Why “Millennials” Leave

This blog post gives a conservative Christian “millennial” young adult’s perspective on the times and why young adults are not coming to church. The reasons seem more timeless than something to do with the times. Some highlights:

  1. WE’RE MORE EDUCATED THAN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, BUT THE CHURCH DOESN’T CONTINUE TO FEED OUR MINDS. In our youth groups we were taught, exhorted in fact, to want to go deeper, and we’re not getting that from grown-up church.
  2. WE CAME OF AGE IN A RECESSION, BUT THE CHURCH HASN’T CHANGED ITS TEACHINGS ABOUT MONEY. [T]he 2008 recession hit our generation harder than any other. It has limited and continues to limit our prospects for current jobs and for future earnings. Add that to the crippling levels of student loan debt that are basically mandatory for earning a degree now, and you begin to get the idea. Sure, some of us are making it. But far more of us are falling through the cracks, stuck in dead-end minimum-wage jobs for which we are over-qualified, doubling our debt by returning to grad school in hopes of increasing our employability, or perpetually un- or underemployed. And no, unfortunately, it’s not a problem that will go away if we simply “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” or “put in our dues” – this is a financial dilemma on a global scale. The world is pretty grim for us right now. … Additionally, many of us have to work evenings and weekends – the primary times when church programming is scheduled – which makes it very difficult for us to participate in the full life of the grown-up church. We’re not skipping church because we’re lazy or un-committed; we’re skipping it because we have no other choice. We can’t keep talking about money, or work for that matter, in the same way we always have. The church needs to acknowledge the huge – and uneven – impact of the recession and work to find an appropriate, timely, Christian response rooted in love.
  3. WE’RE STILL PROCESSING BAD EXPERIENCES WITH THE CHURCH, AND THAT’S GOING TO TAKE TIME. [W]e grew up in the middle of the conservative reaction against progressivism/liberalism … spiritual abuse – and sadly, physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse as well … isolation, exclusivity, and oft-extreme authoritarian structures. Please be kind and understanding, and to the best of your ability supply us with positive, healthy tools for processing past hurts. And please, above all, acknowledge abuse in all its forms and take steps to provide safe, healthy places for the victims, not sweep it under the rug or, worse yet, perpetuate the cycle.
  4. WE HAVE GOOD IDEAS, AND NOBODY CARES. Another positive thing about youth groups is that they give teenagers a voice. They speak their minds, they state their preferences, and they are heard. When we graduate and head out into the big bad world of grown-up church, this changes. We’re still “kids” in the congregation’s eyes – usually until we’re married or we’ve had children or whatever arbitrary rite of passage it may be – but we no longer have a pastor whose primary job is to listen to our needs and concerns as young people and respond. We have good ideas – we’ve been developing them since we were in youth group – but no one seems to care. The church leadership is still dominated by those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations (a fact that likely contributes to the other issues discussed in this post), and the hierarchy is usually pretty entrenched. So we’re back to square one, having to work our way up through the ranks in hopes of maybe one day having our voices heard and being able to change the status quo. Or not, because that sucks. Which is when leaving starts to look pretty darn attractive.
  5. EVERYONE ASSUMES WE’RE LEAVING THE CHURCH BECAUSE WE WANT TO SIN, BUT THAT’S SIMPLY NOT THE CASE. We don’t think that young people reject the church at the point of sin; we think they/we reject it at the point of empathy. We leave our Christian bubbles and begin to befriend people who don’t believe the same way we do. …We think about inviting them to church because, hey, that’s what we’re supposed to do right? … But then we start to empathize, to see church through their eyes. Would they feel welcome here? Would this confuse or frighten them? Would they understand what’s going on? Would fellow churchgoers accept them or look down their noses at them? … We don’t know about you, but we have a hard enough time feeling that we fit in at church ourselves. We’re certain none of our non-churchgoing friends would find it to be a welcoming or safe environment. … And when you start to realize that church isn’t the safe place you thought it was or that you want it to be for your friends, well, it’s a pretty short walk out the door.

This boils down to, “are these the people I want to be with?” – not “is this the place I want to be?” Flight to new settings for ministry will not escape the question of who we are.

Are we people who go deeper and cultivate our skills for supporting one another’s spiritual growth, even when our paths and sources of inspiration look very different?

Do we teach practical stewardship and take on economic, social, environmental and racial justice as a religious mission?

Do we create safe space for each other?

Do we welcome and empower young adult leaders?

How radical is our hospitality?

In short, do we covenant to be our best selves, make our most beloved community, and work with our neighbors for a better world?

May our honest answer be “yes.”