Why I Stayed (Even Though All the Cool People Left)

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I’m a statistical anomaly. I’m a rare breed.

I’m a millennial who has not left Christianity.

In fact, I haven’t even left my parents’ church! Not only that, I’m not even going to leave the university I went to as an undergrad.

Statistically, that’s a very strange thing to do. Don’t millennials like change? Don’t we like to sow our wild oats and get out there? Aren’t we abandoning Christianity in droves? Or at the very least going to more contemporary churches?

I’m sorry, but you’re stuck with me. I’m not leaving – even though all the cool people already left.

Why?

Why I Stayed at BJU

Many people have criticized my decision for staying at Bob Jones University for seminary. And they’ve had many good reasons – diversifying education for a resume, getting beyond my comfort zone, getting out of Greenville.

I value their advice. But I’m still going to stay. Why?

It’s simple. One word in fact – relationships.

The people were what convinced me to stay. Not the academics or the comfort or even finances. No, it was the relationships I formed with the faculty/staff that convinced me – and many of my classmates – to stay on for grad school at BJU.

In nearly every meeting I’ve been to at BJU (I’ve been to far too many of them), the emphasis has been on building relationships with millennials. Getting our input on things. Meeting our needs. Understanding us and genuinely caring for us.

The student life staff at BJU is constantly striving to build a “culture of mentoring” with every meal in the Dining Common and coffee at Cuppa Jones. The faculty genuinely care about our needs, stopping us in the hall to ask for an update and inviting us to their homes or favorite restaurants. Even the administration takes time out of their busy schedule to spend time with students– to laugh with us, to pray with us, to just be there for us.

The people at BJU are not perfect. They know they’ve made many mistakes. And I don’t agree with them on every issue.

But as I’ve observed various ministries, I’m convinced that no one gets my generation better than BJU.

Why I Stayed at Calvary Baptist Church

My church is not perfect – after all, I attend there.

And we are going through some tough times of late – looking for a pastor, financial issues, etc.

But I decided to stay at Calvary. Even though a lot of my friends, a lot of millennials, decided to leave.

I don’t blame them. Calvary has had many problems reaching the millennial generation. So much so that I nearly left the church earlier this year.

So why did I stay, in the midst of all these problems? The same reason I stayed at BJU – relationships.

It wasn’t the great preaching, an awesome facility, or nice programs. It was the moments sitting across the coffee shop table that convinced me to stay. It was the texts that said, “Praying for you” that changed my mind. It was the people who stopped me after church and asked how I was doing that made me settle.

And Calvary has seen some great progress over the past couple of months with millennials. I’m extremely encouraged at the direction we’re going and look forward to serving here for as many years as the Lord allows.

Why I Stayed in Christianity

I think every millennial reaches a point in their life when they consider leaving the faith. I know I considered it a time or two – not ever seriously, but enough for me to imagine the freedom and fun I could experience outside the bounds of religion.

But I never did. Why?

Maybe I seem like a broken record-player at this point, but the answer is the same – relationships.

I knew if I left, I would be breaking the hearts of people who had invested so much into me. My parents, first and foremost. But even beyond them, mentors, pastors, and friends who spent hours investing in me. Who I knew genuinely cared for me.

The research backs up my claim. Barna’s study proves that millennials who don’t have a non-family mentor are more likely to leave the faith.

So the solution to this millennial exodus from Christianity is rather simple – take them to Starbucks!

Listen to their problems. Pray for them – and tell them you’re praying. Genuinely love on them with the love Jesus showed you. Spend and be spent for their souls.

Some will still leave – this isn’t a guaranteed solution. But if they leave, they’ll have to walk over you to get out. They’ll have to push past someone they know loves them.

So why did I stay? Many cool people have left.

In fact, the people I’m stuck with are kinda weird, the farthest thing from hip, and a bit old-school. But that’s okay, because I know they love me. They may be a bit traditional, but I know they care. I don’t agree with them on some practical areas, but I agree with them on the thing that matters – the Gospel.

And because of the relationships I have with these “old fogies,” these lesser things – like music, translation, standards, entertainment, and on and on – don’t quite matter so much.

The key to getting millennials to stay is not a praise band or a really hipster PowerPoint or video – although those things aren’t bad.

But the best way is to simply pick up your cell phone and text them a simple message –

“Wanna get coffee with me tonight?”

6 thoughts on “Why I Stayed (Even Though All the Cool People Left)

  1. You stayed in Christianity because of relationships with people? My Mormon friend in Greer has wonderful friends and families who are deeply connected. Surely you “stay in Christianity” for more than friends at a coffee house? Because those friends can leave you, betray you, devastate you, yes, even at church. What then?

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    • You bring up a valid point – I appreciate the point. I should have clarified that last point, but time and space constricted me. I meant the post mostly for believers. Of course, the number one reason I stayed in Christianity is because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. You’re right – friends can leave me, betray me, and devastate me, as has often happened to me and I’m sure you. People disappoint – but Jesus will never leave or betray. Ultimately, His relationship with me – His satisfaction – is what compelled me to stay. Sociologists say that one reason religions are so prevalent around the world is because of the sense of belonging and community they create. But the difference for Christianity is that our community is based around Jesus, God Himself, and His relationship with us. I apologize for not being clear – I hope this helps!

