The Table Podcast

Millennials Leaving the Church

In this episode, Darrell L. Bock, Kat L. Armstrong, Sam Eaton, and Nika Spaulding discuss millennials leaving the church, focusing on how to better engage with this demographic.

Timecodes
00:51
Eaton, Spaulding, and Armstrong’s experiences in ministry
05:36
How well are millennial voices heard?
09:12
Millennials tire of hearing mission statements
13:25
Making the poor a priority
18:03
Blaming the culture
23:13
Why millennials distrust the church
27:03
Feeling mentored rather than preached at
29:52
Millennials need to feel valued
35:10
Engaging controversial issues
41:10
The challenge of reaching millennials
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic, today, are Millennials’ take on the church, and this is a response to an article by the man sitting at my left, here, Sam Eaton, who wrote a piece called “12 Reasons Millennials are Over Church.” [Laughter]
Sam Eaton
Well, I wrote it [crosstalk].
Dr. Darrell Bock
It’s okay [crosstalk] yeah, you gotta take responsibility for it. So anyway, Sam is over at a ministry called Recklessly Alive – why don’t you tell us a little bit about that ministry?
Sam Eaton
Yeah, so I started a suicide prevention and mental health ministry, where I talk about my experiences with that; I’ve been writing a book. A lot of people don’t know, 2015 was a 30-year high for suicide rate in our country. And so I’m working really hard to change that, and give those people who’ve lost all hope the hope of Jesus.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, that’s great. And you’re a public school teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota?
Sam Eaton
Yeah, I teach K-5 elementary music – just, a lot of beautiful little kids who are in school right now.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s great, so, well, we thank you for coming all the way down from Minneapolis to come see us down here in Texas – give you a little warmth, you know? True?
Sam Eaton
Yeah, thank you. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
You’re welcome – very good. And then, Nika Spaulding – now, I just got this long title for you. What is it? Director of Women’s Equipping and Curriculum at Watermark Church, here in Dallas, is that. . .
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, it means I hang out with all the XX chromosomes at Watermark, that’s what that means.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Is that what it is? [Laughter]
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, so, lead the Bible studies, and hang out with the women [crosstalk].
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I know you do much more damage than that, so – [Laughs]
Nika Spaulding
I know – that’s for another time, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly right, so, we’re glad to have you – I’ve been on their podcast, so I’m paying her back, now. [Laughter] So, anyway, so it’s great to have you with us, Nika. And then, Kat Armstrong, who I just found out is a Houstonian like I am. And I love your way you describe yourself: you’re a rookie parent.
Kat Armstrong
Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, what exactly does that mean?
Kat Armstrong
I have a four-year-old, so, I’m pretty busy, these days, chasing him around. I mean, I work fulltime, but, yeah, I’m a rookie parent: I don’t know what I’m doing. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, that’s good. So, we look forward to the results of that right down the years, exactly, right, when we’re in the post-Millennial generation, and they write a piece on why post-Millennials are over the church?
Kat Armstrong
Yes, we’re not saving for college; we’re just saving for therapy. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s great. And you also run a ministry called Polished – tell us a little bit about that.
Kat Armstrong
I serve as the executive director, and I cofounded this nonprofit nine years ago, with another DTS grad. And we share the Gospel with young professional women that de-churched, un-churched, or over-churched.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I like that: “de-churched,” that’s an interesting phrase – I’m sure we’ll be talking a little bit about that, as we move along. Well, that’s our crew, here. Let me introduce what we’re gonna talk about. As I mentioned, Sam wrote a piece, a while ago, called “12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church.” Now, I do a lot of speaking, and because I hang out in the seminary, I get asked a lot of questions about Millennials, when I speak. And it’s usually coming from an older generation, the generation that I belong to. And usually the question goes something like this – it’s expressed in a variety of ways, depending on how soft or hard the question wants to be asked, but basically the thrust of the question is: “Why don’t Millennials get it?” or, “What’s wrong with Millennials?” or whatever. And I find myself defending Millennials on a regular basis, because I hang out with y’all, and y’all are cool, and so –
Nika Spaulding
I know [crosstalk].
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, just awesome, right? Just awesome. [Laughter]
Nika Spaulding
[Crosstalk] we’re okay.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the point I like to make is that there are sensitivities that exist in the Millennial generation, that somehow we missed those genes on our end, and they’re good traits, they’re things that people ought to be concerned about and ought to listen to. And then I slip in on the side that as a Boomer I’ve got a few concerns, too. [Laughter] So, anyway, so this should be a fun conversation. The article opens like this: “Only four percent of the Millennial generation are Bible-based believers. This means that 96 percent of Millennials likely don’t live out the teachings of the Bible, value the morals of Christianity, and probably won’t be found in a church.” And so, the article is an attempt to explain why, so you’ve gone through, really, 12 reasons that you think are aspects of why Millennials struggle with the church. And you’ve got some other statistics – further on it says, “Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile; 59 percent of Millennials raised in the church have dropped out; 35 percent of Millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.”

