Yesterday evening my friend Sharon and I were on our way to Party City. My going away party is approaching and we were on the hunt for decorations. As we were headed down Peachtree Street, Sharon, who was driving, craned her neck around and asked, “Is he ok?” I turned around in time to see a man lying sprawled out on the sidewalk very close to the busy thoroughfare. We quickly decided to stop and Sharon pulled into the closest parking lot. We jumped out of the car, running to the sidewalk. The man wore running shoes and linen pants. His eyes were closed, his hands were on either side of his head and blood had pooled around his head on the sidewalk. I heard Sharon cry, “Oh my God, he’s hurt. Call 911”. I had my phone ready and I dialed the number. I was frantic. My voice shook as I tried to tell the operator where we were and the scene that lay in front on me. Sharon kneeled next to the man and he began to speak just as a police car pulled into the median. He didn’t sit up; he didn’t stir except to say that he thought he was ok but didn’t want to move; his head hurt. While the police officer called for an ambulance and back up, Sharon asked his name. Evan, he said. Then she asked if he would mind if we prayed for him. Evan told us he wasn’t religious, didn’t go to church but he believed in God so he’d like for us to pray. Afterwards, I asked him if there was anyone I could call for him, any family or friends that would want to know what just happened and where he was. His words broke my heart. “No,” he whispered, “There’s no one.”
Evan eventually sat up. The police officer handed him some gauze to stem the steady flow of blood that seeped from a gash above his eyebrow. His pattern of speech was, at times, confusing. Alcohol and a possible concussion may have been the culprits, but we got some of his story. Evan is twenty-six and recently moved back “home” to Atlanta. He repeatedly told us how happy he was to be home. He said he’d had a rough day, though. His girlfriend broke up with him and he was out for a walk. He thinks he tripped on the sidewalk and busted his head.
I don’t know if that was the real story and it doesn’t matter much. Two things really stuck with me though. Evan believes in God but doesn’t go to church. And Evan is alone.
It became even more poignant to me when my pastor this morning spoke about this exact subject! He said, “It’s not that people don’t believe in God or Jesus; they don’t believe in the church.”
This has been on my mind for the last week and the events of the last two days have really brought it to a head. I’ve read a couple articles, and the blogosphere has been blowing up lately about why millennials, and others, are leaving the church. In her opinion article to CNN, Rachel Held Evans seems to think it’s about “how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
Trevin Wax, a blogger for the Gospel Coalition, agrees somewhat in his response but thinks that we’re looking for substance, real substance. And then he goes on to elaborate areas where Rachel is mistaken. Honestly, he seems to be arguing a lot on semantics. Both articles are well written and make valid points.
I do not claim to have any idea why millennials are leaving the church. It would presumptuous on my part to make an argument that defines an entire generation. I am only one person. My friends are just a drop in the ocean of the 20 somethings in America, from a limited geographic area, with limited experiences. But I left the church for a minute. I know why I did it. And I know why I came back. So I will start there.
My formative years were spent in very conservative, very dogmatic churches. I saw several church splits over issues of infinitesimal significance in the grand scheme of things. Feelings were hurt, arguments occurred often and what I did not see was what Jesus said we would see in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love was conditional in the church. Step out of line, disagree, have another opinion and you’re out of the club. I was disillusioned with the people of God. When I left for college I’d had enough of church.
It wasn’t until I returned from the Peace Corps six years later, after my “reversion” which you can read about in Who I Once Was, that I decided to give church a go again. Why? Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” It’s a command and I had a renewed desire to obey. But I was completely prepared for the judgment, sexism and cliquishness that I’d previously experienced. What I found was different though.
Since moving to Atlanta, I have had the opportunity to attend several churches. I don’t know where I’d be today if it were not for the people I have met through church. My roommate, my friend Sharon (see above), Apartment Life, the new Cares team, and on and on the list goes of people I’ve met, who’ve become an integral part of my life, and wonderful organizations I’ve become involved with because of church connections. It wasn’t quick. Like any relationship, it takes time. Church people are still people. Acceptance is not usually immediate. But among church people you will find God’s people- surrounded by them I found the community that banishes loneliness, brings encouragement and stirs us toward action in loving others more fully. This is why I came back to the church. I had God; I needed to be among his people. I pray that Evan finds this too.