I've heard both from Protestants and logically you can't have both. I mean is it either Faith Alone or Scripture Alone. Having both is mutually exclusive from a logic standpoint. What about the first 400 or so years when there was no accepted volume or definition of Scripture? Tradition must mean something. Are the Apostle's disciples going to Hell because they didn't have The Bible? Keep in mind you wouldn't even have your Bible if the Catholic Church hadn't kept it safe for 1500 years so Martin Luther could delete the 7 books that everyone else accepted so he could form his own church (and the Protestant Bible).
The writer "needs" to generate interest in her blog and her book. She earns her living with her Christian persona.
I need a religion as much as a fish needs a bicycle.
Ahh, a Dr. Seuss fan 🙂
Hint: No one -needs- "the church."
Your entire argument is based on the fallacy that only religion (and the associated Church) can provide a basis for morals, a sense of community, and fill a person's spiritual needs – even assuming a person -has- spiritual needs. Worse, your argument assumes that only your particular brand of Abrahamic religion can fill those needs.
In the Tech world we have a word for an argument like the one you present in this opinion piece. That word is Fail.
spirituality, religious or otherwise, is a person standing alone in a silent room expounding upon the quality of sounds that he hears.
Oh, come on, ever since James Maxwell (Dirac aside) said there was no such thing as a magnetic monopole the whole scientific world believed him until people started proving him wrong. That's faith, just in the creation instead of the Creator, kind of like Wicca.
You are confusing conditional belief with blind faith.
I don't need "faith" that the sun will rise tomorrow.
Come on CNN, you're normally better than this
You are familiar with the Belief Blogs are you not? I fail to see how anyone would be surprised anymore.
No they're not.
the only thing that anyone actually needs from this article is community.
More religious propaganda disguised as a news article. Complete BS of a story.
I feel sorry for millennials
The article should have been called "Why Some Christian Millennials Still Want the Church" as there is nothing in the article that anyone actually "needs" at all.
It appears, from her self-confessed standpoint of being a millennial, that she just wrote out a list of why she needs church.
Very few of the millennials I know (and raised) agree.
The article is moderately interesting but the commentary that follows offers a clear indication of the world our children are destined to live in.
Devoid of church, community, family, etc. the hatred and intolerance shown by a large portion of submissions should lave a cold chill on anyone with even a minimal level of ethical values.
"Devoid of church, community, family, etc. "
Why does anyone still believe that you cannot have community, family, love, justice and compassion without the Church? None of those things are mutually exclusive to religion, in fact, they have been hijacked by religion for far too long. Let us take back our communities, families and neighborhoods and love one another. No building with a giant cross on top is required.
very salient point.
you mean filled with salt??
@cindy, let me help.
Most noticeable or important: "the salient points of the case".
Amen...Just the facts Ma'am...could not have said it better.
Because xians just go along to get along. Actually believing in their BS is not required, you just have to be a good liar to make the core zealots think you do.
Commies and socies like modern, libbed women, want everything. Hello gang bangers!!
Isa 3:12 [As for] my people, children [are] their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause [thee] to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.
@lol, you never disappoint. we always expect some unintelligible comment from you and you always deliver in spades.
Those qualities aren't "hijacked" by religion; they just naturally gravitate there.
Naturally gravitate there just like the pedophiles and con men that have used religion to sc rew the ignorant masses out of their money and children.
The future is better than the past: devoid of church but with a strong sense of community, family, etc. the hatred and intolerance shown by a large portion of the religious should lave a cold chill on anyone with even a minimal level of ethical values.
The religious continually try to convince us that we can not be good people without religion. But that is a total fabrication. Ethics does not require religion. Religion continually tries to keep up with the improving sense of ethics we develop as communities as we become more inclusive and caring about more and more people. Look how unethical and truly evil the old testament is. Ethics are driven by humanists. Religions either fight against progress or sometimes just try to keep up.
Doesn't the belief required for you to arrive at your conclusion... that the future is better than the past... just make you an adherent of a religion of "futurism" or some such? It's a position no more provable than one of the more tenuous religions because there is a truckload of contrary objective evidence. Some people have gotten better with enlightenment. Some have gotten worse.
The humanist analysis of the OT (or pick your pre-AD/CE text, really) is a case in point. People have gotten more aware on a shallow level, so that they are able to easily identify the contemporary misuse of the OT to support intolerant position X,Y,Z... but they sure as heck must have gotten worse at literary analysis, because if they were good at it they would be able to figure out that the writers of these texts were critical of 75-90% of what they were writing about.
Sounds like that's what you want, sorry you were disappointed 🙂
Xians never disappoint with the amount of hate they spew out on a constant basis.
Religion is inconsistent with technological and social advancement. One can easily see their inverse relationship over time. Eventually, a fully enlightened society will no longer "need" religion to feel comfortable in their humanity.
don't even get me started about the absurdity of transubstantiation. ritual cannibalism? the rituals of religions are unfathomable.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that's the same word a theologian might use.
Logic doesn't have anything meaningful that it *can* say about a religion when that religion succeeds in dealing only in unprovables. The belief may be weird, but as long as it doesn't conflict with reality -that we can observe-, so what?
very true, it is often trotted out that many scientists and inventers were believers in the hristian god, which is hardly significant unless their work brought them into direct contradiction of theological doctrine. if you believe despite your experience that is saying something, if you believe, but have never had a logical challenge to your beliefs it is immaterial.
You are obviously confused about the nature of logic. That isn't uncommon for those who have abandoned it to accept the absurd.
Really? The ancient Roman (pre-Constantine) argument? Cannibalism diminishes the whole. How do you diminish God? He becomes part of us so we become more like Him. Read further.
So you redefine cannabalism and then say it doesn't apply? Play fair now...