Why Millennials are leaving church … you won’t believe this

Richard Beck, a prof at ACU, posts …

The difference between Generations X and Y isn’t in their views of the church. It’s about those cellphones. It’s about relationships and connectivity. Most Gen X’ers didn’t have cell phones, text messaging or Facebook. These things were creeping in during their college years but the explosive onset of mobile devices and social computing had yet to truly take off.

So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans (“Let’s get together for dinner this week!”). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of “third places” in America.

But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don’t need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don’t need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.

Sure, Millennials will report that the “reason” they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!

The pushback here will be that all this Millennial social computing, all this Facebooking, isn’t real, authentic relationship. I’d disagree with that assessment. It goes to the point I made earlier: Most of our Facebook interactions are with people we know, love, and are in daily contact with. Facebook isn’t replacing “real” relationships with “virtual” relationships. It’s simply connecting us to our real friends. And if you can do this without getting up early on Sunday morning why go to church? Particularly if the church is hypocritical and shallow? Why mess with it?

Why are Millennials leaving the church? It’s simple. Mobile social computing has replaced the main draw of the traditional church: Social connection and affiliation.

Basically, Facebook killed the church. May it Rest in Peace.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://ballymennoniteblogger.blogspot.com/ Robert Martin

    Ouch… that stings…. true, but it still stings…

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    This reveals the futility of saying that the way to follow Jesus is to go to church.

    We should lead people not to church, but to Him who is omnipresent.

  • http://thearminian.net/ William Birch

    Hmmm . . . just when I thought “Church” was about worship, I now learn that it has been about connecting. Who knew?

  • http://danielmrose.com Daniel Rose

    So, what Beck seems to be saying is this: the majority of people at churches in the previous generations were not there to find connection with God but with others. If that’s the case (and it may be) then the handful of people who participate at a church worship gathering for the express purpose of meeting with God must realize that they cannot rely on a church service to bring the message of Jesus to the world. It means that we must not be lazy but embrace social media and step out into the world as light in the darkness.

    This gives further validity to the missional movement.

  • http://seguewm.blogspot.com/ Bill

    Which, by extension, made what has gone before, largely an illusion. The ’emperor has no clothes’. Wonderful. Stripped down to the ‘birthday suit’ we can now rethink church within reality. Most of what we’ve been doing was oriented toward making ‘church as a slice of life’ a meat market. Not all that was ‘bad’, but it did divert our attention and resources from our real purpose – to make disciples. We have been seduced by the numbers attending without ever subverting the intentions of their heart. Presence, as Jn 6 reminds us, is seldom heart attentiveness.

  • http://toddbouldin.wordpress.com Todd Bouldin

    I suggest that Facebook is only one of the reasons Millennials are not attending church. It is not for lack of spiritual interests, for they are spiritual. It is not due to selfishness because they are among the most philanthropic and charitable of any generation since World War II. They are abandoning church because it is no longer authentic community for them. By this, I do mean that it is any more hypocritical or shallow than other settings such as work or the gym. What I mean is that “authentic community” is who you hang out with on Fridays and Saturdays when you get to choose your community. If your Sunday morning church friends are no longer your authentic and primary relationships, and yes Facebook certainly facilitates other primary relationships, then there is only one motivation for going to church that is left: as an act of obedience or worship. I think these Millennials may be finding opportunities for worship in other ways, or even at churches when the need or mood hits them. But loyalty to something that is not building their relationships or changing their lives is not keeping their attention.

    A lot of my friends tell me this: “I stayed away from church, and I’m a better person. I would rather do brunch with my friends on Sunday morning after some good rest, spend some time reading and meditating and change my life in therapy, at the gym and at seminars or classes. When I ask whether church is helping me become a better person, if often does not.”

    THAT is why Millennials are not coming to church. They have no institutional loyalty, and they have room for things that they feel are meaningful. If it’s not … whether it’s a corporate brand, or a job, or a church … it’s done.

    I hope that our churches won’t criticize Millennials for their quest for meaningful spiritual experiences. I hope that we will ask ourselves why what we are doing is no longer meaningful to them. My guess is that some of us in other generations might also be asking the same thing.

  • Jon

    I think we may have skipped a step here. If the Church was originally viewed by Millennials primarily as a place for social affirmation and affiliation, then maybe we should work on fixing that image.

    The Church is not meant to be a place to meet the needs of American Christians but rather a community and nation of people belonging to God. You cannot Love God and reject God’s Church.

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers

    I love Dr. Beck. One of my favorite professors.

  • Jason Dudley

    So instead of believing what the Gen Y’ers actually say about why they are leaving (“perceived hypocrisy or shallowness”), let’s assume that they don’t care about face to face communication and put words in their mouths. Maybe they’re leaving because no one values their input :-).

