The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation
Ever Ancient, Ever New
WHO: Winfield Bevins, director of church planting at Asbury Seminary.
HE SAYS: “While a growing number of young adults are leaving the church, some younger Christians are choosing to remain in the fold of Christianity, but that doesn’t mean they are content with existing expressions of evangelical faith.”
THE BIG IDEA: This book tells the story of a generation of younger Christians from different backgrounds and traditions that are embracing liturgy. It’s filled with stories illustrating the excitement and joy they have found in these ancient expressions of Christianity.
Part 1, “Foundations,” lays the foundations of why young adults are drawn to liturgy. Part 2, “Journeys,” examines various pathways that are leading them into embracing liturgy. Part 3, “Practices,” looks at how liturgy offers practices that can be lived out in daily life and how those practices prepare us to live out our faith.
“Liturgy, when rightly appropriated, is one of the best ways for us to make disciples in a postmodern context.”
A CONVERSATION WITH WINFIELD BEVINS
What do pastors of typical evangelical churches need to understand about young adults turning to liturgical expressions of faith?
At a recent conference, I sat down with a millennial believer who described his own encounter with some of the ancient church traditions. He said, “For my parents’ generation, who were raised in church, tradition and liturgy were old and boring, but for our generation, liturgy is new, exciting, and fresh.”
This is one reason I have written this book: to learn why young adults who are natives to the digital world and heavily reliant on technology are so interested in traditions that have been around for 2,000 years. As I’ve interviewed young adults around the United States, I’ve discovered a generation that is searching for God in the midst of unprecedented social and cultural change. These are sincere Christ-followers looking to face the challenges of a postmodern, post-Christian world that is increasingly multicultural, secularized, and globalized.
We’ve moved from an age of certainty, where people willingly placed their trust in institutions and authorities, to an era of uncertainty. Today many young people are searching for truth that has been tested and tried, truth that acknowledges the holistic nature of the human person—addressing the heart, soul, mind, and body. Many are searching for this truth by looking not to the future but to the past. Looking beyond the modern age, they are looking to the premodern roots of our history.
This leads to an odd tension. As the shifts of postmodernism and individualism are leading people to reject authority and institutions, they are leaving a gaping hole. Young adults are sour on the promises of progress and science, tired of the latest and greatest, the ever-churning pursuit of the new. Thus, they are looking backward, away from our modern assumptions and rhythms, to reconnect with the human experience of those who have gone before us.
To understand the spirituality of young adults, we must recognize that while many are leaving the church behind, walking away entirely, a growing number of young adults are choosing a different path. While they are leaving behind a church they see as sold-out to modernity, they are choosing to embrace another form of the church, one with a different tradition and with different, far older practices and patterns of formation.
Rather than looking for the new, they are returning to the old—even as they seek convergence between old and new and develop new approaches to ancient traditions. Everything old is becoming new again.
What can the evangelical church do to attract younger Christians?
Go deep! Young adults are also drawn to historic practices because they are tired of being entertained and want to go deep. It is impossible to ignore the pragmatic consumerism that has infected the church that leads us to value the elements of our faith and practice that are most “relevant” to us today. For example, many contemporary churches play worship music that echoes secular pop songs, and we have designed our church buildings to look like Walmarts or movie theaters, neglecting theologically informed architectural designs that were once popular in church buildings and sanctuaries.
Young adults sense intuitively that today’s churches have lost a vision for deep thinking and aesthetic beauty that encourages us to experience the mystery and transcendence of God. And they have grown tired of shallow, alternative approaches to the historic liturgical practices of past centuries. Young adults want more.
They want depth and mystery, and they are not afraid to say it. They are harboring a longing for a church that transcends any single culture, not an approach that simply accommodates the surrounding culture. If you want to reach this generation you cannot do it with consumerism, but with a call to go deep in their faith.
What are a few of the reasons young Christians are attracted to more traditional churches?
At this point you may be thinking, This is all good, but what are the reasons that have led to this searching? By interviewing young adults from across the United States, all of them from radically different Christian traditions, I’ve uncovered eight major reasons why a new generation is following the allure of liturgy. I won’t claim that this list is exhaustive, but it does offer a succinct snapshot of the world of spirituality in North America.
1. Holistic spirituality
2. A Sense of mystery
3. A Desire for historic rootedness
4. Looking for a Countercultural faith
5. Belonging to the universal church
6. Sacramental spirituality
7. Gracious orthodoxy
8. Anchor in spiritual practices
According to my observations, this rediscovering provides hope for traditional churches facing declining attendance and participation from younger members. It indicates that the prescription of relevance is not a fix for all that ails today’s church. And it provides a hint that perhaps the future of the church isn’t going to be found in trying to change the church to be more like the culture today, but in opening the treasure chest of the past and retrieving the beauty of church history. Could the future of the church lie in rediscovering our historical roots through ancient practices?