by Arnfield P. Cudal
– Recent religious trends among Millennials — today’s youth who have come of age at the turn of the century — highlight yet another self-perpetuating cycle in the quest for spirituality. A Pew Research Center survey reports that only 18% of Millennials attend church weekly compared to 26% of Baby Boomers when they were their age. The number of young Americans attending church today is much less than any previous groups, and those who haven’t stopped going to church are switching denominations.
Recent articles, such as, “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy,” “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church,” “Young Evangelicals are Getting High,” and “Change Wisely, Dude,” chronicle why many are leaving mainline Protestant and evangelical churches for liturgical, high worship services in Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. Consider what some are saying:
1) A student from a Methodist Church: “(I) was taught a “Precious Moments” version of Christianity: watered down, polite, and unreal.”
2) A reporter and former evangelical church member: “Church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.”
3) A teacher from a non-denominational church: “Mega churches lack the ‘organic, every day substance’ of reality.”
4) A blogger from a Protestant church: “I felt homeless in heart. I missed intergenerational community. I missed hymns and historicity, sacraments and old aesthetics.
5) A former Presbyterian: “When I look at a Protestant service, it lacks the mystery and power of the body of Christ.”
In response to the American Conservative article, a person writes in the comments section:
“I myself recently switched to a church with a more high liturgy, intentional design of the worship space, and a more holistic balance between the spoken word, pre-written prayers and confessions, singing, and aesthetics as a way to connect with the Divine.”
“I think that eventually, in many lives, there comes a point where the transcendent and the sacred shout out for a place in our hearts and commitment. Call it longing for purpose and/or for a connection with the Divine. These cannot be found in the culture; they are radically counter-cultural.”
Millennials and those looking for meaningful ways to connect with the Divine are seeking them through liturgical forms, sacraments, historicity, and sacerdotalism. The article on The American Conservative remarks,
The millennial generation is seeking a holistic, honest, yet mysterious truth that their current churches cannot provide. Where they search will have large implications for the future of Christianity. Protestant churches that want to preserve their youth membership may have to develop a greater openness toward the treasures of the past. One thing seems certain: this “sacramental yearning” will not go away.
Rachel Held Evans, author and blogger for CNN writes,
“Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.”
The Christian Pundit observes,
The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Savior who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.
The last three decades, as a “Generation Xer,” having observed the tide of Baby Boomers vacating high-churches for low-brow congregations, I find this trend neither surprising nor anomalous but somewhat prescient. As predicted, Millennials have come full circle to where their forebears once stood. Indeed, the Boomers who once loathed the very symbols and forms of high church liturgy: the rote, the repetitive, the pointless processes and processions, or the irrelevant ancient forms along with its “long-songs,” are the very components now being sought after by their offspring. Is this just a matter of perception and preference, or a reaction to their parent’s tastes? Yes, and yes. But the real crux of the matter here goes beyond what is embedded in style, forms, or liturgy. In both cases — both Millennials and their parents (the Baby Boomers) — are missing the point. What exactly is the point they’re not getting?
As the articles show, what is conspicuously absent is mention of God: the subject of what these very liturgies, rites, forms, and sacraments purport to address. Undeniably, a pitfall of liturgy or symbolic sacerdotalism is that the very tools designed to bring God into focus is the very thing focused upon. As a result, as more importance is placed on the execution of such rites, the object of veneration (God) fades into the background. Flow and execution becomes more important in establishing an ethereal and sublime atmosphere of worship.
Millennials are indeed noticing the benefits of form and structure (liturgy). After all, the intention of liturgy is to draw corporate focus to God. Creeds, rites, and pre-formed prayers were incepted by church fathers seeking a unified and close-knit community where feastings and fasting, observances, and the seasons and cycles of life were shared and synchronized by everyone, together, and on an everyday basis.