So they’re the least-likely age group of anyone to attend church, and this is so by far – this is something we hear about regularly. And Kat and I have gone through a period, after the election, in which we also discussed this issue more privately about what’s going on, particularly with Millennial women. So we’ll come to that down the road, but I’m just gonna dive in, okay? “Number one: Nobody is listening to us.” I am. [Laughter]

Kat Armstrong
You might be – you’re one of the few.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I’m one of the few, huh? Okay. It says: “Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When church forges ahead without ever asking for our input, we get the message loud and clear: nobody cares what we think. Why, then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?” And then, you do have suggestions for solutions: “Creating regular outlets for young adults; inviting Millennials to serve on leadership teams and boards; and hiring a young adults pastor who has the desire and skillset to connect with Millennials.” So, that’s a good start – fill it out: How do I do a better job of listening?
Sam Eaton
Yeah, just start by getting to know the people in your church. Millennials just wanna, man, they just wanna voice what’s inside of them and what’s going on. I think we’ll talk a little bit later, but most importantly, they want people walking with them, not preaching at them. And if it’s only a one-way conversation, I just don’t feel like going, quite honestly, because I’ve got a lot of experience, too, that I wanna share and bring to the table. Not that I have all the answers, but I wanna be heard, I think, and that’s just a human trait – I think everybody wants to be heard and seen.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, and I think we were taught that our voice matters, right? You think about the education system – I’m sure you feel this – you know, gone are the days of rows, right, and everybody’s facing the teachers. Now you go in the classrooms, and they’re sitting in tables, there’s collaboration, and we’re taught that that’s a really high value of our society. And so, when you walk into a church, and the only opportunity you have is pews facing forward, and there’s not a chance for collaboration or to be heard, it can’t help but be received, at times, that we’re not being listened to, and that our voice doesn’t matter. And so, I think we are the largest generation, and probably the most studied, right? So the research is out there to learn about us, as well as within your church. And so, for those hoping to reach Millennials, I think the information is certainly out there and available for them to look at.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And you’re not as strange as people suggest, right?
Nika Spaulding
No, I’m not. [Laughter] No, we’re pretty weird, but we’re earnest, and I think people enjoy getting to know us, for sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and I think “earnestness” is a good word, that there is a sensitivity to Millennials that I think drives a lot of their concerns at a relational level, that are important to the church. And so, from that standpoint, certainly worth turning an ear towards. Kat, any observations on that one? “Nobody’s listening to us.”
Kat Armstrong
I think, yeah, there’s definitely a gap between the folks who have left, like, they’ve made their exit. And so, we also need to have conversations with folks who have completely left. And that just takes a lot of work. When it comes down to it, if – I’m married to a pastor, and Nika is a pastor – I mean, there are so few resources, so little time, and so many needs. And so many times we gravitate towards the people who have the loudest voice inside the church, and what Millennials, what’s Sam’s written about is that they’ve left. So, now the conversation’s even more challenging, ’cause we have to go to them, start a relationship, and then really listen.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, so that’s one group, the group that kind of needs to be approached, and almost, in one sense, won back. And then there’s another group that’s kind of floating around the edges, still hanging in there, okay, but assessing, right?
Kat Armstrong
Mm-hmm.
Nika Spaulding
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And that’s a challenging group, as well. Okay, well, I’m building the atmosphere, here, for this. [Laughter] “Number two: We’re sick of hearing about values and mission statements.” Oh man, I love this one. [Laughter] And then, I love the way you opened it: “Sweet Moses, people, give it a rest.” Okay, so, enough about mission, okay. “Of course, in an organization, it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should be easier for Christians than anyone else, because we already have a leader to follow.” And then you talk about the core commandments of loving God and loving others. “So why does the church need a mission statement anyway?” So, “Solution: Stop wasting time on religious mumbo-jumbo, and get back to the heart of the Gospel. We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors, wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. [Laughter] We’re impressed with actions and service.” I’m glad you don’t say what you think. [Laughter]
Nika Spaulding
Sam is in that rare space where a blogger comes from behind the screen [crosstalk] in front of it, so – [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right, yes, this is called an “outing.” [Laughter] So, tell us what’s going on, here. You’re really about, rather than putting it in words on paper and having to rearticulate what you think is transparent and obvious about what we should be engaged in, we should be engaged in it, right?
Sam Eaton
Yeah, I think Millennials are drawn to authenticity and transparency. And, yes, we need a common mission, we need to know where we’re going as an organization, but we’re just not impressed with a ten-week sermon series on the new mission statement, for the third year in a row. It’s just a little exhausting. We’re impressed by service and action, specifically, serving the poor, which we’re gonna talk about next.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, I think as a pastor I can totally appreciate the mission statement, right? I mean, I think leaders have to remove confusion, bringing clarity. I think any mission statement that doesn’t get at the heart of the Gospel is gonna be a miss, certainly, for this generation. But I think part of it is you’re talking about the authenticity piece. When your mission statement is only an aspirational value and not a realized one, I think that is what becomes exhausting. That if the church says, “We care about the poor, we care about the disenfranchised, and we care about the Gospel,” and then they do, then the mission statement works. But if the mission statement is, like you say, Christianese, these words that half the time we’re not even sure what they mean, and then we don’t see that movement, I think that is what becomes exhausting.

