Throughout this series, we’ve talked about reaching out to Millennials with relationships, depth, authenticity, diversity,involvement and styles of worship. I know the question of “why Millennials are leaving the Church” won’t be solved by a blog series, but we can find key issues and examine how those issues affect the teens we minister to. In discussing this, however, there is an important difference in phrasing I’ve intentionally left out until this point. We’re not really looking at why they leave. We’ve been looking at why they don’t want to stay.
To put it bluntly, Millennials are leaving church because they no longer see it as an obligation worth their time. Parents may force them to attend “as long as they are living in this house,” but when they (eventually) do leave home, nothing is keeping them from leaving the church as well. The obligation is over. The reality of looking for a new church as a young adult is scary, uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing already, so why bother? Add in a few bad experiences with churches that don’t understand the struggles we’ve discussed in this series and even the most dedicated youth group alum would consider “taking some time off” from the Church.
The real question is: What makes Millennials want to stay in church? To see it as a necessity? More importantly, what would make Millennials want to lead the Church so it thrives in the future?
I believe these things happen when church is no longer a burden but a movement. For too long we’ve marketed church – and Christianity in general – as a safe, family-oriented place for happy people. We’re taught church is a healthy thing we do for our social lives, to satisfy some sense of noble martyrdom in serving others or simply because it’s what respectable families do.
Millennials, however, are increasingly connected to new social groups online. Relationships maintained through technology don’t guarantee quality, but the quantity of relationships is certainly higher than it has ever been. Also partially fueled by the power of online connection, our characteristic sense of social justice has given a new outlet to our service. Due to greater diversity and access to the rest of the world outside of our Christian bubbles, we no longer buy into the idea that in order to be accepted or seen as respectable we have to belong to a church as we know plenty of “good” people who do not.
On the other hand, when church becomes a God-movement, a deeply rooted cause to fight for, a passion to pursue, a rebel army against the forces of darkness… that’s what gets the Millennial heart beating faster. We want to see and take part in a faith worth sacrificing for in the fight against temptation. A faith worth going against what is easy and popular. We need a church that shows us true joy in the shadowlands so we have a reason to reject the culture of “whatever makes you feel good right now.” It’s not that we expect every minute to be a sugar high of excitement or entertainment, but we need a faith that calls us to a daring adventure.
And, I’m sorry to say, “safe for the whole family” does exactly the opposite.
We’re ready to be given a mission. “Family” is a distant concept in the transition between living with our parents and becoming parents ourselves. I’m not placing blame on older generations. Parents are simply in a different season of life, instinctually more concerned with protecting their malleable little ones. Millennials, on the other hand, are at a stage of life where newfound freedom, learning independence and making a difference in the world are the main concerns. We’re blazing a trail into the uncharted territory of 21st century adulthood.
Just about the only thing we do know is that this life isn’t safe.
So when churches claim that a hallmark of faith is “safety,” we don’t believe them.
We aren’t interested in a monotone, dull, detached God. We long for a Church that breathes life into our jaded hearts, weary from the tumult of change.
When scriptures about joy are read with a droning, bored tone; when songs of dancing are sung like a requiem; when the Church lives as if it is sleeping through its dead rituals, it’s no wonder that the very future of that Church finds it simply cannot stay any longer.
With the conclusion of this series, I issue a rally cry to the Church on behalf of my generation: It is time to awake, arise and fight for the future. Not in the name of tradition, but in the name of the divine radical, Jesus. Not against the lost, the marginalized, the sinners, but against pharisaical living, complacency and religious obligation.
We lose Millennials when we fill in the blank of “ignorance is ___” with “bliss” instead of “unacceptable.”
We lose Millennials when we don’t live what we preach, mean what we sing or take to heart the scripture we read.
We lose Millennials when family and safety become god and praise to the True God mere rhetoric.
We lose Millennials when we fail to see faith for what it is: a bold risk, an audacious mystery for which we surrender our lives, laying them at the foot of the cross.
We will keep Millennials when we place our hope for the future in Jehovah-Jireh instead of ritual, obligations, performance, security or reputations. We say to Him with sincere hearts: “whatever it takes, Lord, to see your Kingdom come on earth, in this generation.”
Other posts in our Millennial Exodus series: