by Samuel Garcia
Dear Independent Fundamental Baptists,
I am one of you. I am a King James Only, Bible-believing, Dispensational, fire-and-brimstone preaching, soulwinning and missionary, bus ministry, Sunday school, Old Paths, pro-life, pro-marriage, patriotic, in church 3 times a week, modesty-promoting, etc.
I am also a Millennial. A twenty-something. Born between 1984 and 2002. I am you in the future. In a decade. In a few years. Now.
With this open letter, I will be representing three groups of Millennial Independent Fundamental Baptists:
- Those Millennials who are leaving or have left already.
- Those Millennials who are merely staying.
- Those Millennials who are building.
I am also using much research done by the Barna Group. The results you may find shocking, or at least surprising.
I will also be quoting from non-IFB Christian Millennials. And I agree with their sentiment, if not the finer details. Let me repeat again that I do not completely agree with their opinions, but they serve as a starting point for discussion.
- Why We Are Leaving
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Real
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
John 4:23-24 KJV
“Millennials are looking for authenticity. Unfortunately, a lot of churches today are striving to win over young adults by being relevant.”
(Marian Liautaud, 2015)
“Because the next generation knows something the church has largely denied for a long time…church leaders are not in their position because they are absent of sin, temptations, or failures.Millennials have seen too many scandals in the church (i.e. Catholic church scandal) and witnessed too many instances of moral failures among prominent Christian leaders.
Millennials are not looking for perfect people…Jesus already handled that. Millennials are looking for people to be real and honest about struggles and temptations.”
“I love the theology, but I hate the expectations of pseudo piety.
Love the gospel, hate the patriotic moralism.
Love the Bible, hate the way it’s used.
Love Jesus, but hate what we’ve done with Him.
Love worship, but hate Jesusy entertainment.”
The above was written by a non-IFB Christian. He is disillusioned with the inauthenticity of the contemporary church. While the second parts of his sentences are not necessarily bad things (translate expectations to standards, for instance), he knows that they are not backed by what is real in the church. What are standards and expectations if they aren’t backed by solid theology? What is morality without the gospel?
Before we pat ourselves to the back, remember that, many times, Independent Baptist churches are too inauthentic as well. We put on a front of hypocrisy every time we attend church. We cover up the chinks of our armor.
We have been accused of legalism in our churches. While we know that true definition of legalism is attempting to gain salvation through works and the law, we miss the sentiment and the spirit of the accusation. A real love for God and a real holiness must back our standards, rather than our standards attempting to shoulder an exoskeleton of false love and holiness.
If there’s anything we Millennials are good at, it is seeing the inauthentic. And we hate it. We want you just to be yourself. We are all sinners looking to a perfect Word and a perfect Jesus Christ. No need to put up walls of false holiness.
We want you just to be yourself in light of Jesus Christ and His Word.
That is NOT to say we don’t want you to be holy, we want you to be both real and holy.
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
Revelation 2:2-4 KJV
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Different
“Don’t expect a “worship style” to do your dirty work. Contemporary worship hasn’t worked. The longer we extend the life of this failed experiment, the more we see the results.
In modeling worship after commercial entertainment, you’ve compromised your identity, and we’re still not coming back.”
“Don’t give us entertainment, give us liturgy. We don’t want to be entertained in church, and frankly, the church’s attempt at entertainment is pathetic. Enough with the theatrics. Enough with the lights, the visuals, the booming audio, the fog machine, the giveaway gimmicks, the whole production. Follow that simple yet profound formula that’s worked for the entire history of the church.”
“In response, many churches have sought to lure millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming, impressive technology. Yet while these aren’t inherently bad ideas and might in some cases be effective, they are not the key to drawing millennials back to God in a lasting and meaningful way. Young people don’t simply want a better show. And trying to be cool might be making things worse.” (Rachel Evans, 2015)
Even the contemporary Christians are tired of the church trying to be like the world. If they see it as a failed experiment, why then should we try it for ourselves?
