Rachel Held Evans is a young, thoughtful, hyperconnected woman of faith—and she has a troubled relationship with church. Having grown up in, then left, an evangelical nondenominational church, she is broadly representative of a generation of millennials that have grown up in churches but now in adulthood struggle with the baggage heaped upon them by their received traditions.
Research suggests Evans is not alone. While quantitative, data-based church analysis, such as the Barna Group’s 2007 study unChristian, has indicated trouble brewing among millennials for years, Evans has put a qualitative face on it through her highly personal spiritual memoirs.
Searching for Sunday is Evans’ third book. Her previous works, Evolving in Monkey Town (rereleased last year as Faith Unraveled) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood were pointed examinations of specific topics—the importance of doubt in spiritual maturity and the role of women in church. Searching for Sunday, however, is a more general exploration and celebration of what it means to be part of the body of Christ. It is simultaneously a criticism and breathless exultation of church, and a lucid appraisal of the problems facing established faith communities in the West.
Evans does not shy away from these problems, and speculates on what they might mean for the body of Christ in the future. “… [L]ately I’ve been wondering if a little death and resurrection might be just what church needs right now,” she writes. “[I’ve been wondering if] maybe all this talk of waning numbers and shrinking influence means our empire-building days are over, and if maybe that’s a good thing.”
As a spiritual memoir, the stories in Searching for Sunday must resonate with the reader in order to effectively make its argument. Evans’ ambivalence toward Sunday worship and her troubled relationship with the evangelical culture of her youth might seem absurd to some readers, and so it runs the risk of being misunderstood or written off as personal opinion. But Evans is 33, placing her at the vanguard of a generation of Christians only just now beginning to tell their story in their own words—and they’re transforming the church as a result.
Evans has returned to regular Sunday worship, albeit in a different Christian tradition to that of her childhood. Searching for Sunday is a travel diary of this journey, but is really only the beginning of that story. Her voice, and the voices of her peers, will continue to speak.