While negative connotations of liturgy persist in evangelical denominations, overarching advantages prevail. Consider, for example, a Sunday morning service in the Anglican and Catholic Church: The service (rite) begins with penance or confession of sins, followed by a plea for God’s mercy (Kyrie), and followed by paeans of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration (Gloria). Each service involves a reading and singing of a Psalm, an Epistle, and a reading from the Gospels. After the preaching (homily), prayers, communal concerns, and gifts are offered. The Eucharist is always observed and is preceded by a rite acknowledging God’s Holiness (Sanctus), the mystery of Godliness (death, resurrection, and return of Christ), and call for repentance (Angus Dei). In the Anglican Church, the Book of Common Prayer, which contains a collection of readings and passages from the Bible, guide the service. In the Catholic Church, this liturgy is dictated in the Missal.
Because of liturgy, the following may be said: 1) the Bible is read more often and more comprehensively than in non-liturgical churches. 2) All processes, such as confession, thanksgiving, praise, proclamation, communion, then application, are addressed and included. 3) Rites, creeds, and forms designed to keep the church from deviating from doctrine, kept heresies and transitory winds of change at bay. Theological considerations aside, it is no wonder traditional Anglican and Catholic churches have changed little over millennia, bolstered in no small part by its adherence to liturgical tradition. Undeniably, such attributes are what attract Millennials, and for the moment, reminiscences of immutability, steadfastness, historicity, and longevity, prevail….until the next generation considers such attributes unimportant or irrelevant to them.
Music is also a sacramental consideration. High church music draws from a compendium of music antiquity: a trove of music compiled over a millennia apurposed to emulate enduring theological truths, convey the simplicity of Gospel truths, and coronate the loftiest of praise. Such musical offerings are accompanied by those schooled in liturgy and music, and commanded by the grandest instrument available, such as the pipe organ. Such strivings and pursuits for the superlative and the nonpareil are why these churches are referred to as “high church.” Hence, high liturgical churches not by mere coincidence have become the choice of nobility and royalty.
Indeed great admiration and appreciation for such ceremonial excellence may be afforded those who recognize and know how to appreciate them. While the service may be gallantly executed, the symbols rich in meaning, the music regal and cognitively satisfying, there is one thing to remember: without knowledge of the One to whom these components were designed to exalt, the service devolves into just another form of transcendentalism and experientialism. Transcendentalism, or community without God, is a form of “club-ism,” of which many churches today typify. Experientialism, or sensory knowledge without God, is empty and transitory, never satisfactory, and causes the soul only to “yearn for more.”
Based on what we find written in these articles, and based on the anecdotal wishes expressed, the true answer to Millennial’s spiritual quests can be found in Christ. Notice how Christ fulfills all:
1) Wish: A holistic, honest, yet mysterious truth
Answer: “I am the truth.” (John 14:6)
2) Wish: A greater openness toward the treasures of the past
Answer: “I am the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 1:8)
3) Wish: A way to satisfy this “sacramental yearning”
Answer: “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” (John 4:14)
4) Wish: Ancient forms of liturgy (which are) unpretentious, unconcerned with being “cool,”
Answer: “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever. (Psalm 104:5)
5) Wish: Something authentic
Answer: “I am the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
6) Wish: Theology
Answer: “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. (I Timothy 4:10)
7) Wish: A historic rootedness
Answer: “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:58)
8) Wish: Something greater than themselves
Answer: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” (John 13:16)
9) Wish: Spiritual leader
Answer: “He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mathew 11:11)
10) Wish: A true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality
Answer: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house…to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
Andrea Palpant Dilley in her blog, Change Wisely, Dude, in offering advice to church leaders, hints at the answer.
“Take the long view…consider the changes that people go through between age 22 and 32. Consider that some of us in time renew our appreciation for the strengths of a traditional church: historically informed hierarchy that claims accountability at multiple levels, historically informed teaching that leans on theological complexity, and liturgically informed worship that takes a high view of the sacraments and draws on hymns from centuries past.
Some of us want to walk into a cathedral space that reminds us of the small place we inhabit in the great arc of salvation history. We want to meet the Unmoved Mover in an unmoved sanctuary.”