Independent Baptist churches are starting to look more worldly and non-denominational, rather than keeping their identity. If a Millennial wants a non-denominational, evangelical church, he will attend a non-denominational, evangelical church – not an Independent Baptist church.
A fairly well-known youth conference which I know some Independent Baptist churches attend makes this mistake. I have spoken to fellow youth in that they have to skip the contemporary-leaning music and activities and just wait for the preaching during that conference.
We know that you are trying to cater to our perceived shallowness – and we hate it. Give us the old time religion. If we wanted a concert, we will go to a concert. But we don’t want a concert, we want something different from the world.
We of the IFB need to keep our identity. We have a rich history, a trail of blood. And we are distinctive from other denominations. This push to a vague, almost ecumenical, lukewarm, cookie-cutter contemporary Christianity will not sit well with God, nor with Independent Baptist Millennials.
Again, even contemporary Christians are tired of church not being different.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;”
I Peter 2:9 KJV
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Challenging
“Welcome the toughest, deepest, grittiest, most desperate, most shocking questions. We have lots of questions.”
“Our reasons for leaving have less to do with style and image and more to do with substantive questions about life, faith and community. We’re not as shallow as you might think.”
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”
I Peter 3:15 KJV
“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
I Timothy 4:12 KJV
Most churches treat us like children. Our youth groups and Sunday schools are shallow. Deep theology and Bible study are avoided. When we ask questions about our faith, we do not receive answers – we receive rebuke. “Because I said so” will never be acceptable to the Millennial. We have Google and the internet to find out why – now we want you to tell why you believe what you believe.
We will be asking questions about standards of modesty and music. We will be asking questions about baptism and salvation. We will be asking about Bible versions and why the King James Bible is supreme. We will ask about creationism and evolution. We expect thorough answers from you, or at least direction.
If you ignore and don’t answer us, or even worse, make it so that the atmosphere will not be conducive to asking questions, we have Google on our fingertips. The entire worldly wisdom and knowledge is within our grasp. And who knows what Google searches lead to? Yes, we have a Bible we can read, but Google, too, has a ton load of Bible pages – along with translators and concordances and dictionaries and much more. And there are Christian communities online that we can fellowship with when you don’t include us in your circles and cliques. We will be informed one way or another.
And we don’t actually always want to find the answer ourselves like that. We want to be mentored. We want to sit under learned men of the Bible that we can pattern ourselves after. But you need to know your stuff. We don’t want a friend who will buddy with us but will refuse to explore the complexity of faith, we want a teacher like Jesus, who isn’t afraid to rebuke us but also model in front of us his faith.
If you do not have answers that you cannot prove from the Bible, but rather rely on some past authority dead figure of our movement… we will leave. Millennials don’t follow dead men, we thrive on ideas and fundamentals and principles. We do not have the baggage of personal history. And those things must come from a truly objective source, which is the Word of God.
Every “hero of the faith” and “man of God” will be under a Millennial lens. We understand that people are not perfect, however, we do not like idealized caricatures of “sinlessness”. We do respect those that have come before us – we just want an accurate picture. We detest man worship of any kind.
We know that Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist, though he may have possibly converted out of it near the end. John R. Rice wasn’t a KJV-only hardliner. And while we appropriate them their accomplishments, we do not feel the need to defend them as do generations before us. Only the Bible is infallible.
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”
Galatians 1:8-9 KJV
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Working
“The next generation doesn’t understand why churches refuse to change a program, activity, or even an entire culture if they aren’t effective. Millennials don’t hold traditions close to their heart. In fact, for many (myself included) traditions are often the enemy because many churches allow traditions to hinder them from moving forward.
Is this right? Maybe. Maybe not. But it is a reality nonetheless. One that must be understood.
Millennials are tired of hearing the phrase “this is how we have always done it.” That answer is no longer acceptable. Millennials want to change the world. Many times traditions hold them back from this. Change is necessary to remain focused on the vision and being externally focused, among many other things. The next generation understands this.”
