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The New Copernicans: An Answer to Confusion, Frustration, and Perplexity

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time,” so warns motivational speaker Zig Ziglar.

It is critical in any business enterprise to know your audience. Within 30 days, Thomas Nelson Publisher, a division of Harper Collins, will release my forthcoming book, The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church. Over the course of the next few weeks I will be addressing the following questions about the book.

  1. Who is the book for?

  2. How do you substantiate the audacious claim that the survival of the church is dependent on millennials?

  3. What are the intellectual sources of this analysis?

  4. How did this book come about?

This book addresses three audiences all of whom have similar reactions to their life experiences: confusion, frustration, and perplexity. These reactions are similar but each animated by different motivations.

Boomer megachurch pastors are confused. Their instinctual awareness of various church audiences born of their “seeker friendly” orientation makes them aware that reaching millennials is important. Some outsource this to younger pastors and youth ministers, not realizing that the challenge of reaching millennials cannot be outsourced as a “special” program. It is a shift that will come to impact the entire way in which church is done and spirituality communicated. What is at stake here is not reaching a specialized demographic as much as embracing a conceptual frame shift across one’s entire ministry. Much of what is said about millennials is confusing and frankly wrong. This book will provide the conceptual landscape through which one must come to understand and appreciate millennials. It is the contention of this book that they not only think different, to quote Steve Jobs, they also think better.

Millennial pastors are frustrated. They’ve put up with about as much pejorative millennial analysis as they can stand. In their bones, they know that they are right. But many don’t have the language through which to communicate this inchoate sensibility. When they work for an older boomer pastor there remains a generational barrier, which is often superficially addressed by more applications of digital technology. While millennials are digital natives, the reduction of their unique perspective to technology is a way of putting them off without any cost to the status quo. There is among this audience an underground communication network of expressed frustrations. They talk to other millennial pastors through Snapchat and email in ways that they know will get no traction or hearing among their senior pastors. The goal of this book is to empower, encourage, and provide a language by which to describe reality as they see and feel it. The power of culture is the power to define reality. Without categories of understanding, reality cannot be defined. This book provides a practical landscape of the lived experience of spiritually oriented millennials. Many of these young pastors are just now coming into their own, beginning to assume institutional leadership, and shifting their writing from blogs to books. This book, The New Copernicans, is like a coach’s halftime pep talk.

I’ve been particularly encouraged by the response to this book by millennials. Alissa Wilkinson, a film reviewer for Vox based in New York City writes, “I’m a millennial as well as a college professor and a cultural critic, and I find John Seel’s way of thinking about my generation compelling and grounded in a generosity that’s extremely rare. I wish I could put a copy of this book into the hands of every person tasked with leading the church.” Greg Marshall, a graphic artist storyteller in Milwaukee writes, “The New Copernicans is a thorough and prophetic education on human nature, sociology, and the future (or possible future) of the evangelical church. It is clear that John Seel has been listening carefully to a generation of millennials who right now do not feel at home in the evangelical church.” Frustrated is not the same as confused. The frustrated feel held back. This book seeks to give millennials permission to be released.

The third and final audience is parents of millennial children who are perplexed by their children’s life choices. By-in-large millennial children have maintained good relationships with their parents, which is not surprising since about third still live with them. But parents of millennials are generally perplexed by their children’s life choices whether it is theological, political, or relational. There are lots of head scratching tripping points from tattoos to job choices. The typical evangelical church provides very little help to parents once their children grow up. There are a lot of idealistic books on prospective parenting, but few that help parents navigate a child’s loss of faith, anger at religion, announcement of sexual orientation, or neo-pagan sensibilities. “Mom and Dad, I’m going to Burning Man,” leaves most evangelical boomer parents lost in a fog of incomprehension and incredulity. The idea of joining their child at Burning Man never crosses their mind. Episcopal Bishop The Very Rev. Dr. Brian Baker accepted his daughter’s invitation to join her at Burning Man. He writes, “I have experienced a deep spiritual hunger in our world, most notably at Burning Man, and John’s The New Copernicans is an important resource if the church is going to sate that hunger.”

As parents it is easy to be pissed off at the younger generation. Our kids know how to push our buttons. The coming generation is a ready and easy target of generational censure. Tom Scott, cofounder and CEO of The Nantucket Project, said, “I’m embarrassed to admit I have held an under-examined negative view of millennials. John has opened my eyes to what is possible, and particularly in the hands, minds, and souls of millennials themselves.” Parents today need help in understanding their children so that they can continue to love them in a manner that is helpful in their spiritual journeys. This book seeks to help address this parental perplexity.

So the goal of this book is to have confusion give way to understanding, frustration to empowerment, and perplexity to compassion. There is no handwringing in this book about the coming generation. It is in contrast a message of hope, opportunity, and excitement.

The age of the New Copernican is upon us.

The New Copernicans is to be released on January 15, 2018. It can be preordered here.

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