And so, as someone on a church staff, I’m, like, “Well, hey, I think – ” you know, I have goals I wanna put out there for my women, we have vision. I do sit in those meetings – they can go a little long, I can totally agree with that. [Laughter] But I do think to just go – for leaders to go, “Are we about this mission that we keep putting in front of our people?” Because there is the need to continue to clarify what our vision is, ’cause it leaks, it leaks out, and you keep doing that. But if you say you’re about the poor, then be about the poor; if you say you’re about the Gospel, then, gosh, I hope your church is evangelizing on a regular basis. And so, those are some of the things I think I’m seeing among our generation. So, Kat, what – I see you –

Kat Armstrong
I totally agree. So, I think you really hit on something: I think it’s integrity, for this Millennial generation. I think that they value integrity at such a deep part of their core. It’s almost hard for me to talk about. I mean, I think that they – we’re listening, that’s what I think. And I think many times we look at Millennials and we think, “Ah, they’re just Snowflakes,” or, “They’re whiny,” or, “They’re uncommitted,” or, “They’re fickle – “
Nika Spaulding
Easy, easy – [Laughter]
Kat Armstrong
I hear this a lot. I hear this a lot. And you know what it comes down to? Humans are broken, so I think that those problems existed in every generation. I think Millennials are serious about integrity in a way we’ve never seen before. So when they say, “Look, I hear your mission statement – I need it to actually align with the output. And then, also, if you say you’re really about loving God and loving others, why do you have so much time devoted just to parsing a sentence that we’re gonna put on a brochure?” I think a lot of it has to do with, “Let’s have some integrity behind our words.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, you’re talking about a walk that comes alongside the talk, that’s really in there. Yeah, I mean, you’ve got James on your side, probably Jesus, “the one who hears the word of God and does it,” that kind of thing – those are probably good allies to have. So, that’s point two – well taken. Okay: “Helping the poor isn’t a priority.” Now, this is a legitimate complaint, I think. “My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become. Let’s clock the number of hours the average church-attender spends in church-type activities – Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, books clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement – ” and you’ve even got “. . .” which means the list goes on. [Laughter] “Now, let’s clock the number of hours spent serving ‘the least of these,'” and then, “Oh, awkward.”

“Solutions: Stop creating more Bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose. Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts, then connect people who have similar passions. And then, create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference.” I know I’m in a group that, occasionally, instead of meeting together for dinner and just sharing, actually tries, periodically, to engage in ministries around the city. We’ve gone into some of the ministries that are feeding the poor, and that kind of thing, but that’s just a start. I mean, really what you’re talking about is a regular commitment to reflect on what’s going on. So let’s fill that one out: Helping the poor isn’t a priority – we need to see more of that.

Sam Eaton
Well, let’s start by clarifying: I’m not saying we shouldn’t study the Word of God.
Nika Spaulding
Oh, okay. [Laughs]
Sam Eaton
We should be studying that every single day – you should be in a Bible study, you should be in a small group, but if that’s it, you’re kind of missing the point of this book. I just don’t know how you can read James, or Matthew 25, “the least of these,” and then just go back to your normal American life and not live it out, like we were just talking about. Yeah, and even more so, just – I’m just gonna let that go, so I’ll pass it off to you – sorry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right, Kat?
Kat Armstrong
Okay, so, not to drive back this integrity issue, but I think it goes back to that again, of them saying, “Okay, I’ve read the book. I’ve read the Good Book. I’ve sat in a lot of sermons. I’ve filled up on the truth. And now I need to go out and do it.” So, I think that they’re really aligning their values with their speech, and we’re starting to see – again, I keep using that word, but – integrity.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and one of the tensions that I think we have is just that churches tend to create activities that operate around the church, but ultimately the church is designed to have an arrow that’s going out. And so, it isn’t designed for what’s happening within the four walls; it actually is designed to be engaged in mission, engaged with other people, engaged in taking the Gospel out. And that is gonna require time and sacrifice, in order to happen.
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, and it’s a really global generation, so when we talk about poverty, they’re not just even looking in the local context. I mean, they’re looking across the globe, and demanding accountability for government structures, and things like that, as well. And so, I think they feel the need. I mean, I think they’re traveling, they’re seeing things that they maybe only read about in past generations. And then they’ve been told their whole lives, “Hey, the church’s job – ” and this is sort of the culture I grew up – “the church’s job is to care for the poor; the government’s job is not,” right? And so, now we’re even in this political landscape of where they’re going, “But the church is not – and you’re telling me I can’t vote for somebody ’cause that’s not their – ” you know, and so, it is getting even more muddy. And so, I think this issue is gonna continue to be something that the more missionaly-minded churches, I think, are gonna continue to see younger generations come in, because they deeply feel that burden for the poor.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The way I like to talk about it is, the world gets bigger and smaller simultaneously. And what I mean by that is that we’re aware of far more, we’re aware of what more is going on, because our news is much more global than it was, although American news is actually pretty tightly confined. I’ve lived in Europe, and you turn on a news broadcast in Europe, and you’re looking at 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 countries in a 30-minute period. Here, if you go overseas, it’s for a few minutes, unless you do a documentary or something like that. But still, the point is, there are a lot of needs out there that can be met. And actually, most ministry that’s designed to be effective, and that you can really put your hands on and put a stamp on, that has an impact, is local. I mean, unless you’re engaged in ministry through a mission organization or something like that, most people’s experience is gonna be a local impact, have a local impact, and have a local ministry.

