I want Hickory Rock to welcome people of all ages–young, middle, and older. Each age group brings blessings. Young adults bring wonderful enthusiasm and fresh perspectives, which we definitely want. So how can we better communicate both the Christians message and our church’s message to younger folks?
I came across this article, about how some churchy language turns away younger adults. Folks who go to church all the time their whole life will be fluent in churchy lingo, but others won’t be, so we don’t want to use insider language they don’t understand, especially if it sends a wrong message.
New perspectives can be very helpful, because they force us not to use hollow language just by habit. Is there a better way we can talk about an issue of faith? The main thing young adults (called “millennials”) don’t like is annoying clichés. So here is a helpful list (I love lists!) of “churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials.”
1. “The Bible clearly says…” Millennials want to hear pastors approach the Bible with humility and reverence. Saying, “This is where study and prayer have led me, but I could be wrong” does infinitely more to secure their trust than “The Bible clearly says…” Young adults want to feel invited into the discussion, not talked down to.
2. “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Many people think this is in the Bible, but it’s not. First, it’s dangerous to claim that a really bad thing that just happened was “given” by God. And second, there are many things that are more than we can handle… unless we have God’s holy support. A better phrase would be, “There’s nothing that we can’t handle with God’s help.”
3. “Love on.” Like saying, “As youth leaders, we just want to love on those kids.” Young adults don’t want to be anyone’s project–nobody does. It might just be semantics, but being “loved on” feels very different than being simply “loved.” The former connotes a sudden flash of contrived kindness; the latter is simpler, but deeper. It suggests that the relationship is the point, not the kind act itself. And really, that’s what young adults are looking for: relationship, that honest back and forth of giving and receiving love.
4. Black and white quantifiers of faith, such as “Believer, Unbeliever, Backsliding.” Millennials are sick of rhetoric that centers around who’s in and who’s out. They would rather people admit that in our imperfect hearts, faith and doubt often coexist. It’s like the worried father who confessed to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
5. “God is in control… has a plan…works in mysterious ways.” While those statements contain truth, they don’t help someone feel better when they’re hurting. In fact, they are the last things people want to hear when something goes horribly wrong in our life. Young adults are drawn to the Jesus who sits down with the down-and-out woman at the well. Who touches the leper, the sick, the hurting. Who cries when Lazarus is found dead…even though he is in control and has a plan to bring Lazarus back to life. We want to follow Jesus because he enters into the pain of humanity where so often church people seem to want to float above it.
In the end,what millennials want is to be loved, heard, and accepted. It’s what everyone wants, really. And choosing honesty over cliché is a really great place to start.
That list is good to know. We need to remember that people come to church because they want to connect with God and a community, so let’s not alienate them with clichés. We want to attract people because they feel like Hickory Rock is a place where they can connect with a community and with God, not a snazzy trendy place that has more flash than substance. And we want our language to be substantive too, so help me know what language or phrases sound hollow to you, so that we can give good thought to what we are trying to communicate.