I was recently invited to speak at the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies’ conference, Reaching Millennial Generations, held at Andrews University. In preparation I had the opportunity to interview thirty millennials on their views of the Adventist Church. During the interview, several relevant issues arose relating to worship.
Firstly, these millennials felt that the church, over time, has become less communal and more institutional. This relates to worship in that worship experiences from congregation to congregation often lack the diversity necessary to truly reflect their local communities. The institutional nature of the church has fostered the expectation that all Adventist worship experiences will closely resemble each other. Diversity in worship style, attire during worship, and even the aesthetics and location of the worship space are deemphasized in the attempt to create institutional unity. But what is lost in this homogenization of worship is a sense of the local, communal culture.
Secondly, these millennials asserted that the Adventist Church can present itself as overly exclusive. Again this relates to worship in that if a local congregation is not intentional, its worship gatherings can be unwelcoming experiences for those who are unfamiliar with the unique Adventist subculture. Using pronouns such as “us” and “them” in our gatherings are examples of the language we use that can create unnecessary division between those who are considered insiders and those who are “non-Adventists.”
Finally, a universal concern of the millennials I interviewed was that the church is often judgmental and rigid. This is reflected in worship most acutely in the content of sermons preached from week to week. Messages often emphasize our personal role in modifying our own behavior but lack a specific articulation of the primacy of God’s work through the sacrifice of Jesus and the subsequent work of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of the human heart. Absent a clear proclamation of the Good News, the human tendency toward moralism and legalism becomes pervasive. Moralistic and legalistic sermons promote, or at least exacerbate, an overall spirit of judgementalism and rigidness throughout the church.
In light of these insights from millennials within the church what are ways our worship can reflect the wisdom of these believers we hope to more fully engage?