On Sunday – as I showed slides and pew research data – I realized I gave you way too much information to process. But the topic is really important. So here is the core slide again (or click here for the full Pew Research article).
The headline finding is that for the first time less than half a generation claims to be Christian (Millennials at 49%). This is a huge decrease from Boomers (76%) or GenX (67%). And it amplifies the generational divide in our society. (Forgive me for muting the Silent Generation’s stats.)
But the difference in generations is not nearly as large when you compare church attendance. Here less than half of Boomers attend church once a month. For Millennials it is 35%, 14% less than Boomers. Certainly a decline, but not nearly the 27% difference between those who claim to be Christian. And I wonder if Millenial church attendance will increase as they leave their twenties and begin raising families (historically the trend)?
I point all this out, because there is a difference between calling yourself a Christian and being a Christ follower. There is a difference between being culturally Christian and knowing Jesus.
Looking at the numbers, for Boomers it is culturally imporant to call oneself a Christian.1 But Millenials don’t have the same pressures. So millennials who take the title “Christian” are more likely to act out their faith – going to church.
1 Why does it appear culturally important? Look at Boomers and church attendance. The 76% who call themselves Christians include weekly and monthly attenders plus all who attend church “a few times a year” (what I have called Chreasters) and more than half of those who attend “Seldom”. If Christian means acting like Christ. Then church attendance would be a priority. — Please understand, I am NOT speaking about salvation of any individual. By God’s grace, I pray more are saved!
I outline these numbers because one of the biggest divides in our country is between the generations. Especially between Millenial and Boomer. There are movements of criticism on both sides (creating new terms like “snowflake” and “OK Boomer” — USA Today article). There is a tendency for both sides to blame the entirety of our country’s problems on the other generation. (As a GenX – standing in the middle – I tend to agree and blame both 😉 — I suspect the “muted” generation now blames me 😮 ).
There is a significant generational divide. Our viewpoints are so different it can be hard to believe we are looking at the same time. Even our language is distinct. This includes the word “Christian”.
For many it is a part of national identity, disconnected from Christ. So you can be a Christian and not go to church. And in this view, the younger generations are less “Christian”… but this does not necessarily mean they are following Christ less.
Is it more important to have the label “Christ” or to follow Christ?
This brings us to the crux of Sunday’s message. As the generations split further apart, one thing that unites both is the desire to blame and fight. If we just want a country that checks the “Christian” box, then we can join the battle – defending what is ours, wielding power to maintain control. BUT what does it mean to follow Christ in this moment?
In the story of Ananias we find another way. Unlike Saul (“Who are you Lord”, v5), Ananias knows the voice of God. “Here I am”, and he follows. Then he demonstrates what it means for a Christian to lay hands on our enemies. Rather than curse and crush, he blesses.
Practically this means we – faithful followers – don’t try to create our desired culture. We aren’t concerned that people have the right label, we want them to know the true savior. So we love people – no matter their culture – no matter their generation. We sacrifice so that their eyes will be opened to God’s love. In everything we pray salvation expands further than we could ever imagine. That our enemies will be baptized as brothers and sisters!
” And immediately there fell from Saul’s eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized.” — Acts 9:18