GRAVITY: Christianity and the Millennial Experience

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

At the end of the film, GRAVITY,  Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock), stranded in space after several failed attempts to improvise a way home, finally finds a plan that she thinks will work. It’s a make or break moment in the movie.

Bullock’s character acknowledges feeling unprepared and a little bit scared, but also realizes that ultimately there are only two outcomes. She either makes it or she doesn’t. The key in the movie is the resolve to act—the willingness to try something even though she's not sure she’s ready for it.

And with two simple words, “I’m ready,” she launches herself and her space capsule toward the earth, surviving the harrowing experience of re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, splashdown, and near drowning, before hugging the safety of the earth and whispering a soft “thank you” to the air as she lies exhausted on the shore.

The film ends with Dr. Stone taking the first few wobbly steps of her new existence, feet firmly planted in the ground with a new-found confidence—and, I imagine, a new-found sense of direction and purpose.

The new Dr. Stone, the one who has survived a life-changing ordeal, appears capable of just about anything. At the end of the film we see a powerful, determined, towering woman ready to re-engage the world on her own terms.

GRAVITY is a powerful film in part because it leaves us with a question: What’s next? Where will those first few shaky steps take her in her new life? 

At Heritage we’ve used GRAVITY as a launching point for a four-week discussion about “Christianity and the Millennial Experience.” We concluded our study last night, and our study ended as the film ended, with one question hanging in the air. What’s next?

Churches have in many cases had a rough go of it in the last 15-20 years. Churches have been scarred by conflict and challenged by change. The church overall has seen declining attendance and waning influence.

Millennials, launched into a world interrupted by 9/11 and the global war on terrorism, have been challenged, too. They've started their careers with more debt than any previous generation in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

So as much as it is true that millennials are less connected to the Christian faith than previous generations, it is also true that millennials and the church have a lot in common.

But something's happening. I’m seeing churches that for a generation now have felt somewhat unprepared for and a little bit scared—and scarred—by the shifting cultural landscape start to say “I’m ready.”  They’re starting to realize that the chances of survival--and kingdom effectiveness--are decidedly better if they're willing to try something new. The key is the resolve to act—the willingness to move forward even if they’re not sure they’re ready for it.

And I see millennials doing the same thing—emerging from a decade or more of aimlessness and struggle ready to try something new, more ready than ever to re-engage and take advantage of more favorable conditions.

What’s next for millennials? What’s next for the church? What’s next for our church? I don’t know. But I do know this. It will be different. It won’t always look or feel or sound like what we’re used to. We’ll have to be ready to try something new, to do something different, maybe even to move beyond the comforts of what we know and love.

And I know this, too. Whatever’s next will have the blessing and authority and power of God to sustain it just like the authentic expressions of Christian faith that have brought us this far.

Speaking about what’s next in Christianity After Religion, Diana Butler Bass writes, “You must prepare by learning the overall religious story of our time. And that story is deceptively simple. Conventional religion is failing and a new form of faith…is being born.” Imagine that—the church at the center of a story of re-birth and new life.

GRAVITY ends with a whispered thank you—a prayer of thanksgiving to a God who’s been there all along.

The subtext of the movie is the meta-narrative of the church. We’re not doing this alone. God is with us. That’s how we find the courage to say we’re ready even when we don’t feel ready. That’s how we find the confidence to take the plunge even when our hearts are in our throats. That’s how we plant our feet firmly in the ground even when we don’t know where the next step will lead and we’re not sure our legs will take us there.

The next chapter will be a make or break moment for a lot of churches as we continue in our attempts to improvise our way home. But I'm encouraged, because I see a church and a new generation of Christians emerging from challenging experiences,  ready to re-engage the world. And I see a church and a rising generation of Christians with a peculiarly determined and powerful awareness that God is with us. 

So whatever's next, I know we're ready for it.

See you Sunday.