    If this premise were true, I think we’d also see an enormous interest in online church, which as far as I know is still not very common.

  • http://chaosandoldnight.wordpress.com John F

    So the gates of hell can’t prevail against the church but Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg can? Forgive me if I don’t buy that the idea that social media killed the church. Of course, people connect to their offline friends through online means, but they still need a place to first establish those offline relationships and church does just that for literally hundreds of millions of people.

  • Rick

    Just happened to hear a podcast interview with Louie Giglio (Passion Conferences, Passion City Church, etc…) and he was explaining the impact on having their annual conferences (geared to college students) last 4 days. The organizers noticed that it takes a least a day for the students to pull away from participating in social media, and that finally by the 3rd and 4th day they are fully engaged in the conference itself.

  • http://josedrivas.wordpress.com/ jose

    I agree with many of the comments.
    Maybe this says more about the way we are conducting church than it does about an age group.
    If people have always ‘put up’ with church for its perceived benefit then have we been doing it right all this time?

  • Tim

    Social Media…accept it, it’s here to stay. Of course there is validity to the arguement that people attend church to socialize and worship God..it’s not one or the other. However I would argue that church is boring, static, and that people want to interact with one another. Perhaps if we offered more than a one man sermon dominated event, people would show up.

  • http://prayerexperiment.wordpress.com/ Chris

    @William Birch
    The church is inherently a community of people, and worship is only one of its functions. Worship was always meant to be an ongoing activity, the whole life of a person offered in sacrifice, whether individually or corporately.

    The church gathering is different than the life of an individual person only in that it is a group of people, not just one person, though of course, when people gather, they can accomplish far more than they can alone.

    And whether or not connections made via Facebook, Twitter, etc., constitute a viable community (and who defines this?), the participants feel that they are participating in community, and that is the key to this argument.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I think we may have skipped a step here. If the Church was originally viewed by Millennials primarily as a place for social affirmation and affiliation, then maybe we should work on fixing that image.

    The Church is not meant to be a place to meet the needs of American Christians but rather a community and nation of people belonging to God. You cannot Love God and reject God’s Church.

    You are, of course, correct in stating that these “needs” are not what the Church is meant to be (certainly, not if that’s all it’s doing). That’s not really the point. It has been filling the function for a good long while. It’s not just Millennials that have had this impression. It’s far more widespread across generations. One need only look to the ubiquity of the complaint about “country club” churches (or similar terms) to see this.

    There is an impression that needs fixing, yes, but it’s not just “they” who are having the problem. Indeed, I think most of our churches have been actively creating that image. Millennials can’t really be faulted for picking up on it….

  • http://prayerexperiment.wordpress.com/ Chris

    I think the underlying thought behind these kinds of ideas is “People are leaving the church instead of flocking to it! What are we doing wrong??”

    Jesus said that the way that leads to life is both narrow and difficult and that few would find it. Yes, we do have events like Pentecost, and times when “the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved,” but the most basic answers to the question about why people are leaving the church are that maybe those who are “leaving” were never a part of it to begin with, and Jesus said it wouldn’t be popular anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we should just sit back on our laurels while people leave, and not use the best of our God given insight, intuition, and intellect. We should, like Paul, become all things to all men, so that some might be saved.

  • Tim

    Great comments by Todd Bouldin. I like “THAT is why Millennials are not coming to church. They have no institutional loyalty, and they have room for things that they feel are meaningful. If it’s not … whether it’s a corporate brand, or a job, or a church … it’s done.” I’m 44 and this is exactly how I feel. Leaving the church as we know it has been a positive experience.

  • http://www.ubcabilene.com Phillip P

    I do believe my generation (Y) has found other forms of community and Church is about the experience not checking the box. Our parents went to Church because it ‘saved’ them, we go to church to experience God.

    Our church is Network Church with Lifechurch.tv which focuses on building fully devoted followers of Christ wherever that might be. Our church streams their sermons each week from their Main Campus in Oklahoma but they also have over 40 church online sessions each week. They also created the first free bible app called YouVersion, which has revolutionized how our culture interacts with the word of God. In November of 2009 alone they reached 1,286,893 people.

    The greatest thing about Lifechurch.tv is that it’s all free, their membership pays for all the development and publication of the materials.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Yes. Church is the country club for many and they act that way.

  • Hugh

    I like John F’s. comment above. The church will survive with or w/o the millennials. I do have some questions for them, however. Do they know what “me-itis” is? How long has it been since they cracked open the New Testatment? Do they believe it is the divinely inspired revelation of Jesus Christ? Do they partake of the Lord’s Supper as Christ commanded? Would they check out Hebrews 10:24-25? Or Acts 20:7? Where does one get the notion that church is primarily for establishing social relationships? Is that a New Testament concept concerning the church? What is the church?