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  2. Dear author,

    I applaud your boldness to say what you want to say. Further, I am refreshed by your focus on people over a system/campus/etc. I totally agree with your perspective on relationships.

    I’m sure you had no intention of doing this, but as someone who has left Fundamentalism, protests the recent decisions of the BJU administration, and even refrains from attending church on occasion (I sometimes get panic attacks), I felt that you may have over-simplified an entire generation with a lot of different “why”s to their departure from BJU, Fundamentalist church, and Christianity. If you would be willing to merely consider an alternative perspective, I would be grateful.

    1) Relationships only work when consequences are met for inappropriate behavior. A dear pastor friend of mine has been jailed for sexually molesting a minor. It’s very sad. However, I still count him a dear friend. Why? Because he turned himself in to police. He is facing criminal charges for his behavior, and he is facing it with courage and grace. Further, the elder board he served with all instantly pushed him to make this decision and then inform the church congregation. No cover-ups. I may safely engage in a meaningful relationship with all of those involved, because consequences are being met. When there is inappropriate behavior (either culturally or spiritually) without consequences, any meaningful relationship among parties involved is impaired. I just want to establish this as a baseline for my other points.

    2) I am a proud BJU graduate of two degrees. They trained me well. I had some amazing teachers. I kick butt in my other grad programs, because BJU was so thorough. However, I have become partial to some very sad circumstances where people were treated inappropriately and still suffer emotionally years later (this is in addition to stories shared in the GRACE report). When I’ve partnered with the wounded to confront certain key people in the administration, the response is the same: opposition; lack of transparency; legalese; re-invention of what transpired; etc. You can imagine how painful and re-victimizing this is for those who had the courage to confront the offender and seek restitution. In my experience for the past 4 years, the BJU administration (bear in mind that I am not speaking about faculty/staff or students) is quite supportive of those who are supportive and quite vicious towards those who oppose them. For these reasons, I oppose the administration, but I respect everyone’s choice to attend the school. It does fantastic work, and graduates are generally well-prepared.

    3) Most of the friends I know who left their Fundamentalist church did so because they were pushed out. I have no doubt that plenty of shallow people leave their church for bad reasons (they’re bored), but the mass exodus from Fundamentalism comes more from many burdened young people being marginalized, rebuked for not following the system (one couple I know was church disciplined for wanting to choose a missions agency that would allow them to adopt a child one day), or forcibly removed for being in an unfavorable standing with a voting majority (a Greenville church hired a music director to cultivate a specific worship style which would incorporate more participation from musicians in the congregation: the opposition was so strong that choir and orchestra members heckled the director during rehearsal; the voting majority eventually removed him from his position). These are not isolated incidents. They are happening less (because these young people don’t last long), but they are still happening. This is quite a different picture that the one you describe where cool people just want something more contemporary.

    3) For people who have left Christianity, it would be ideal for us to engage them with the same determination as we engage the church goes we see on a weekly basis (in the way you describe in your article here), so that we can listen to their story. You may be surprised to find how much these people love Jesus, but are heartbroken to often not even find Jesus in church. There is a choir, some programs, a building, an offeratory, an okay sermon, but church ends there. Church in America is not in a healthy state, and it is exciting to see how God is using many of these people who have “left Christianity” (in the way that we define the word “Christianity”) in order to understand Who God is and what He wants from them. It is unfortunate that some of these people are so traumatized by the typical church experience (traditional and contemporary alike), that they cannot attend a service without shaking hands, panic attacks, or emotional breakdowns. It is unfortunate that the current American church landscape occasionally (not always) forces Christians into a corner where for their own safety, they forsake the assembling of themselves together. What is encouraging, I think, is to see these folks slowly and surely coming together among themselves to pray, study, eat, and do good together. There are a lot of great (albeit uncomfortable) changes happening for Fundamentalism and greater evangelicalism, and we should watch what God is doing with an open mind.

    Thanks for reading. I’m good at drinking coffee. Next time I’m in Greenville, we should connect.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. I appreciate your calm tone and reasoned argument. I would be happy to do coffee – dialogue is important because relationships are the foundation of our faith – our relationship with Christ chief of all. That’s the bond of unity, even when we may disagree.

      It was not my intention to speak to Fundamentalism at all. I have my own thoughts on the movement – perhaps I will share them some time, although I don’t think I have enough experience to weigh in on such a complicated matter. I was addressing millennials leaving the church entirely, whether IFB or otherwise.

      I think you will find that as this blog develops over the months that we will address many of your concerns. Your perspective is helpful. I hope you’ll keep reading!

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      • Re: your non-intent to speak to Fundamentalism…

        I guess your subtitles regarding BJU, an unashamed leader of the Fundamentalist Movement, and your church, looks and sounds a lot like a Fundamentalist church, threw me off….;)

        The first time I read your article, I thought is was an intentional plug for BJU and Calvary Baptist Church. The second time I read it, I wasn’t sure. My bad.

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