Okay, well, we’re behind, so let’s see if I can catch up. [Laughter] Okay, “Four: We’re tired of you blaming the culture – ” I’m feeling a little beat up [laughter], but that’s okay – “from Elvis hips to rap music – ” oh my goodness – “from Footloose to twerking, every older generation comes to the same conclusion: the world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the downfalls of the culture – believe it or not, we’re actually living in it, too. Solutions: Put the End Times rhetoric to rest; focus on real solutions and real impact for our immediate community; and explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working, by Craig Groeschel.” So there’s even a direct suggestion, here. This one I’m gonna push back a little bit on, but I’m gonna push back in kind of a crazy way. I think you’re right: I think that sometimes the church oftentimes does blame the culture, and most of the stuff that you hear about the culture is negative.

I like to tell my students that, when you look at the culture, you oughta look for the what I call the gropings for God or the gropings for purpose. That if you do that, you actually have the opportunity to build some bridges towards what the Bible is trying to pull us towards. And so, I do think that, rather than always blaming the culture or speaking of the culture negatively, we do need to do a better job of looking for those places where we can connect to the culture. But there’s always gonna be that challenge, there, because the culture is something – Scripture does talk about it, a little bit; it calls it “the World,” and that’s generally not a positive recommendation. So, responses? I’ll go anyway for this one.

Nika Spaulding
Yeah, I think the World – , I’ve studied those, “Movies are gonna be the end of me,” and things like that, right? But I think what you’re getting at – and I think is so right, Dr. Bock – is, I think Millennials need help to interpret the culture. The option to not be in it is pretty much gone. I mean, things that our parents vigilantly try to keep us from being exposed to, we walk out of our houses and see. And so, rather than hearing it’s evil and dangerous – because we have a hard time disconnecting the culture from those who are in it that we love as well – help us interpret it, help us see a world view in it. Help us to see, I think, the beauty that is in certain artforms, that maybe we would’ve said, “Please don’t go see that,” and now going, “Well, there is a redemptive message in that.”

And there’s still a part of it that I do need to say, “Hey, that is of the World, and not of the things that are righteous and good and should be in front of me.” And I think that kind of teaching requires nuance, and that’s scary. And so, I think it’s important that those who are teaching the Word can handle that kind of nuance and go, “Hey, here’s how we’re gonna help you navigate this world, that is utterly broken, and yet, has redemptive value throughout it that we can find and mine out of it and see.”

Dr. Darrell Bock
Any other thoughts?
Kat Armstrong
I love that you brought this up, Sam, I really do, because I think that, when we blame shift on society, I think there’s – we double-click on it too much, that we think, “Okay, this is obviously society, obviously our culture has ruined this Millennial generation.” When, I think a lot of times Millennials are living out exactly what they’ve been reared to live. And I think if we send them out and say, “This is your enemy, culture is your enemy, society is your enemy, they’re proposing things to you that are not true,” we can come back and go, “Okay, at the end of The Beauty and the Beast, all things were restored and renewed.” You know, that’s one simple example of a movie that we’re hearing a lot of pushback on, that’s “society” or “culture,” and how it’s ruining our generation. And at the end of the day, we can look at that, just like you said, and build some bridges to the Gospel, and nuance what we’re teaching our younger generation on how to face culture.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, five, really, really quickly: “The ‘you can’t sit with us’ effect. There’s a life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender, and that, of course, is the 2004 classic Mean Girls.”
Nika Spaulding
Obviously.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, confession: I haven’t seen it.
Kat Armstrong
What?
Nika Spaulding
Yet – not yet.
Dr. Darrell Bock
“In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday, cardinal sin, to which Gretchen Wieners screams, ‘You can’t sit with us.'” [Laughter] So, what exactly is this one all about? And we’ve got to really hustle on this one.
Sam Eaton
I’ve just heard so many people talk about church is like a high school, where there are clicks, and nobody is welcome. And I’ve lived that out over and over again; I’ve talked to my mom about it, who isn’t a part of church as much anymore, and she feels the same way. So we have to find a way to be more welcoming, more compassionate, and get people connected, and stop blaming them for not being connected.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, fair enough. But let me just stop and make a little bit of an observation: I think a lot of the aspirations that you talk about are aspirations that are shared across the church. That people want to have authenticity, that they want to have integrity, that they want churches to be better, more sensitive, more engaged, et cetera. Of course, one of the tensions that everyone has is the management of all the time that that takes, with rookie moms who raise kids, right, and that kind of thing. And so, one of the challenges is helping the church actually get there, and think about how to get there, and the prioritization that it takes to get there – we’ll talk about that. So, “Six: Distrust and misallocation of resources. Over and over again, we’ve been told to tithe and give ten percent of our income to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we’ve witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be. We want painstaking transparency; we wanna see on the church’s homepage a document where we track every dollar.”