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Interesting conversation … I’m still processing watching the movie “The Social Network”, about the founding of Facebook. There’s lots of deep stuff all wrapped up with this topic.

  • http://www.experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/ Richard

    Just surfed over for my daily Scot McKnight fix and found my post at the top. Yikes.

    One point of clarification. The ending “May it Rest in Peace” isn’t meant to be talking about the communion of the saints. I’m speaking, rather, of the “Facebook church,” the death of the church-as-affiliation-network. My take is that the demise of that sort of church (if my analysis is, at least partly, correct) poses both challenges and opportunities.

  • Rick

    Have we overplayed the community aspect and underplayed the sacraments aspect?

  • Matt Edwards

    Doesn’t his last paragraph contradict the thesis of the rest of the article? If Facebook relationships are “real” because they are based on face-to-face time, then how do they replace face-to-face relationships? It seems like church would still provide the face-to-face time that the Facebook relationships need.

    Does anyone ever not meet up with friends because they can connect via Facebook? Does Beck even have anecdotal evidence that anyone does this? I can’t imagine a young person passing up an opportunity for social engagement because they can just meet up online.

    If anything, I would think Facebook would INCREASE church attendance, since a lot of Facebook seems to be promoting “real” life to internet friends. Every week I get status updates from people encouraging me to attend their “epic” weekend worship experience. The next day, there are pictures posted for everyone who “missed out.”

    I still think the reason Millennials are not in church is because of the delayed marriage age. People get married at 32 now instead of 22. When they get married and have kids, they’ll be back.

  • Rick

    Phillip P #18-

    Lifechurch.tv was a ground-breaker, but was its goal for people to only use that, and not eventually attend a church? I think churches such a Lifechurch, Northpoint, etc… see the video stream is a means, but not the end/goal.

  • http://www.ubcabilene.com Phillip P

    Rick #25

    There are multiple ministry focuses of lifechurch.tv. The network church/simulcast ministry is focused on providing free resources to churches that can’t afford a preacher or churches they plant.

    Church online is focused on reaching people that wouldn’t go to church (past experiences, bias, etc.) or cannot go to church (government limitations, travel for a living, physical limitations). Online church is not meant to be a stepping stone but a way to engage people no one is reaching.

    This ministry also had a national porn day where they bought adwords on google for things related to pornography. When someone would search those words, church online would be the top link.

    From their FB page:

    3. Evangelism – We will do anything short of sin to lead people to Christ.

  • http://anewkindofminister.blogspot.com Cody Stauffer

    I have to be quite honest, as someone right on the border between Gen’s x and Y (born in late 1980), some of the denigrating comments on here and the attitudes they imply towards the Millennials (“they are me-first, selfish, etc. etc.”) and the fact that many of you assume that because they are not going to a building on Sunday they do not want to be associate with the church are ALSO key ingredients to this mix. Add to that the unintended snobbery (because that is how it is perceived, I know you don’t intend it to be so) inherent in comments like “Social Media connections aren’t REAL connections/communities,” and you will see even more why they/we might think there are healthier things we could be doing with our time. And this is coming from a pastor of a congregation that holds a more traditional gathering! All of the time, even as I am a part of leading it, I’m thinking, “Boy, there is so much more effective ways we could be doing this that builds an authentic worshipping, engaging community.’

  • Rick

    Phillip P #26-

    “Online church is not meant to be a stepping stone but a way to engage people no one is reaching.”

    That is interesting. Northpoint takes a different approach. From its site:

    “In time, we want to help our viewers who are not connected to a local church find and engage in a small group or local church in their area.”

  • http://www.ubcabilene.com Phillip P

    Rick #28

    I wasn’t familiar with Northpoint until now, it seems they have a lot of similarities.

    Here’s a link about digital missions: http://bit.ly/ewNrAg

  • andrea

    “comment” I wonder what Dr Beck means by “church” I thought it was the gathered in christ as the body of Christ, which is for sure alive. So in facebook style Ill “like” Daniels comment and change the status of Greg “now in relationship” with Dr Beck 😉

  • EricG

    I thought that several studies have shown that this is a myth – this generation isn’t leaving the church in any greater numbers than the previous ones did at that age. In each generation, folks typically leave church in their twenties and return when they have kids. No real significant difference between yesterday and today.

  • HP

    I’m 23. I left the church at 20 because of “perceived hypocrisy or shallowness.” Not because of my killer facebook app.

  • normbv

    I tend to agree with Matt Edwards #24

    “I still think the reason Millennials are not in church is because of the delayed marriage age. People get married at 32 now instead of 22. When they get married and have kids, they’ll be back”

    Having children changes one’s perspective about what one will value. If they can find value for the family then they will set the social networking aside to make room.

