20 Questions for Discussing Rachel Held Evan's "Why Millennials are Leaving the Church"

My husband and I are blessed to be part of a small group with our closest friends that has withstood the test of time. The group began as part of a church that none of us attend any longer. It's weathered moves, job changes, and the birth of children. It's evolved over time from weekly meetings to more irregular gatherings, whenever everyone can get together. As a result, the kinds of discussions we have has also evolved. Most recently, we've begun discussing articles everyone can read quickly. 

Having watched celebrated author, Rachel Held Evan's post, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church, ignite a fury of responses in the blogging world over the last few weeks, I chose it as the basis for the first part of our most recent discussion, found below. 

Discussion on CNN's Belief Blog: Why millennials are leaving the church by Rachel Held Evans

1. Rachel claims “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” How do you think young adults perceive evangelical Christianity? Mainline Christianity? What has contributed to your perception? 

2. According to Rachel, “young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.” What, if anything, has your faith made you choose between? How, if at all, have you reconciled these seemingly opposing things?

3. According to Rachel, “Millennials long for faith communities in which they're safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” What makes so many faith communities unsafe for questions and doubts? For faith communities to become safe places for people's questions and doubts, what would have to change about them? 

4. According to Rachel, “Church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church and evangelicalism in particular.” To you, what is church-as-performance? Do you agree or disagree that church-as-performance is driving people away from the church? Why? Read Romans 12:1. How does “church-as-performance” compare to the type of worship Paul describes in this passage? 

5. Rachel claims, “Many of us are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool”, and we find that refreshingly authentic.” What are examples of high church traditions? For what reasons are you drawn to high church traditions? Repelled by them?

6. Rachel claims, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” She then goes on to list several “substance changes” she's looking for. With which can you relate? Why? What else would you add to her list? Why?

7. According to Rachel, “We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.” In your opinion, what does our church stand for? What does the church stand for? Why do you think these aren't typically the things the church is known for? 

8. Rachel expands the traditional view of holiness to “living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care, and becoming peacemakers.” According to this definition, which area of holiness do you most need to pursue? Why? How might you go about doing that?

9. Rachel claims, “We're leaving the church because we don't find Jesus there.” How true do you think this is? Why? According to Scripture, where can Jesus be found? For Jesus to be found in the church, what would be required of us?

10. At the end of her article, Rachel encourages church leaders to sit down with millennials and find out “what they would like to contribute to a faith community.” What do you, or would you like to, contribute to our faith community? What steps can you take to begin contributing in this way? 

As I expected it would, the aforementioned discussion was very good - heartfelt and thought-provoking to be sure. Yet, because I think it's far easier to condemn rather than love the church, I also decided to discuss Rachel's follow-up piece, Why Millennials Need the Church using the questions below. 

Discussion on CNN's Belief Blog: Why millennials need the church by Rachel Held Evans

1. Rachel admits that for a time, she was among the “spiritual but not religious” churchgoing crowd. To you, what does it mean to be “spiritual but not religious”? Do you, or have you ever, counted yourself among this crowd? If so, tell us as much or as little about that experience as you feel comfortable sharing. 

2. Rachel lists several reasons why “Christian millennials need the church just as much as the church needs us.” Which did you find most compelling? What other reasons would you add to her list? Why?

3. Rachel suggests “Millennials who have been hurt by the church may later find healing in it.” How have you found healing in the church – perhaps in the very same church that hurt you?

4. Rachel confesses that she is “deeply skeptical of authority.” Are you? Why or why not? How has or does that affect your relationship with the church? 

5. Despite Rachel's skepticism for authority, she suggests, “We can learn a lot from the faithful who have gone before us.” Think about your experience in church. What have you learned from the faithful who have gone before you?  

6. Rachel admits, “When I left the church, it was Communion I craved the most.” During times when you've left the church, what did you crave most? Why do you think that was?

7. According to Rachel, though we may disagree about “how Christ is present in these sacred meals, we agree that Christ is present.” How have you experienced the presence of Christ through communion? When else do you typically experience Christ's presence in church?   

8. Rachel acknowledges that many “churches practice a rite of initiation, sometimes called confirmation.” Did the church you grew up in practice confirmation? If so, how did that rite impact your faith?

9. According to Lauren Winner, “What you promise when you are confirmed is that this is the story you will wrestle with forever.” What parts of this story of faith are you currently wrestling with?

10. Rachel connects her reasons why millennials need the church with the sacraments. What is a sacrament? Which sacraments does our church formally recognize? According to Rachel, “Even where they are not formally observed, these sacraments are present in some form in nearly every group of people who gather together in the name of Jesus.” Think about our church. How are the sacraments not formally recognized still present? How do sacraments connect you to God? To others?

Though I used this discussion with adults, based on my students' reaction to Jefferson Bethke's spoken word video, “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”, I suspect it would also work extremely well with them. Feel free to use or amend it to fit your context! 

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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