I am in Florida at the ABHE meeting, and the plenary speaker this afternoon was David Kinnaman, the new president of the Barna Group, a Christian research organization. He spoke about the challenge of biblical higher education to engage the millennial generation, but for ministry training and church in general.
David told a particularly applicable story. He was watching a classic Star Trek episode with his 14-year old daughter. Spock, Kirk, Scotty, etc. His daughter made it about half way through and said, “Dad, can I just go to bed?” “What’s wrong, honey?” “Was this made in someone’s garage? The makeup is horrible, the sets are lame, the dialog is bad. My little sister and I could do something better than this with iMovie.”
Kinnaman’s observation: she was right. Yet that is what we do with church a lot. We are still producing church the way it was done in the late 1960s, and don’t understand why millennials don’t appreciate it.
Why is this? My answers are a little different than his. I have been in about 20 different churches in the last year. Here are some of my observations, and they may seem harsh:
1. We often assume everyone shares knowledge of the Bible that is simply not true. This shows when a preacher tries to catch his listeners up on the necessary details of a Bible story he wants to tell. This is usually done in a minute or two, and frankly this doesn’t make much sense to those who really need it. We need to assume very little Bible knowledge in our preaching, and offer it in small bites. By this, I don’t mean we dumb it down. In some ways we should ramp it up. We don’t need to treat the Bible like children’s Sunday School stories alone.
2. We also assume that our audience assumes a “biblical worldview.” This most often shows up when a preacher is talking about what goes for a creationist worldview. For example, most preachers would think that their listeners were rooting for Ken Ham rather than Bill Nye in the recent debate, but I can assure you that was not the case among millennials.
3. We belittle or dismiss aspects of technology that are a normal part of life for millennials. We make fun of them being hooked to their phones, but that is who they are. Can’t we accept them for who they are, even if we don’t understand it completely?
4. We are still using the proof-texting method of preaching, assuming that the more Scriptures we can find to support our point, the more right we will appear to be. Let’s just stop doing this. Get a good text, find a solid biblical lesson in it, and preach it. Millennials are not impressed by a mountain of texts that say the same thing. They want to see how a text has purpose and value for their lives.
I could list a few more, but I’ll stop now. BTW, they gave us a copy of Kinnaman’s new book, The Hyperlinked Life. I have not read it yet, but will probably blog when I do. It is very short. Here is a link.
Nebraska Christian College