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Bridging the gap between Millennials and the church

| by Matthew Fretwell

The music plays softly in the background. Emotions are stirring within the hearts of the crowd. Reverberating through the seats, a thunderous summoning for the people to rise to their feet. A tearful plea. An appeal for the listening multitude to accept Jesus, “Come. Walk down the aisle for personal salvation!” 

The great crusades of the 19th and 20th centuries had success in the proclamation of the gospel. Especially regarding the Great Awakenings. However, concerning discipleship and the ecclesiastical community—not, so much. 

Nearly two hundred years removed from the remarkable orations of George Whitefield and John Wesley. One hundred years since the preaching of D. L. Moody, or even just a decade of the marvelous Billy Graham crusades—we still hear it—you need a personal salvation. 

Observations are only observations. Sometimes we can learn from them and sometimes, not. Observation does not necessitate a cause—as many factors may contribute—especially regarding the Western church decline.  

However, I perceive—by research and observation—that some of the Western church’s dilemma resides in “personal” salvation. There is a growing divide between church importance and Millennials, and it’s not getting any better. 

Growing divide 

Only two in 10 Millennials (ages 30 and under) believe that church is important.[1] While we could equate spiritualism, intellectualism, humanism, evolutionary science, and other factors into the equation—59 percent of millennials who grew up in the church, no longer attend. Why don’t we be honest—the problem is the within the church, not within culture. 

The truth is—the Western church is horrible at reproducible disciple-making (less than 20 percent of Christians partake in discipleship[2]). Why are believers horrible at following the one chief command given (Matthew 28:19–20)? I believe there is a correlation between “personal” salvation and the collective imperative of the ecclesiastical community.  

Failure to be connected 

Almost 90 percent of individuals who claim to have faith in Christ do not attend church.[3] There is an overwhelming majority that believe they can “love Jesus” but not love the church. Unfortunately, this is an erroneous human construct. The Church is the body of Christ—you can’t hate the church and love Jesus. 

Jesus declared the “gates of hell” ineffective against his church, not the individual believer (Matthew 16:18). Our faulty understanding of the word church, has much to do with our dilemma. Without diving into a Greek ocean of vernacular—the term church is defined as gathered, called out ones.  

There can be no disconnect between salvation and service—at least according to the apostle Paul. In Ephesians 2:8–10, Paul distinctly declares salvation as a work of God, by faith, because of being created for good works. Paul’s Epistle professes an overall appeal for the unity and praxis of the church. 

I believe a major factor in the growing divide between church relevance and faith is caused by some of the teachings of a “me” centered gospel. Let’s face it, if God solely focused on personal salvation, He’d “rapture” people at conversion. Albeit, believers represent the incarnate body of Christ on earth—a collective living and breathing—relevant—body.  

Factors for change 

The Millennial generation is larger than the Boomer generation—can we say, “Houston, we have a problem”—an astronomical problem!  

Barna states, “Millennials who are opting out of church cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35 percent cite the church’s irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church.”[4] 

I would agree that the church does not maintain a healthy balance between charismania and academia. But after all, the church is a gathering of sinful people cleansed by Christ, but not perfected—we know we have our faults and dysfunctions. 

Regardless, to close the door of the divide, the church must relate the importance of salvation for the collective community—the power of God on display—through prayer, proclamation, and praxis. 


[1] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,”, March 24, 2014, accessed,

[2] David Kinnaman, “New Research On the State of Discipleship,” www.barna.org

[3] “Meet Those Who “love Jesus but Not the Church”,”, March 30, 2017, accessed,

[4] “Americans Divided On the Importance of Church,”, March 24, 2014, accessed,

Photo source: istock

Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.

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