Thursday, April 14, 2016

Too much work. . .

A few weeks ago the New York Times published a story about the breakfast favorite, why millenials were skipping breakfast and specifically skipping cereal.  It was not because they did not like this staple of breakfast or because they found too few choices out there or even because the cereal was not healthy.
Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it.
 In other words, it is probably not worth eating something when you have any amount of clean up afterwards (clean up, that is, short of balling up the remains and tossing it into the trash!).

We wonder about the future of the faith and we are told by many sources that millenials are attracted to ritual that is authentic to what is believed, taught, and confessed.  But if they don't want to eat breakfast because they don't want to clean up afterwards, how invested will they become in faith and worship that requires something more than being there in the moment?  It is a question worth some pondering.

We as a culture have been taught and have learned well that quick and easy is always better than slow and difficult.  It shows up in our eating habits.  When we do cook, we prepare microwave items that merely reheat what others have cooked.  When we do not nuke our food, we go out to eat where, in too many cases, our food is merely nuked by others instead of ourselves.  Even sit down restaurants specialize in getting the food to the table as quickly as possible (at least some bread or an appetizer lest we become restless while forced to entertain ourselves on our phones and the free wifi).  These are also the generation of those who were shuffled from sports event to sports event, from activity to activity, and from one divorced parent to another and whose lives were demarcated by their calendar and schedule (regularly irregular!).

My point is this.  Faith is not quick.  It is not easy.  It does not provide instant rewards for halfhearted efforts.  It is not a sprint.  Faith is not about the moment but endurance, the long haul.  The kind of daily and lifelong struggle (Lord, I believe; help my unbelief) that remains until we draw our last breath.  The things of our life as the baptized, living in His Kingdom and under Him, are also neither quick nor easy.  Marriage is hard work and long hours.  Parenting is hard work and long hours.  The great temptation to us all, but perhaps especially to the millenial, is to ditch that which does not produce quick and easy results or to lose heart for the cause that is lived out day after day after day.

Surely the millenial is not unique in this and each age and generation has awoken to the disappointing reality of a faith that must persevere and of success defined by endurance.  That said, however, the parents of the millenials and the shape of the culture in which they grew up has so reinforced this attention deficit disorder to the steadfast character of the things of God and our lives within the vocation of His creatures that we have put our children and grandchildren at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to faith.

It shows up in the frequency with which people define regular church attendance.  We are blest to have many young folks (35 and under) who are regular every Sunday (when they do not work or are not out of town).  But they are the exception to the millenial group as a whole.  The new normal of regular church attendance is occasional, a couple of times per month to once a month.   Irregular church attendance is the new regular shape of church attendance.  While some may worry about the slight drops in the percentage of Americans, specifically millenials, attending worship, I am much more concerned with the dramatic change from weekly to occasional church attendance as the new normal for regular church attenders.

This has dramatic affect upon Christians.  It means that they listen to less of the Word spoken and hear fewer sermons.  It means that they may not know the folks in the pew the way those who attend weekly know each other.  It means that it is easier for them to hide behind anonymity when they do attend.  It means that they identify less with the church as a congregation than as a place and what goes on in that place when they are there.  It means that they are impacted less by content (doctrine) and more by style (or experience).

This also has dramatic affect upon the churches.  It means that there are fewer folks to count upon for the every Sunday things that once defined us as a congregation (everything from Sunday school to youth group to Bible study).  It means that the pews are less full even though over all membership numbers may be the same.  It means that such things as choirs may struggle to find new voices to replace those who are retiring.  It means that giving patterns have also changed and the church has fewer folks who give weekly, every week, and more folks who give occasionally and toward more specific causes rather than to the general work of the church.

Of course this is not merely about institutional health.  It is about the character of the faithful, a character that in Scripture presumes the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day around the Word and Table of the Lord.  This is not some dreamy goal but fully the expectation and assumption of Christian faith and life.  When this changes, everything changes.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Another though about the Millenials: They skip cereal because not only do they have to clean it up, but many of them grew up having to get the milk and cereal out. They had to make their own breakfast. They grew up in single family homes where mom or dad was already off to work before they caught the bus or ride to school. Clean up was not enforced, and they could pretty much decide to do what they wanted about breakfast, This translates into God being an absent parent, and the child doing pretty much what he/she pleases. So sad. Catechisis is way more important than we make it out to be.