A number of years ago, I read a book called Microtrends. Rather than analyzing current fads, the author looked at currents that he saw moving under the big waves, yet strong enough to notice. He knew that they could become the big trends.
Several of the new microtrends were not new at all. I know, because one of them was knitting, and at the time, my junior high daughter had taken up that sport. I couldn’t knit if Rumpelstiltskin was threatening my firstborn. But encouraged by the thought of creating a Hogwarts scarf for herself, she was all over it.
So, apparently, were a lot of other folks her age, and even somewhat older.
Said daughter has also gotten excited about canning, cheesemaking, and archery (pre-Katniss). Microtrends all.
What do all these pastimes have in common? They are variations on the theme that the Millennial generation values simple over stuff. This is a trend, and not a micro one at that, church leaders should heed.
The trend back to a time when life seemed, at least, to be less complicated shows itself in so many ways. The popularity of farmer’s markets over supermarkets. The tiny house micro-boom. The plethora of classes in organic farming, soap making (another daughter’s business), and craft brewing. Living off the grid.
This is understandable, if we recognize the childhood most of these young adults had. Kids so hovered over that their every move was scrutinized, so sanitized that no germ or hurt ever got near their perfect little selves, so channeled into success with the right classes and camps. How can we feign surprise that this generation would like to get their hands dirty and escape from that over-complicated, over-pressurized world? Being able to see where your food comes from and know what’s in your beauty products, for instance, is both an intimacy they have not known in a distant culture and an independence they have never been given.
This is true in church. And a church that is given to extravagant displays to draw in the crowds had best take notice.
No one trusts extravagance anymore. It’s no longer cool.
In fact, that is precisely the conclusion of recent Barna Group research. In a survey of Millennials, Barna found a degree of “tacit distrust” toward very large churches, with one respondent summing it up: “It seems like a really big business.” In a question of preference for ‘Classic’ vs ‘Trendy,’ classic garnered 67% of the vote compared to 33%. Respondents were also more likely to choose ‘Sanctuary’ (77%) over ‘Auditorium’ (23%) and ‘Quiet’ (67%) over ‘Loud’ (33%) worship.
Rachel Held Evans gives a summary of her own experience:
After all those years attending youth events with light shows and bands, after all the contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian books, after all the updated technology and dynamic speakers and missional enterprises and relevant marketing strategies designed to make Christianity cool, all I wanted from the church was a quiet sanctuary and some candles. All I wanted was a safe place to be. Like so many, I was in search of sanctuary.
Perhaps the church needs to go off the grid. We need to not necessarily forget trendy or relevant or exciting but remember real, intimate, and peaceful. We need to show a church that is grounded in ancient beliefs, not popular whims.
Yes, remember the package for God’s truth changes and must change. Yes, preach about peoples’ needs and hurts. But one of their biggest needs is to know that there is something they can be rooted in, something old and stable, something reeking of damp cathedral air and earth.
This generation knows they are flying higher untethered than any before. They know it leaves them farther from true human interaction. They know they have farther to fall. What if the church reminded them that there is something that can catch them, because it has been catching sinners and saints alike for two thousand years, and it is as strong as ever? That there is a truth older than organic farming and cheesemaking and knitting and all human efforts? And what if we let them get their hands dirty being a part of that truth, knitting it together in their own way, without fear that they will do it wrong or scrutiny of their every step?
What if we ditched all the “stuff” we think we need to do church and went back to the simple? God, his people, his communion, his word. Pretty radically off the church grid.
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.