It’s happening again.
There’s another article going ‘round the internet—especially on Facebook—about how millenials are leaving the church in droves. I would go to all the trouble of looking it up and providing a link to it … but I’m not going to. The reality, as I’ve written before (see here), is that this article gets written at least once a year by some well-meaning person who thinks they’ve discovered something no one else has noticed or tried to address.
Now, to answer the question of the headline, “Yes.” Millenials are leaving the church. So are a lot of other demographics (see here). It is not a new phenomena. And no, I am not dismissing it as something that shouldn’t trouble us.
First off, I just want to make fun of all these people who think they’re the first person to write about this topic when they’re only about the millionth person (give or take) to write about it. [Insert pithy joke here.]
But secondly, I would like to address the concept in a somewhat serious way.
Remember back in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah was having his pity party following his participation in God’s incredible victory over the prophets of Baal? From Elijah’s perspective, it seemed like he was the only person faithful to God in the whole country. God tells him, though, that he (God) has 7000 people in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal, who are still faithful servants of God.
There are many lessons to be learned from this passage, but one of the ones I am frequently reminded of is that the number of people who follow God, compared to their surrounding culture, is often (maybe always) going to be pretty small. This isn’t to say we should stop evangelizing or working on faithfully tending to the people God has loaned us, but when we look around and see that many people have abandoned God, or are abandoning him right now, and that some of these people are folks who “should know better” we shouldn’t be surprised.
I’ve also read The Book, so I know for a fact that the church’s role in influencing the culture will diminish. I can wish it were not so, but I might as well wish the sun would stop setting or the politicians would stop lying.
If you go back and read one of the articles about why the millenials are leaving the church (or, go back further and read one of the ones about why Gen-X is leaving the church, or further back to why the baby boomers are leaving the church)—it doesn’t matter which article, they’re all about the same—you will find good and sometimes valid points: the music isn’t to our tastes, they aren’t taking care of the poor; there aren’t any millenials (or whoever the age group du jour is) in leadership positions, and on.
The thing is, though, for every one of the objections made that’s leading the group to exit the church en masse (I think that’s French for “a whole passel of ‘em”), with very little searching they could find a church in their town that addresses that very issue. Maybe not all of the issues on the list, but most people have one issue that’s the big, driving, force for them and—if that issue is addressed—they could put up with weaknesses in the other areas.
Yes, there are other churches in their town that address those needs/wants/weaknesses, what I’m kidding about is that if they found one that addressed the most important one to them they could put up with the other areas. We’re not wired that way. When satisfied in one area, we quickly begin looking for other areas in which to be dissatisfied. Millenials appear to be more afflicted with this mentality than previous generations, but that may just be because they not only are afflicted, they want to make sure they take a selfie of themselves being afflicted.
The sad reality is that most of these millenials (and other people) who are leaving the church for whatever reason are not looking for another church that fits that bill, they’re just leaving. Some do find another church for a while, but—as stated above—they’ll soon find something that new church is doing wrong and leave it. Some will church hop for a while, and a rare one will even eventually light somewhere and stay, but most hoppers will either keep hopping or hop until they decide they’d rather just stay home. A little of this we can lay at the feet of denominationalism (“I’ve tried every Baptist church in this town and none of them met my needs!” [insert whatever denomination you want in there]), but not much.
Mostly, they’re not going to church because they just don’t want to go to church. They want to sleep in or play golf or they just don’t really see any value-added to their life by church, so they drift away and most don’t come back. (Some do. They hit middle age and realize they miss the church and they come back, which is great, but then they’re often a little depressed because their kids—who didn’t grow up in church—see no value at all in church.) And once away from the church, even if a “new” one comes to town that addresses the objections that led them to leave, they’re already in the habit of not going and aren’t coming back.
So, with all this said, why? Why aren’t they coming back? “You knucklehead!,” you say to me, “The dude just wrote an article listing 12 reasons why they’re leaving!”
Yes, but I just have my own doubts that any of those reasons are the real, the “meta reason” people are leaving.
The first one that comes to my mind is that we have an enemy who is actively pulling them away. He may use narcissism, he may use family dynamics, he might just use the allure of worshiping at St. Mattress … one of his more successful tricks lately is to convince people he doesn’t exist. Am I saying that pulling someone out of church can be equated with ruining their soul? No, but church is one of (one of!!) the tools God has established for the edification and equipping of the saints, so it’s to Satan’s advantage to separate us from it.
The second reason, which is tied on a micro-level to the first and—I believe—is the real, the meta reason, is that these people who are leaving the church have finally realized that the only church worth being a part of is one with standards and they don’t want that!! We live in a post-morality culture and here’s this group of people who gather in this old building, sing old songs (let’s face it: in our culture, any song more than a year old is an “oldie”), and proclaim that, “Yes! There is a God and yes he has standards!” The Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Pentacostals, et. al. may disagree on some of the finer points, but they/we all agree that God has established some standards that, even accounting for grace, we are behooved to try and walk in.
My third meta reason—which I know is really stretching the definition of “meta”—is that maybe one of the church’s problems with losing people—millenials, Gen-Xers, boomers, flappers, etc.—is that we have church all wrong to begin with. I’ll go into this in another blog, if I remember to, but maybe the church’s biggest problem is that we’re doing it all wrong!
Addendum: some of my earlier snarkiness aside, I think maybe the reason this article gets written every year is that every generation–and sub-generation–has to come to this idea on their/our own.