The aroma of organic coffee beans, fresh hair gel and musky cologne waft through the air and beckon me to step into the modern amphitheater. The lights grow dim and the crowds push forward, yet the volunteers stand their ground like sentinels at their post – no one blinks and no one moves. Each of them guard the doors with warm welcomes and award-winning smiles; however, before I can sneak past the ‘guards’, I’m bombarded by a hipster look-a-like – decked out in trendy jeans, nicely coiffed hair and a beard that would even make Santa Claus jealous.
“Hey! I’m so glad that you’re here.” He declares, looking out into space.
“Thanks. I’m really excited for…” I reply.
“Yeah, that’s awesome. So, is this your first time here?” He interrupts.
“Yeah…I heard about this place from a friend and I’m…”
“Well, enjoy. Have a great time!” He walks away and then reads the same script to the next unsuspecting customer.
Before I could finish my sentence, he was done with his presentation.
“Wait…What about…” My time had run out. I was given my allotted ten seconds before I was ushered past the gaggle of greeters.
As I entered into the sanctuary, the ‘cheerful cherubs’ simply stared at me perplexed. They couldn’t understand why I wanted to engage in conversation. After all, they had read their script, greeted me at the door and matched one another in perfect unison. Their branding was perfect, but in the midst of their great performance, I remained a visitor – a guest who was welcomed to enter into God’s presence, but not approved for more than ten seconds of their time. I searched for more – I wanted more than a scripted message – I wanted more than an exchange of forced pleasantries.
You see, we’ve lost the ability to be authentic. Of course, we’re allowed to show our true selves on holidays and casual Fridays, but for the most part, we’re expected to play a part and not deviate from our role. We’ve been given a script and expected to keep within the text. However, in the midst of this Stepford montage, we’ve lost something – we’ve lost the ability to be known for ourselves. Our access to ‘connection’ has become ‘contingent’ on our behavior. Therefore, we spend our life balancing on a tightrope, learning our lines and keeping within our respected boxes. However, we soon realize that we’ve lost our own identity.
What Went Wrong?
Generation X and Baby Boomers created our curriculums and fooled us into believing that superficial connection equals authentic community. According to an article in the The New York Times, “Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults.” Suicide has increased, because people are forced to layer on façades to appease their coworkers, bosses, clients, friends and even their pastors.
This generation is hungry for community, but they’re stuck in conformity.
Millennials long for something authentic, but they’re fearful of giving up the imitation. They’ve come to adopt the mindset that acceptance is contingent on performance.
Authenticity has become a keyword in today’s discourse. It’s the new “it” word that’s getting a lot of attention, but not much retention. Why? Why is this generation struggling to implement reality within relationships? Why are we connected to one another on countless devices, yet socially distant? Derek Beres, contributor to Big Think, asserts that, “The more we’re disconnected from others, the more we lose control of our own faculties.” According to Beres, the lack of genuine interaction has actually created psychological consequences and dissonance within millennial culture. True community is viewed as a fable – much like a unicorn or the tooth fairy.
How do we create a space of unity in the midst of mass conformity? We are trying to rewrite the script – we’re trying to erase the repeated lines and delve into a deeper understanding of humanity; however, genuine communication will only occur when this generation chooses to rip up the script; not just rewrite the lines. We need to choose to create hubs of interaction that go beyond surface pleasantries – choose to be raw and authentic in our pursuit and realize that loving one’s neighbor is more than a trending hashtag.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids–nearly double in a decade.” This generation is tired of seeing countless friends and family members struggle with substance abuse, fall into spiraling forms of depression and watch society read from the same script. We realize that only the truth can set us free – even if it’s messy and uncomfortable. We realize that authenticity demands transparency.
What are 3 Ways the Church Can Offer Authentic Community?
I’m so glad that you asked.
1) Be Transparent
Call it cliché, but authenticity must start with honesty – it must begin with pulpits and lecterns becoming structures of communication, instead of conformity. The church has the incredible opportunity to influence this generation. Millennials are hungering for something real – something worth giving their time, talents and tithes to; however, we only ask for one thing in return: transparency. We’re not demanding your perfection – We’re desiring to see you as a holistic person.
2) Stop Trying to Win the “Cool Factor”
There’s nothing more exciting then entering into a cool factory-like setting and being treated like you’re on the red carpet. However, one’s personhood should never be contingent upon their performance. If you want millennials to be themselves and invest in an authentic community, then you must make the first step and create an authentic atmosphere. If you’re a hipster, then own your skinny jeans and flannels. If you’re more comfortable in a suit and tie, then create a space that reflects your personality.
3) Be Ready to Work Really Hard
In order for the church to engage in authentic community, you need to be ready to accept the reality of your congregation. This includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church, reveals that, “Every time God presents a significant opportunity, it’s formed in the crucible of crisis. It’s connected to danger. And it comes at a great cost.” God-sized dreams require God-given faith.
The church still has a voice, but occasionally, it needs to step away from the microphone and engage in conversation over coffee.
This generation is desperate for mentorship, discipleship, and most of all, friendship.
Most sanctuaries are decked out with the best of everything – lights, camera and action. However, this generation is looking for more than a place of ‘flash’ – we are looking for a community of ‘faith’. This requires Christian leaders and pastors to lead the way and go beyond the surface. One must be willing to not only preach about the love of Christ, but also offer authentic community.