Oh, this is exciting, a webpage with an Excel sheet. [Laughter] So, “Solution: Go out of your way to make all your financial records readily accessible; create an environment of frugality; move to zero-based budgeting, where departments aren’t allocated certain budget amounts, but are asked to justify each purchase. And challenge the church staff to think about the opportunity cost: could these dollars be better used to serve the Kingdom?” Nika, I’m gonna start off with you, since you manage part of a budget in the church [crosstalk] challenge?

Nika Spaulding
So, no, I think you should tithe more, and ministers should get paid more, so – [Laughter] You know, this is an interesting one, because I feel the burden of not only leading Millennials, but also Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, every generation. And so, the frugality part has a give and a take, as well. I mean, if I had uncomfortable chairs and very little resources, that maybe Millennials would feel more comfortable with, my older generation might not as much. But I do think what you’re driving at is this sense of, it is really important that we manage our money well and that I can justify where every dollar goes. And so, we just have a rule where, if my budget went on the front of the Dallas Morning News, would I be comfortable with that?

And I think that holds me to a different level of accountability, as opposed to, “Well, we can go eat at that fancy lunch that maybe 60 percent of my body can’t even afford to eat on their regular basis,” that does make people uncomfortable, and maybe rightfully so. And so, I think this is one where I would be uncomfortable with my salary going on the webpage – maybe not that level of transparency – but maybe more transparency is, I think, a broader issue. And so, especially when you think about debt, and I think that is part of, where, we’re being told, “Hey, don’t take on all this debt to buy this house, all this – ” We’re being lectured all the time of, “You guys are living beyond your means,” and then you look at this $5 million debt of a building, and you kind of go, “Well, I mean, pot calling the kettle black, here, a little bit.”

And so, I think where the money’s going should absolutely – people have access to that. And then I think every minister’s gotta go, “Do I feel comfortable with this? Would I feel comfortable telling the 20-year-old who just gave me the 10 percent of their $12,000.00 salary, and the 60-year-old who’s a little bit farther along that also gave me 10 percent of their $150,000.00 salary, am I valuing their contributions, and am I taking those into consideration as we spend money?” And I think that’s a huge call.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Kat?
Kat Armstrong
We’ve gotten a lot of pushback with Polished, specifically when we launch new chapters, because we’re serving Millennials. They want the Excel spreadsheet printed out; they want QuickBooks to output all of those documents, right; they wanna see the PNL themselves. And so we’ve learned that – we actually pass those out upfront to people who might volunteer with us, because of exactly what Sam’s saying. They wanna know every category where we’re spending dollars. And many times it’s not because – it is because they wanna hold us accountable. It’s also because they want to contribute, so they wanna go, “You know what, I know somebody who can do this video for us for free,” or, “I work for a company that does this pro bono work.” So, we’ve definitely felt that. It was scary at first, honestly, to put that much out there, but the truth of the matter is that you get a lot of buy-in when you can say, “This is where every dollar is going.”
Sam Eaton
And I just wanna jump in quick. I think you’ll find the nonprofit world is doing this a lot better than the church world. You can go to Compassion International, and on their homepage, you can see their tax returns from last year. And that gives me the freedom to give; I’m happy to give; I wanna give to them, ’cause I can see that that money is making a difference.
Dr. Darrell Bock
See what’s happening with – exactly. Okay, “Seven: We want to be mentored, not preached at. Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents.” That’s something we need to talk about, okay? “See Millennial church attendance: we have millions of podcasts and YouTube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.” I do think that makes a difference in this. “For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history. Millennials crave relationships, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. Solutions: Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them; ask the older generation to be intentional with Millennials in your church.” I think what I’m hearing in this – tell me if I’m wrong – is, beyond the mere message at 11:00 on Sunday, there are relationships that we are really after, and relationships that mean something.
Sam Eaton
Let me clarify: I’m not saying don’t preach the Gospel – of course, preach the Gospel, every Sunday. But what I’m saying is, if you’re relying on that to drive Millennials into your church, it’s just not gonna work. Because, if I’m struggling with fear today, I can sit at home in my sweatpants, and find 50 sermons by Francis Chan about fear. And so, yes, keep preaching, but also, come around us, mentor – I mean, mentoring is discipling, right? That’s what we’re talking about, here, is, “Teach me how to live these things out, don’t just talk at me.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
And I think the important thing here is that, what the local church can give that a Francis Chan may not be able to, at least quite to this level, is a localized form of the walk of faith, which is important in actually being in context. Now, that assumes that the pastor who’s doing the preaching knows his congregation, and interacts with the congregation in a significant kind of way, which a whole other conversation. But still, the point is that there is a way to engage with people in their local setting. I tell my students, “When you preach and think, think about all the vocations that are represented in that room, from 9:00 to 5:00, on Monday to Friday. And do a little preaching into that space in time, because that’s where most people’s struggles are coming from, and that’s what they’re wrestling with.” So it’s an important conversation, it seems to me, to think about how to put together the relational aspects of what church is supposed to be, next to the message and content that’s coming.

You know, one of the things that the older generation does say regularly to the younger generation is, “There are content needs that also exist, here, that have to be dealt with, and have to be approached. And preaching, at least, is one aspect of doing that.” But your response back, oftentimes, is, “Yeah, but preaching alone, words alone, aren’t enough – we need to see it in practice.” That’s all very, very fair. Number eight: “We wanna feel valued.” Now, I think you’ve said this in a variety of ways and in several spots. It says, “Churches tend to rely heavily on the young adults to serve – you’re single; what else do you have to do?” This actually is gonna tap into something I wanna turn in kind of a gender direction, a little bit. And that is, not only is this a legitimate complaint, but sometimes the way we ask certain people to serve in the church is restricted by the way we perceive their value to be.