“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”
Mark 7:13 KJV
We Millennial IFB eschew tradition, and we prefer true fundamental and Biblical theology. We understand that there is a distinction between Biblical command, tried-and-true methods that are simply methods, and outdated traditions that do not work anymore.
Let me be clear that I’m not advocating for Millennial IFBers to overthrow any existing local church order. However, the reason that “we’ve always done it this way” will not fly with the Millennial if the results are possibly unBiblical or ineffective. Any method or hearsay that is not commanded by the Bible must be analyzed thoroughly. If it is lacking, it will be removed.
There’s a saying, “Never remove anything, until you know why it was put there the first place”. A desire for change must be tempered with careful integration. We cannot have a change for the sake of change. It must again be Biblical and effective.
On the other hand, we are more open to trying new things. If it isn’t sinful or unBiblical, we will attempt it if it works. How else would Sunday schools or bus ministries would have come about in the first place if it wasn’t for innovation? Where are they in the Bible?
One can say I am promoting pragmatism. Let me just say that I am for what works if it can be proven from the Bible and that it doesn’t break any Biblical commands. If we are to be pragmatic, our pragmatism must be Biblical.
Another thing that doesn’t work is a lack of vision, which ties in to resistance to change.
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Loving
“Don’t target us. In doing so, you’ve marketed and advertised yourself into oblivion. We’re left with homogeneous congregations of approximately the same ages and backgrounds who are just there for what they can get out of the church. No wonder we’ve left. Just be the church. Be yourself.”
While we are averse to the past figures, we do appreciate those who are living in the present. It is the preachers and heroes of today that we follow, because we see and witness them.
The heroes of today’s faith are also more accountable to this generation. Social media and surveillance are everywhere. Everything is recorded and everything is analyzed.
And yet even under our shrewd, judgmental Millennial eye, imperfect human foibles are forgiven – but hypocrisy is not! So be real, and be loving.
Mentor us. Disciple us. Love us.
“Personally, I have seen the value of community on so many levels. Without authentic Christian community, I wouldn’t be in full-time ministry today. I wouldn’t have overcome serious sins and struggles. I wouldn’t have been challenged to live fully for God.”
Many of us Millennials do not feel part of our local churches. We are too young, and many times the congregation is aging or even dying off. Many of us are outsiders and visitors. Sometimes, church families are literally families – everyone is related. Except us.
Community is a very important thing to a Millennial. As it was in the first church, their mind was of one accord. We need true friends who believe like us, not a buddy only on Sundays and Wednesdays. Limiting fellowship to handshaking time doesn’t cut it anymore.
When we see that a church has closed itself to the forgotten and the outsider, we leave.
- We Are Leaving What Is Not Church
“Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place. A stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine.”
“Recent research from Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 percent of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77 percent would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.” While we have yet to warm to the word “traditional” (only 40 percent favor it over “modern”), millennials exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as the hip new places in town.”
There is a trend even in Independent Fundamentalism to make our churches more relevant. This has led to compromises with dress and music standards. Even our buildings are starting to look less sanctified.
And yet, even from a non-IFB Christian research standpoint, this is a losing proposition. A church is supposed to be a church, not a “hip” place to be. And that’s what Millennials want. A church. And that is what the Bible commands: a sacred space sanctified for Him.
We Millennials do not want another community center. And neither did Jesus. He wanted a church, a house of prayer. We do, too.
- Why We Are Staying
- We Are Forced To Stay
For some of us, leaving the IFB movement is not an option. Sometimes, all of our family is in it. All of our friends are in it. If we go to Christian school, all our classmates are in it.
Our parents forced us to go to church. Whether it was because of religious duty or heartfelt will or otherwise, we went. Some of us aren’t old enough yet to make a decision to leave.
Many Millennials will leave once we graduate high school. Many statistics are thrown about, but 3 out of 4 of us will be gone. And yet many of us will still consider ourselves Christian, however, we just don’t feel like fitting in a church body.
But for now, Millennials stay because Millennials have no option to leave yet.
