Newspaper Editorial Explains How Churches Are Driving Away the Youth

Today’s edition of the Courier-Journal (Kentucky) has a nice editorial about who the “Nones” are, what “we” believe, and how churches are driving away the youth:

… the fastest growth in young “nones” has come since 1990, a factor researchers attribute largely to young people put off by the “culture wars” in which evangelical Christianity took an increasingly strident tone in political races and pushed legal restrictions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

It was on full display among Republican candidates in last year’s presidential primary election. And it appears the “nones” are rejecting that message.

Religion serves an important role in knitting together communities. It provides solace in times of stress and grief. Churches play a vital role in social services. Just consider what Louisville would be like without its community ministry associations, supported by a network of local churches.

Yet it appears some religious leaders have overreached in trying to force beliefs into government and public policy and youths are beginning to reject that message. Churches need to rethink the mission and the message.

I don’t doubt that churches play a vital role in many communities, but a secular institution with the same kind of money could probably duplicate quite a lot of that. I say “probably” because it’s the fictional stories churches tell that bind people together under that umbrella. I’m not sure a “shared sense of humanity” has the same sort of bonding power. If everyone is under the umbrella, then there’s really nothing special about your group to bring people to it… and churches have a powerful story to tell.

Anyway, we can be thankful that most churches — certainly the evangelical Christian ones — aren’t smart enough to change their mindsets in order to appeal to the Nones. By sticking to the GOP playbook when it comes to science, women, and civil rights, they’ll keep leaking people under the only people left are those you wouldn’t want to be associated with in the first place.

(Thanks to Aaron for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Savoy47

    When the disgusted leave the only thing that remains is the disgusting.

  • not-a-yank

    Whatever can churches do to attract people who reject bronze-age thinking?

    Fortunately, not much.

  • Zugswang

    I think one of the biggest initial issues that caused me to abandon Catholicism (not by belief in the supernatural, which took longer to shake off) was the incongruity between what I grew up expecting from fellow Catholics, and what they actually did. I grew up really believing that the two most important things we should do was helping the less fortunate and being humbly self-reflective to continually make ourselves better people, and by extension, those around us. The fact was, while the different churches I belonged to had their soup kitchens and angel trees, we rarely talked about our society’s failure to the poorest among us, and when we did, the only thing we did was talk; we failed to examine how much money our church brought in, and how comparatively little we spent on charitable pursuits.

    I felt that many of those around me were insincere in their faith, or that they allowed what I felt were comparatively petty or mindless issues to interfere with, what I believed at the time, to be the core mission of the church. My intuitive sense about what made a good person was what drove me away from the church, because the belief system failed to produce enough individuals of sufficiently high virtue to make me trust the validity of the tenets of my faith.

  • Achron Timeless

    Ah the courier-journal. Those twits are still missing the point when faced with the obvious. This is pretty much on par for their reporting.

    The wonderful thing is that upon reading this, the shocking number of nearby churches will all start trying to hammer their “message” into the heads of people even harder. This will, of course, just drive more away from their antiquated mysticism.

  • allein

    In the last sentence, “under” should read “until”?
    (can’t contain my inner proofreader, sorry)

  • jdm8

    I don’t think it’s about intelligence, though it probably plays a part. If they believe that heaven and hell is in the balance, then that evokes reactions powerful enough to override intelligence. The fact that many of them believe that they have the correct subset of beliefs doesn’t help, because that often entails believing that deviating from it too far has eternal consequences.

  • abb3w

    Intelligence is one factor, but a complicated one; among believers, the more intelligent tend more devout. Attitude towards authority appears a more direct factor in why people change.

  • baal

    “If everyone is under the umbrella, then there’s really nothing
    special about your group to bring people to it… and churches have a
    powerful story to tell”

    I’m generally biased against the Ethical Society or the efforts for ‘atheist religion’ ala the Harvard Humanists. However, your point I quote does suggest that for at least a fairly large segment of the population, something like that is needed on the secular side.

  • roberthughmclean

    “they’ll keep leaking people under the only people left are those you wouldn’t want to be associated with in the first place.” Hasn’t that largely already happened? Their numbers are being distilled down to the hardcore losers that by their actions will only hasten the exodus.

  • Jason Jenkins

    When I left the church, it wasn’t really the message (yet) but the way they carried themselves and handled affairs. It was a hugely popular church that saw enormous growth over a decade. They could have participated in the community, but instead decided to hoard all their resources to build a gigantic facility (that, as far as I can tell, is still being expanded upon) and have only just recently begun to do community outreach. After over 20 years since their formation (I left in 2002; but I do keep tabs on them and wind up shaking my head every time). The climate there was almost completely bereft of community. There were a few groups, mainly cliques. The whole operation was run like a business, and every interaction was treated like a transaction. It was formulaic and without feeling. Without a charismatic pastor and a few gimmicks on the side, I do not see what kept people coming back. I served as a volunteer there for several years, as well as part of the congregation, and from both sides the whole production seemed like… well, a production. Completely phony. I tried like hell to be filled with the holy spirit, whatever that meant, tried to believe that there was something more to this, tried to believe that God was real, and just couldn’t. Couldn’t force myself to do it, so I just had to pretend. But reflection on that came much later. What drove me away from the church was that they treated me like a client, not a fellow believer. This is what it seems like for other megachurches I’ve visited, as well.