Indeed, mainline protestant denominations have begun to take notice and started adapting more liturgical elements in their worship. This is not a bad idea considering that the extra-biblical trappings that have caused much consternation and schisms within their own denominations, and which have detracted from the true focus and understanding of the Word, may be done away with. Those vain things which were practical and pragmatic to Baby Boomers are turning out to be quite unpragmatic and impractical to Millennials. Ultimately, however, this is not where the answer lies: not in the sacraments, forms, liturgies, symbols, music, etc; the answer is in the Word, and mainline protestant denominations, including liturgical churches, would be remiss not to focus on the Word.
One sensible response to the articles above reiterates the Biblical solution:
“Many young people find that their churches are not adequately guiding them into a greater understanding of God and preparing them for Christian service. Sometimes, these young people will seek a greater connection with God through experience, by switching from low to high church styles. They become Anglicans rather than Baptists. However, the ways to become more Christ-like and identified with God are to study His word, read books written by great Christians of the past, and consciously seek to glorify God by imitating Christ in daily life. Worship styles and the practices surrounding communion and prayer do nothing to bring someone closer to God. A relationship with God can give meaning to them, but by themselves, they are merely empty forms. If churches truly want to shepherd the people of God better, they should not transform their services to high style, but teach the depths of God’s Word with the same rigor and intensity that the Puritans did when the Anglican Church failed Christians in the 1600s. Today we have milquetoast Christians going to milksop services, and both Christians and services want substance; the solution is not to put more cream in the service, but feed the Christian meat.”
Whereas knowing God is possible without rites, forms, and liturgies, it is impossible to know God without the Word. The Apostle John, reiterated by the Apostle Paul, said that the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 1:1) — who was manifested in the flesh, seen by angels, preached unto the Gentiles (1 Ti 3:16) — is the key to connecting us to the one true Divine: God the Heavenly Father (Jn 14:6).
The Pew Reasearch Center. February 2010. The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change. www.pewresearch.org/millennials (accessed 1/23/14)
 Olmstead, Gracy. “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy.” Theamericanconservative.com. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-millennials-long-for-liturgy/ (accessed 1/23/14)
 Evans, Rachel Held. “Why Millennials are leaving the Church.” CNN.com. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/27/why-millennials-are-leaving-the-church/ (accessed 1/23/14)
 VanDoodewaard, Rebecca, (RVD). Thechristianpundit.org. http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high/ (accessed 1/23/14)
 Dilley, Andrea Palpant. Faithandleadership.com. http://www.faithandleadership.com/node/3653 (accessed 1/23/14)
 Ibid. theamericanconservative.com (accessed 1/23/14)
 Ibid. religion.blogs.cnn.com (accessed 1/23/14)
 Ibid. theamericanconservative.com (accessed 1/23/14)
 Ibid. faithandleadership.com (accessed 1/23/14)
 Ibid. theamericanconservative.com (accessed 1/23/14)
 Johan. January 14, 2014. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-millennials-long-for-liturgy/comment-page-1/#comments (accessed 1/27/2014)
 Ibid. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com (accessed 1/27/2014)
Arnfield, I agree with your article in general. Having said this I think it must be noted that there are as many types of Anglican theology as there are the number of Anglican churches.
The Sydney diocese of the Anglican church is thoroughly evangelical to the point that it sounds non-liturgical and anathema to the Emergent church’s followers. Quote Phillip Jensen:
Anglican Christians have never believed in the sociological Anglicanism. We have always been Confessional Anglicans. We are Anglicans because we profess the Anglican beliefs of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion. These include the great creeds of the ancient worldwide church (the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds).
The Prayer Book and 39 Articles of Anglicanism come from a particular historical context—the struggle of Thomas Cranmer in the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. The Prayer Book underwent several minor editions before taking its final form in the seventeenth century. From 1662 till today it, and the 39 Articles, stand as the one touchstone of genuine Anglicanism.
