Millennials have been away from home for far too long. A recent Barna poll shows that the importance of church to young Americans is quickly dwindling. When Barna asked them, “What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith?” the local church did not even make the top-10 list. Staggering amounts of millennials are dropping out of churches today, replacing church attendance with podcasts, videos, and the occasional walk in the woods.
Perhaps this statistic reflects your current beliefs about the local church. After all, the average Sunday service is monotonous. The music is less than decent. The message will put you to sleep faster than your professors. Pass the bread and wine along, please.
Sunday morning is often a perfect time to get a spiritual cup of espresso at a local church. Unfortunately, this is all the local church has become to many millennials. More than likely, once millennials enter college, the prospect of Christian unity dwindles greatly. Surprisingly, this trend is predominant on Christian campuses in the West. We have erroneously believed that faith is a lone walk; our history shows otherwise.
In Our Father Abraham, Marvin R. Wilson urges Christians to look closely at their Judaic heritage and learn the roots of Christianity. One thing that Wilson talks about is how Christians in the West have forgotten that their faith is a corporate faith. Ever since the emergence of Monasticism due to the influence of the Greco-Roman world and the rise of individualism that came from the Protestant Reformation, evangelical culture has sought to individualize its faith. This is a grave mistake, and strays from the Biblical precedent for church.
The early church was anything but private. Early Christians sought unity by meeting in public squares, sharing meals and possessions, sharing struggles and needs, and sharing every day with one another in temple courts and homes (Acts 2). They were undeniably unified in everything they did with one another, causing their faith to grow immensely. Arguably, the unity seen in the early church can be traced back from traditions within the Israelite community when they were all a part of the Abrahamic family. Note that they were a “people” of God, rather than a “person” of God.
In contrast to the early church, the unity of the local body is often lacking in the lives of millennials. Of course, Christians will find themselves blaming local churches for poor preaching skills and lack of musical finesse, among other excuses. But as Paul called us to examine ourselves and our corporate bodies (2 Cor. 13), let us be quick to take initiative and help our brothers and sisters rather than run away from our local churches. After all, the local church is a home; a place to belong.
In the New Testament, the word often used to refer to other believers was “brother.” Are we so quick to flee from our own families because of their lack of talent? Are we not called to use our own spiritual gifts to make our churches better? Rather than running away from conflict, Christians ought to be the first to run towards broken churches in order to make them better. Our gifts are greatly needed, more so today than ever.
Christian maturity cannot and will not grow by itself. It is not surprising that Jesus’ last prayer in Gethsemane was for the unity of believers (John 17). It is not surprising that the apostle Paul reminded local churches everywhere of the importance of unity (1 Cor. 1:10, 12-13, Eph. 4, and many others). Let us respect Christ and his Word then, in our attitude towards the local church. Get to know your brothers and sisters in Christ by praying and providing for their needs. Join a small group. Volunteer. Do anything that will get you acquainted with the people you gather with, and you will find that everyone has a story, as well as their own sets of needs. You may be the answer to their prayers.
How can a single match survive in a cold night? It quickly burns out. But the Christian faith is a forest fire that burns boldly and corporately. It might surprise you that the early church had no evangelism strategy; it didn’t need one. It was a light that was bright enough by itself because of the love within these communities. “And the Lord added to them daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). What if we, as millennials, took a stand for God’s ultimate plan to redeem our lost world, on the rock that the gates of hell will not prevail against? When we abandon our local churches, our actions are speaking loud and clear that we would rather create a faith of our own, which is nothing more than idolatry.
Let us make haste, then, to revive our local churches so that the community of God can be one, just as it was in its early days. Let us show the generations after us the importance of Christian unity. Families are waiting to be united to their long lost brothers and sisters, waiting for the answer to their prayers. It’s about time we return home.
Guest Writer: Born and raised a Buddhist in Thailand, Ben Smitthimedhin found Christ and came to the U.S. to study Business and Literature. He is currently a Junior at Liberty University and enjoys learning about cultures and interfaith relations, especially Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. Ben hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Jewish Studies and move back to Thailand to plant a network of house churches in Bangkok while translating Christian classics into Thai.