The title of my doctoral project was: Implementing a Disciplemaking Model Among Young Adults at First Baptist Church in Vidalia, Louisiana. Sounds exciting, huh?
All my research and writing was aimed to accomplish a project at my church over a four week period. All of that said, my research, writing, and project all aimed to answer a question that I have been chewing on for 20 years: What happened?
Let me explain.
I grew up in a semi-healthy church with a robust youth program. We did youth camps, mission choir tours, disciple now weekends, winter retreats, and all the weekly activities you could think of. As I graduated, I noticed one of two things happened to my friends who shared the youth group with me: they either became more committed in their faith as they went on to college, or they completely fell away from church.
One or the other.
As I have served in ministry, I noticed this same pattern. I have walked with parents who could not understand why their kids fell away after being raised in a Christian home. I have worked and worked to attract and draw Millennials back into church, most times to my own exhaustion and discouragement.
As I started my doctorate, I wanted to know what happened with Millennials. I also wanted to understand how the church could reconnect with them and restore them to fellowship.
This is what I learned:
Around the year 2000 the first major book was written about Millennials. The book describes Millennials as the next coming of the Greatest Generation Ever. It described them as the future hope of the church as the church would be their foundation in understanding and leading the coming information age.
As books on Millennials were written the news for the church became more and more pessimistic. Where Millennials were predicted to bring life and vibrancy back to the church, they ended up becoming the least churched generation. The terms to describe Millennials’ beliefs regarding church are nones and dones, explaining that they no longer want the title of Christian and are done with the church.
With these staggering statistics, my project sought to rightly disciple and reach Millennials. I put together a curriculum that used all the knowledge on modern discipleship and Millennial dynamics. In four weeks I was going to clarify the gospel, give Millennials the tools to have a daily quiet time, and train them in evangelism.
It failed. My grandiose plans for four weeks might have been a little too grand.
Even though my curriculum failed, my project did not. Through an anonymous test, both before and after, I was able to catch a glimpse of the gospel understanding, devotional practices, and evangelistic competence of Millennials.
In regards to gospel understanding, most Millennials who were surveyed could not articulate the biblical gospel.
The results for both devotion and evangelism followed the lacking understanding of the gospel.
As I studied, led my church through the curriculum, and then synthesized the results, I came to grasp a part of the answer of why many of my friends and millennials fell away from the church even though they were deeply committed as students.
As a generation we learned church well. As a generation we learned to save sex for marriage, to not cuss, and to only listen to Christian music. As a generality, we embraced a gospelless morality.
Moralism left us empty.
The solution is the gospel. Where moralism leaves one empty, the gospel transforms. Where moralism is all about what you do, the gospel is about what Christ did and does.
I was blessed by a church who decided to walk through the project alongside of our Millennials. Strikingly the church’s results mirrored the younger adults’ responses.
I am afraid that most churches assume their people know the gospel but do not take time to clearly articulate it and teach it.
Where the gospel is assumed in churches, the people will not know it.
My great conclusion in the project was that we must now assume, not just for Millennials, but instead for all, that we have not articulated the gospel and that many in our churches have embraced morals and not Christ.
If the Gospel is the power of God to change lives, it is time we returned to it.