There is no doubt what the Prayer Book and 39 Articles meant. The Oxford Professor Diarmard MacCullouch’s acclaimed biography of Thomas Cranmer details precisely his beliefs. W. H. Griffith Thomas’s commentary on the 39 Articles “The Principles of Theology” expounds their meaning. “The Tutorial Prayer Book” written last century by Charles Neil and J. M. Willoughby gives detailed explanation of every part of the Book of Common Prayer.
The original chaplains to the colony of Botany Bay professed belief in the Protestant Reformation as the one true Anglican theology. Sydney’s Anglicans have continued to confess the same faith ever since. We are Anglicans today not because of sociology but because of our confession. We joined and remain Anglicans because we confess Anglican theology.
But such a set of beliefs makes us relaxed about some of the denominational distinctives that sociological Anglicans hold dear. They think that we are so relaxed that we do not believe in Anglicanism. They are angry because we continue to practice beliefs that they have long ago renounced. They are angrier still because we will not accept new beliefs and practices that are contrary to our confession.
Paradoxically we are so relaxed about denominational distinctives, that some of our non-Anglican Christian friends also doubt our belief in Anglicanism.
We welcome as brothers and sisters in Christ, people of different historical traditions but the same basic beliefs. We have more in common with them than with unbelieving members of sociological Anglicanism.
Evangelical Anglicans play a leading role in all manner of non-Anglican Christian ministries—from the Bible Society to the Scripture Union, from the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students to the Katoomba Conventions. Not all the students at Moore College are Anglican or training for Anglican ministry. We apply no pressure upon them to become Anglican. That is why some of our friends do not think we are Anglican. For we do not promote Anglicanism but happily share in our common Christian faith.
We sometimes forget to commend confessional Anglicanism to people. Yet it is worth saying that Anglicanism is our choice and that we believe it is a good choice. Being a confessional Anglican is a privilege and blessing for which we are thankful to God and hope others will enjoy.
Confessional Anglican theology rightly captures the heart of the Biblical message. It is very clear about the central truths of God and the way of salvation. It does not try to codify everything in the Bible and so it allows an appropriate level of liberty on issues of Christian freedom. Nevertheless, it clearly condemns false teaching and practice—the kind of false teaching and practice that sociological Anglicans now hold dear as genuine Anglicanism!
Out of confessional Anglican theology comes world mission. For it expresses a concern not only for the glory of God but also the salvation of mankind. This theological concern for world mission is the driving force behind our Diocesan mission.”
“…The gospel and its growth is what animates Sydney Anglicans. As Peter Jensen reminded us at Chappo’s service, we are evangelicals first and Anglicans second. The gospel is our passion, our song, our motive force. The gospel explains us. It’s the reason why we stopped wearing robes and running formal set liturgies in the 1980s and 90s (because we wanted to reach a lost Australian community with the gospel); it’s why our ‘face to the world’ has been less about whether to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to it, and more about how to preach the gospel clearly and compellingly to our neighbours and communities; it’s why we have been active in planting new churches, even (the horror!) across diocesan boundaries; it’s why our numbers have grown through conversion at the same time as other Anglican dioceses around Australia have precipitously declined; it’s why Phillip Jensen and others were able to persuade thousands of young men and women to enter Moore College and SMBC, and pursue full-time ministry in Sydney and around the world (because of the priority of the gospel over the ambitions of our careers); it’s why our biblical theology is the way it is (it reads the whole Bible through the lens of the gospel); it’s why our doctrine of church emphasizes the prayerful speaking of the gospel word as the essence of what gathers and unites and edifies us; it’s even why we oppose the normalization of homosexuality and the ordination of women (because gospel obedience to Jesus as he speaks to us in his word is far more important than keeping pace with the trends of worldly thought). And in the end it is also why we are glad to be Anglicans, because Reformation Anglicanism was a gospel movement, seeking to restore gospel preaching to a lost nation and gospel doctrine to a corrupt denomination….”