Why are millennials leaving the church?

Millennials are Leaving the Church because we’re Flakey

In an article for CNN, blogger/author Rachel Held Evans talked about giving a presentation to some church leaders on why Millennials aren’t showing up for church. She points to a few factors that research shows to be responsible: “young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.”

Then there’s the sex thing: “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules.”

What is it about the church that makes us walk away? The simplest, most blunt answer is this: We’re in our 20’s. And we’re flakey.

We’re what Louis CK calls ‘the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots.” They’ve written books about us with titles like Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic. We’re self-obsessed and non-committal to the core, and Christianity is a religion that asks us to be selfless and totally committed. As Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

Church is too hard for us: at least, for this time in our life. When we know we can’t commit ourselves fully to service, tithing, regular attendance, study groups and supporting a church’s outdated theology on women in leadership, hell and homosexuality, we don’t want to commit at all. It’s hard enough for us to commit to a city, career, relationship or even cell phone let alone a community of people we don’t know that well. In our 20’s, we’re figuring out the tender balance between committing to something good and having the freedom to do what we choose.

Your 20’s is a time of sampling­­ – different careers, lifestyles, friendships, and relationships. We date churches like we date people – we spend enough time with them to get to know them, but before long their charm begins to wear off, their small blemishes turn into huge issues, and we move on to the next one. And speaking of dating…

OK, I’ll admit it: One of the central reasons I try out so many churches is because there are attractive, single females there that I don’t know. I go to peruse the selection, and if it is plentiful, I may return, or even commit to a community group. If it isn’t, I probably won’t come back. So many of us date churches in order to date people. The simplest answer to ‘Why are people not showing up to my church?’ may be because there aren’t enough single, good-looking people there, not because you play too many (Chris) Tomlin’ tunes. Though it might be that as well.

The reason that churches are losing the Millennials is because the Millennials have been raised with a consumerist mindset. We are the customer, and the customer is always right, and if a product has a problem, or doesn’t fulfill us as we expect, we move on. But Christianity stands in stark opposition to this mindset: it’s about growth and self-giving love. If a church wants to hold onto its young people, it needs to stop catering to them, and start helping them learn how to grow and love. This requires structure and support, not hype and style. We need discipleship, structure, and occasionally someone to kick our ass a little. We need a constant reminder that there is more to life than endless selection and distraction: that true life comes from investing yourself in something, something deep and real. Something that requires work, commitment, and sacrifice. Something timeless and true that takes our work and turns it into something greater than we could ever imagine, thereby showing us the meaning of life.

In the meantime, church, don’t worry too much. We’ll be back in our 30’s — if and when we realize there’s more to life than the ‘freedom’ of being flakey.


 Flickr photo (cc) by Matt Biddulph