So, “We wanna feel valued. Millennials are told by this world, from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill, we aren’t good enough. We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough exactly the way we are, no conditions or expectations.” Then, “Solutions: Return to point one – listening, and go out of your way to thank people who are giving so much of their life to the church.” So, appreciation for that value is also important. Floor is open.

Nika Spaulding
Yeah, I think for the gender one, I mean, Kat and I have talked at length about this, and not only do I read the articles about why Millennials are leaving, but I’m also reading articles that talks about the massive exodus of women leaving the church, as well. And you have women today are more educated than we’ve ever been; they’re CEOs of companies; Kat’s a CEO of a company – she started her own ministry. And then let’s take Kat, for example – then she walks into a church, and she’s told, “Well, your husband can serve in this capacity, and we would love for you to hold babies,” right? And there’s a sense of, Kat’s going, “I have real transferable skills and gifts that I’d love to use, and the margin to use them.” And so, I think that’s part of where transitional leadership is gonna be huge in the church, so we have to continue to make space for young leaders to not be looked down upon because they’re young, but given opportunities to use their gifts, male and female.

And, obviously, for what’s appropriate for your particular expression of the church, and all of that. But where women can use their gifts, you know, you’ve got these lawyers and these doctors and these CEOs walking into your congregation, now – let’s use them, let’s deploy them; they have real skills and gifts. And so, I think that’s really important, Sam, a point, just to see them and use them.

Dr. Darrell Bock
And then, to affirm that contribution to the church is very, very important, and to keep your eye on that. Anything else on this one?
Kat Armstrong
You know, Aaron, my husband, was the singles pastor and young adults pastor, for several years; now he’s the lead pastor. I’ve been working with young professional women, mostly single or young married. And overarching all of this is a conversation about just that word you used: value. “Do you really want us here? You say you want us,” and then we haggle over, “Why they aren’t coming?” right, but then when they do show up, everything’s about families, families, families. And I have a family, and yet I hear that word on Sunday morning and my ears perk up, because I’ve brought a whole row of young professional women that have been divorced, or are going through a divorce, or are single and loving it, or maybe they’re adopting – I actually have a girlfriend adopting a child, and she’s single. So, I think that we’re placing a lot of value – I’ve preached about this many times: marriage and motherhood, for women, have been elevated to a place of idolatry.

And we’ve gotta start really, from the pulpit, undermining some of these idols, and elevating Mark 12:30 and 31, you know, that women, men, singles, married, divorced, whatever it is, we’re called to love God, with everything, and we’re called to love everyone. But we’ve really nuanced what that looks like in the church, and I think Millennials have just said, “Yeah, that’s not my life – I can’t even relate to anyone on stage that looks like me, talks like me, or has a lifestyle like I do.” And so, like Nika said, we’ve gotta make some room on stage for singles, divorced, young married with kids, working women, men staying home – I mean, I know I’m stepping on some toes, but if we have a singular focus on Sunday morning, that’s who we will attract. And what Nika hit on is that Millennials, specifically women, they’ve surpassed the amount of men obtaining advanced educational degrees.

Sharon Miller put this in Christianity Today, in 2011, and the title of her article was “Women Are the Newest US Mission Field.” And it described at length that women are having children later in life, they’re choosing to have less children, over 70 percent of them are going to work fulltime for the rest of their lives, and the church hasn’t necessarily calibrated to that. So then, when we come, when Sam says, “We wanna feel valued,” I know as a professional woman I show up on Sunday, and I don’t – only from my husband have I heard sermons about women in the workplace, you know, applying the sermon as a woman to my job. So, I’ll leave at that, but I think singles as well, there’s a really significant amount of work we’ve gotta do – and you’ve talked about it in the podcast, before.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, we do a lot of faith and works stuff, and, actually, I had meetings last week with – over the last month, actually, I’ve had two meetings with two different women who work with women in the professional world. And we’re talking about how do we make that space clear to people, and have people think through what that looks like from the standpoint of the church. We could spend a ton more time here, but time calls. [Laughter] Number nine: “We want you to talk to us about controversial issues, because no one is.” Okay, I think this is the blackhole in this list. And what I mean by that: I couldn’t agree with this more. This is what The Table Podcasts have literally been all about from the start, is to walk into those areas of – you know, life in a broken world is a life lived in tension. How do we help Christians walk into that tension, embrace the reality that’s there, and then think through how to live in that context Christianly.

That’s really what we’re all about. And so, the idea of stepping back from these controversial issues, because it’s too political or whatever, I don’t think that works for people. They’re looking for help, and what they want, they don’t want us to speak into the politics; they want us to speak into the spiritual dimensions of what’s going on, and how to assess it. That most of the debates that we have are full of tension, and negotiating tension, and both sides, in some cases, are oftentimes raising legitimate elements. But what doesn’t happen is, we don’t put those elements side by side in relationship to one another in a way that’s healthy, in terms of how we talk about them, et cetera. I’m talking too much about this one. [Laughter] But I’m just gonna open it. “We want us to talk about controversial issues, because no one is.” That sounds like a cry for help, and in an appropriate way, with the hope that there is something that can be said, here. Am I reading that one right?

