Saturday, July 27, 2013

Facebook Faith #23 - Why Millennials Are REALLY Leaving the Church

An article written by Rachel Held Evans for CNN is making the rounds on Facebook right now.  In it Rachel addresses "Why Millennials Are Leaving Church".  I think the title is a little of a misnomer because Rachel actually addresses two things - why Christian millennials are leaving churches and also why non-Christian millennials aren't coming. I don't know if she intended to write about the Christian millennial experience only, but she often seems to be referring to millennials in the general sense. That being the case, I think she is fairly spot on with the first point, but I don't think she can imagine why she is incorrect on the second.

I often hear from Christian friends and relatives something like, "I don't always like what is happening in the church either, and I may at times be disappointed by the people in it, but I don't understand why you needed to leave. Why not stay and fight for the changes you think need to happen?" This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of why many are leaving the church or never bother coming in the first place. It is not any kind of disaffection, disappointment, or hurt.... they simply don't believe it. However, this is a hard concept for a believer to try to imagine. Belief sits at the fulcrum of their identity and ethos, so they have a difficult time imagining it not being there. For example, she says in the article:
"We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers."
but then she goes on to say:
"Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus."
So, as much as she may bristle at pre-packaged answers, she still expects those answers will fall within her established paradigm. To the non-believer, a pre-packaged answer... and an answer that is expected to fall within a certain framework, are essentially the same thing.  At the end of the day, millennials of all stripes will probably fail to see a difference between what Rachel is offering, and what is offered by the church leaders she critiques.

From my perspective, what all of these young, hip, liberally minded Christians are missing is that there is no revival coming; there is no big movement similar to previous historical times that saw an upsurge in Christian fidelity. At this point, religion is noticing the first symptoms of what, in the end, will be a terminal diagnosis. The coming generations will see less and less people coming out of childhood with a default belief. Having not been indoctrinated with religion as a child, few will pick up the practice in their adult years. Within the next couple of generations, religion will exist as nothing more than small pockets of cult groups.

The patient is not going to recover. At this point, we have to start considering Hospice care - how to make the patient's last days as peaceful and painless as possible.


Bruce said...

Great observation, Andrew. I think you are spot on.

I watched Jim Wallis on Bill Maher's show last night. I love Wallis but he repeatedly ignored or sidestepped the hard questions that Maher was asking. Any question that didn't fit Wallis's paradigm was ignored.

It is these questions that will ultimately strangle the life out of Christianity. (Or at least result in a spiritual form of Christianity totally disconnected from the Bible and church history)

Steve H. said...


The "God is dead" mantra has been around for a long time along with the idea that religions will eventually be nothing more than small fringe cult groups. I think you confuse a new environment (only in the West) where atheists feel freer to champion their beliefs with a "movement". The reality is that Rachel Held Evans discourse will continue to have meaning to a majority of Americans because a majority of Americans are people of faith...and will continue to be so.

Andrew said...

Bruce - I want to see that round table. :)

That is my problem with Wallis and most of the Christian Left.... every side of Christianity wants to tell you what "What Jesus and the Bible really teach", when in doing so, they end up castrating half the text.

Steve - I don't think the focus is "god is dead" as much as god is irrelevant. I recognize that the vast majority are still believers, but it only takes one generation for a major upheaval and I think that generation is developing. When you and I were kids, everyone we knew was a believer. If we knew kids outside our church, those kids at least went to church. Church was assumed.

We had no source for alternate opinions to any degree... young people today have scores of sources for contrary views. I do not expect this generation of believers to start abandoning their faith in droves... but they are a little less convinced than their parents were... and they are a little less likely to indoctrinate.

More of the kids growing up now are going to be coming up without a set faith... and every statistic shows, there is little chance they will develop it as an adult. There will be no dramatic deaths amongst the deities. They will just fade from use like my old palm pilot or Windows 98.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, it is insightful indeed. I would like to suggest we differentiate between "God is dead/irrelevant" and "Church/Religion is dead/irrelevant". If we can assume the latter, then the former becomes a non-issue because anyone can define God as they please. My wish would be for any and all authoritarianism to cease, be it religious or not.

Jon said...

That's an interesting article! I like the bit at the end where she says that after articles like that she always gets messages from Gen Xers or Baby Boomers saying "me too!". She's saying young people leave the church because its faith is so narrow and doesn't seem genuine. I read recently about some research (I think it was from the UK) which identifies three main reasons for leaving the church, each of roughly equivalent importance - intellectual doubts about the faith, bad experiences of the church (as in, abuse or hypocrisy, not lack of cool) and personal trauma (eg illness, death of a partner).

Neils Bohr is supposed to have said "prediction is extremely difficult, especially about the future". So I'm content to wait and see whether the faith dies out, and in the meantime do what I can to help renew it. However, many in the mission world point to the fact that as the church shrinks in the West it grows rapidly in Africa and Asia. They suggest that the church may well become moribund in Europe and North America (and Australia!) and then be renewed from the third world.

Anonymous said...

It is true Evans is addressing Christians and not non-Christians. It's easy to figure out why non-believers leave the church. The quandary is why believers leave, which is what Evans addresses in her blog.

Re: Andrew's comment "every side of Christianity wants to tell you "what Jesus and the Bible really teach."

I don't know what side of Christianity Andrew has seen, Andrew, but there are several sides of Christianity that admit we're struggling to figure it all out as best we can like everybody else. I fear people who tell me they have the right answer, as if there's only one and they've cornered it. There are at least as many answers as there are questions and probably more. Evan's blog is one answer to a persistent questions.

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