To my fellow Millennials who think of leaving, don’t. Stick with it to the very end.
- We Are Raised and Trained To Stay
“Young adults who said their fathers explained “biblical principles” to them on a daily or weekly basis growing up were significantly more likely to say they lived by typical Christian behavior as adults by praying, volunteering, reading the Bible, and attending church frequently and avoiding pornography, marijuana use, abortion, and co-habitation.” (Daniel James Devine, 02/18/2015)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6 KJV
Independent Baptists are more likely to attend Bible college or attend similar Biblical training some point in their lives. Whether it is by tradition, pressure, or choice misses the point – we are most likely to be trained and thus we have more incentive to stay.
- We Are Willing and Wanting To Stay
There are some of us, by choice, who are willing to stay as an Independent Baptist. We are the leading seniors in our youth groups and Christian schools. We are the college and career class. We are the Bible college graduates. We are the singles and newlyweds in church.
I for one want to stay as an Independent Fundamental Baptist. Those who want to stay will be the new lifeblood of our movement. Thus we transition to those Millennials who will be building the IFB in the next few years.
III. Why We Are Building
- We Are Building A Bolder Movement
“They want to be trusted to fulfill the task given to them. If you micro-manage them, treat them like a child, or refuse to believe they are capable of being leaders because of their age and lack of experience, wisdom, etc., they will be at your church for a short season.
Millennials will not allow age to keep them from leading…and leading well. If you refuse to release them to lead, the next generation will quickly find another church or context where they can use their talents and gifts to their full capacity.”
“Quite simply…the next generation is not content with mediocrity. They believe they can (and will) change the world. Good or bad, they have a strong desire for the extraordinary. Failure is not going to drive the train. This also seems like a foreign concept to many in previous generations, but Millennials aren’t scared to fail. And they believe churches should operate with a similar mindset.”
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
Proverbs 29:18 KJV
We Millennials are young and idealistic. We truly want to change the world for Him. We have the energy and the drive to go forth as missionaries and church planters and evangelists.
So don’t prevent us from doing so. We need you to back us.
- We Are Building A Brilliant Movement
“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
Daniel 12:4 KJV
We Millennials are unifying technology and the church. We engage the internet and social media. Websites and blogs and devices and wikis start to fill the church and Christian life, for better or for worse. Even this website from which you are reading is a result.
Of course, technology shouldn’t be the forefront of a church ministry, but as a tool to enhance the ministry and emphasize the Word and Jesus Christ. We can reach people from the other side of the world with the gospel. We can communicate with missionaries instantly on the field.
But more than technology, knowledge is prevalent. This is the most informed generation. Whether that information is good or bad, we have in our hands all of it. Thus to Millennial Baptists I highly recommend you learn spiritual discernment of the Holy Spirit and to take every thought, article, website page captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ our Lord.
- We Are Building A Biblical Movement
“Additionally, practicing Christian Millennials cite the Bible as their greatest source for moral truth. Of the practicing Christian Millennials who believe in absolute moral truth (71%), four in 10 point to the Bible as the main source from which they have learned or discovered absolute moral truths and standards (39%). This far outpaces any other source, with church coming in second at only 16%, followed by parents at 14%.”
“I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts.”
Psalms 119:100 KJV
If any set of statistics have made me excited, it is this set. What a time to be an Independent Baptist! Even in my own experience, many of my own peers are very knowledgeable in the Bible. While I do not always agree with them, they know what they believe. They have taken their parents’ faith and made it into their own faith. They have taken their church’s faith and made it into their own faith.
To those who come before us, I hope you gain some insight in this new generation of Christian Millennials and Independent Baptist Millennials in particular. We aren’t perfect, but we are young.
To my fellow Millennial Independent Baptists, take it to heart. There is hope for the future. We are the new generation. By God’s grace we can do so much for Him and His glory.
“This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.”
Psalms 24:6 KJV
Representing the new generation of Independent Fundamental Baptists,
Samuel Garcia (@baptistmemes)