Sam Eaton
Yeah, I mean, we’re living in a culture that says the biggest car, the biggest house, the best body, is the way to happiness. And we know that’s not true – at least, we’re starting to figure that out, ’cause we’re coming to church, that’s what we’re doing. But we need the truth. We need the truth – we can’t sugarcoat what’s going on and we can’t avoid these things. Tell us what the Bible says about these issues, and then give us some space to wrestle with it ourselves, and let us talk to God about what the Bible says on homosexuality, or any of those issues. We wanna talk about these things.
Nika Spaulding
I think gone are the days, too, of propriety in our culture, where there were even some contexts where you didn’t discuss politics. I mean, you didn’t discuss in certain – and that is gone with – I mean, there is not a safe space for me that I’m not gonna get bombarded by some question of what happened in the news, any time I’m with young people. And so, I think that politeness that maybe is a bygone day era is just, it’s gone. So, it’s being discussed, so, if I’m gonna discuss it with my friend over coffee at the Starbucks, and then, my friend’s not a believer and they ask me, “Well, what do you believe, as a Christian?” and then I come to my church and I don’t feel like I can get help, that feels really scary. And it almost feels like it puts me in a position of defeat, you know, and so, I think that is where –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think it raises the question whether the church has anything to say into that space, and that’s a terrible place to be.
Nika Spaulding
Absolutely, yeah. An interesting statistic is so many – you know, Kinnaman talks about the three different types of Millennials, right? The nomads, the exiles, and the prodigals. And he’s, like, really, only of the three, prodigals, they’re leaving Jesus; the other two are staying with Jesus, they’re just leaving church. And what they’re doing is they’re podcasting – they’re listening to you, they’re listening to others who are willing to take that conversation on. And it’s a little safer space in here, I mean, there’s no people [crosstalk] we’re tied, right? [Laughter] And so –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, right, and no one comments on Facebook about what we’re saying. [Laughter]
Nika Spaulding
Yeah, yeah, so, but you can ignore those – it’s the upfront facial meeting, after you’ve stepped off the stage. And so, I think it’s gonna take courage, and I believe that there are ministers that are willing to be courageous. And I think that’s gonna be the call of pastors, as they get equipped here and step out into the world, we’re gonna have to be told, “Hey, you’re gonna have to be courageous enough to talk about these issues that may land you on the front of the Dallas Morning News, but your people need it.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Kat, anything on this one?
Kat Armstrong
Well, I’m thinking of Russell Moore, right now. I don’t know if I should bring him up, but what I’ve seen with the young professional women I work with – un-churched, de-churched, and over-churched – is they look at someone like Russell Moore and they’re, like, “Yes, finally, someone who I feel like is articulate, highly intelligent, theologically trained, he’s willing to talk about things that make people uncomfortable, he is totally fine saying, ‘This is wrong. This is right. Somewhere in the middle is where we’re gonna have to figure out how to coexist with each other.'” And I think you’re gonna see even more of that, where, there’s a real safety net in knowing, “If I need to come to a church and say, ‘My tennis partner has transitioned, and now she is a man,’ you know, how am I supposed to start a conversation with her/him?'” You know, seriously –
Nika Spaulding
Without binary options, right, “That’s wrong. You’re right. You gotta stop playing.”
Kat Armstrong
Exactly. And so, I think, in many ways, we’ve talked a lot about Millennials and culture, and they’re a product of culture – we’re really in it. We’re really in it, and for the purpose of seeing it all restored, all redeemed. So we need our ministers – and I’m thankful I’m married to one who’s like this – to step in the mess with us, and go, “Yeah, I haven’t waded through these waters – let’s pull all of the information we can, from the left, from the right, from the conservative to the liberal – let’s wade through all of it and try to figure it out.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and I think one of the hard tensions, here, is that we all know on the one hand kind of what the Bible says about certain things, but then you’ve got to live and relate to the people who aren’t there. So, how do you do that pastorally well? I’d say one of the greatest challenges in mission – this has always been the case – is the combination and the tension between the challenge that the Gospel makes towards people and the invitation that’s bound up in it. And being able to balance those two things well is actually at the core of doing any good evangelism and ministry. And so, that’s often a hard balance to keep, because the fact is we live in a broken world and people aren’t oftentimes where they ought to be. And so, how do you do that well? Okay, I’m gonna try and bound three together, here, as we wrap up. “The public perception. It’s time to focus on changing public perception of the church within the community.”

This is what I call “Jimmy Cagney Theology,” which is, the church’s message tends to be heard as, “You dirty rat, you shouldn’t be doing that,” [laughter] and there’s no good message in there. Okay, so, public perception of the church – I’m all aboard with what that represents. “Eleven: Stop talking about us unless you’re actually going to do something.” Okay, so, I’m talking about you, but I have you here, all right? [Laughter] And then, third, “Twelve: You’re falling to adapt. Here’s the bottom line: Church, you aren’t reaching Millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame. We need to accept reality and intentionally move towards this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church. The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” And then you quote that great theologian, Bill Clinton [laughter], and –

Sam Eaton
I made the conservatives really happy about that one. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, really, this is the way I view this entire piece: It really is a heartfelt plea, from a Millennial who cares about the church, that the church do a better job in reaching people we all care about. Fair enough?
Sam Eaton
I got a lot of hate for this – I’m just gonna throw that out there – thousands of very angry e-mails and comments about what I wrote. Which has been tough – it’s been tough to live in this tension of – this was my love letter to the American Church. It was, like, I love the Church like Christ loved the Church, and I wanna see it prospering, and I look around and I see my generation has left. And so, I just sat down and started having a conversation, “God, what – what? What are we missing?” and I felt it rising up even in me, a person who’s been serving in a church very steadily for the last six years. So, that’s kind of where I’m landing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, yeah, it’s okay – I mean, we’re hearing, you know – we say – this is something I like to say, that Christianity is ultimately about how God changes people and transforms them. But if there’s no change, there’s no transformation. So, how can we preach and teach transformation, and then not be willing to change? That doesn’t make any sense at all. So, to be challenged to do better is not something that should threaten the church; it’s something the church should welcome, particularly from a voice or a set of voices that says, “We really care about what goes on in the church.”
Kat Armstrong
Sam, I wrote an article, recently, for Fathom Magazine, about repentance, and how reaching Millennials, the conversation will have to start with, “I am so sorry. You’re right, like, what you just described to me, you’re right. The US Census Bureau is backing it up, your personal experience verifies it – that’s on us. We messed it up.” And I think that is the bridge towards change, it’s first accepting some responsibility and saying, “You’re right, Millennials, you’re right, and we’re so sorry. Let us rebuild it together.” On the flipside, I’m working with women who’ve exited, they’re gone, and on the flipside I’m saying to them, “We’re not the same without you, so we can’t fix this without you. We’ve gotta have your voice, we’ve gotta have your presence, we’ve gotta have your perspective to do it.”

And so, we’re in a hard tension – I even know for my husband and myself – in ministry, just, we’re trying to bring people in who’ve left, but that requires them being willing to stay. And then we’re also reaching folks who are, like, “They made their bed, and they need to lie in it, now. You know, they are lazy Snowflakes that just need to know the Word of God better.” And we’ve gotta come together, and I think that repentance is the first step, really, in restoring trust. I think that trust is completely gone, with Millennials, and to bring them back in, we do have to be willing to say, “I’m sorry.” And even in me writing that article, I got so much pushback about, “What do you mean? What do we need to be sorry about?” and I think that’s the disconnect, Millennials are going, “See? That’s why we don’t feel heard, because, if you had a conversation with me, you would know why I left.”

Tim Keller – now, Tim Keller didn’t get as much heat about it, but – he published something, last week, that was online, and he said the best way to reach his city with the Gospel was to get to a point with someone who’s un-churched or de-churched, and for him to be able to say, “I get it, now.” And to be able to say to that un-churched person, “Is this what you mean?” and for them to respond by saying, “Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” now, that is hard work. That means we’re gonna have to put some defenses down, as the Church, and say, “I’m gonna take some ownership on this.”

Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, now, we obviously just got started, but I wanna thank you all for coming in and talking about this. It’s a very, very important topic – people do need to be heard, that’s why we’ve had you on: we want you to be heard. And then, one little word of just encouragement: keep talking; keep listening. There are some things older folks are saying that also need to be heard, but that’s another podcast. [Laughter] All right, so, thank you. And we thank you for being a part of The Table, and hope you’ll join us again, soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Kat L. Armstrong
Kat Armstrong has been teaching the Bible to women of all ages for over 15 years influencing women at the crossroads of faith, family, business and culture through speaking, writing and leading in for-profit and non-profit organizations. Kat’s powerful and insightful exegesis of the scriptures combined with her relatable vulnerability and have you in stitches humor leave her audience with theologically sound messages that help them relate the scriptures to their own personal and professional lives. Along with her involvement in the local church, Kat’s professional experience extends to her role as a serial entrepreneur working for small businesses that have made it big including Artistry Labs and University Laundry, and innovating through Arbonne and Baby Bow Tie. Kat’s professional endeavors and involvement with the church led her to her current role as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Polished, an outreach ministry that gathers young professional women to navigate career and explore faith together. Since Polished's founding in 2008, Polished has reached over 10,000+ young professional women with the gospel in Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston and North Dallas through monthly luncheons and the Polished Podcast. Kat graduated with her undergraduate degree in business from Texas A&M before obtaining a masters in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2011. Today, Kat and her husband, Aaron reside in Dallas, TX with their four-year old son Caleb and attend Dallas Bible church where Aaron serves as the lead pastor.
Nika Spaulding
Nika Spaulding is a dynamic force with boundless energy. As the Director of Women’s Equipping and Curriculum at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Nika produces the curriculum for her Bible studies for women of all ages. She successfully balances her love of shepherding women with her love of theology. Her classes of more than 500 women are centered around God’s Word, which is sure to transform and inspire those in her care.
Sam Eaton
Sam Eaton is the founder of Recklessly Alive ministries.
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