  • http://www.theparablelife.blogspot.com Michelle Van Loon

    Motivations for attending a church will have a lot to do with why some choose to stop attending. Partaking in the sacraments, for example, can’t happen in a virtual culture. You have to be in a place where a priest is administering them.

    Likewise, those who attend church in order to participate in corporate worship probably won’t be satisfied with watching a service from the comfort of their own (isolated) living room.

    But for those who attend in order to find community – and for the churches who sell themselves as a place to discover community – the author’s analysis is spot on. Amen, Dr. Beck!

  • Robert A

    It’s too early to say if millenials are leaving for good. Way too early.

    Plus I’d argue that the stats on this are fairly useless. I know of certain expressions of church (mostly progressive in methodology but conservative in teaching) that can’t keep them away. Then if you consider mainline denoms (mostly traditional in methodology but progressive in teaching) they are leaving in higher percentages…but that’s for all generations.

    If you examine the past several generations that we have reasonable stats for this trend always happens. Whenever the release into adulthood happens a certain percentage stay faithful, some leave and return, some transition to causal attendance, some leave. I’d argue the stats are virtually the same across generational differences.

    This was said about my generation but now we are seeing them returning to churches as they are beginning families and wanting to positively influence their children.

    Good things are happening in branches of evangelicalism. We need to applaud them and applaud those methods that are working.

    Interestingly enough the churches that I know who are reaching millenials are using social media to connect with them and seeing amazing results. :)

  • Ginny Kiernan Dahlberg, PhD

    #2 – The way to follow Jesus isn’t “to go to church” – it’s to **serve others** – even at real cost to yourself/your way of life!

    #4 – Right on!!!

  • Jerry

    Many have the mistaken notion that what happens at church is the living of the Christian life. By “church” I mean worship, bible studies, small groups, even reading Jesus Creed. Doing church is a both an end and a means. Worshiping God is an end in itself but it is also a means, a means of shaping us into disicples. The way to follow Jesus isn’t merely “going to church” but through the Word we learn how we are to love God and neighbor and through sacrament we receive grace to help us “serve others.”

  • http://wwwi-wonder-as-i-wander.blogspot.com/ linda

    i think there are many reasons why millennials don’t “go to church”. trying to reduce it down to one reason seems rather simplistic to me. if we understand that what happens on sunday at the building isn’t “church” but a church gathering then leaving the sunday gathering isn’t that big a deal. the church is and always will be the body of christ not what we do or where we meet. we can gather in many different settings and ways. many are finding God outside the church building and sunday gathering these days. maybe because in large part God has left the building…

  • 22

    I’m 22 and there are several reasons I don’t regularly attend church:

    1)Church needs to be more than a sermon. If that’s the main point of going to church, I’ll pass. I can listen to a plethora of sermons online by people that are much more qualified than any local pastor.

    2)Churches need to be more open to diversity. It gets rather boring being around people that all think the same way. Especially if your views are different, and you have to fake it to fit in.

    3)The main reason I don’t go is because the churches in my area are either uber conservative or uber liberal. There are a couple reformed congregations, but you better believe in Piper and inerrancy if you want to attend any of them. There are also a number of mainline churches, but you need gray hair to fit in at those congregations.

  • JohnM

    Like some others here I also question if millenials are really leaving the church in greater numbers than in previous generations and for good. However, to the extent Beck may be correct, the answer to Hugh’s(#20) question “Where does one get the notion that church is primarily for establishing social relationships?” would be: From us. Us being the boomer generation. I rememeber being an adult S.S teacher around ten years ago and being told by church staff to “keep it relational”.

    Besides the shallowness of aiming at no more than
    relay-shun-al, as others here have pointed out real relationships develop organically. Community that is real in some sense can be created, but authentic personal relationships cannot be forced. We should be about other things in the Church.

  • Hugh

    Ah, yes, relationships! In his latest book, A FAITH BUILT ON SAND, Phil Sanders says: “Preachers preach much love but little truth, much grace but little repentance, much salvation but little obedience, AND MUCH ON RELATIONSHIPS BUT LITTLE ON RELATING RESPONSIBLY TO GOD HIMSELF (emph. mine, H). Has Phil hit on the key of why Millennials and others have left the church? The importance of relating responsibly to God? Paul (the apostle) spoke of “the whole body (that’s the church), joined and knit together…” (Eph. 4:16). It is hard for a person to leave the church if the right kind of knitting has been taking place!

  • Bob Smallman

    I guess I’m confused by the terminology. I was under the mistaken impression that in Christ there is neither generation X or Y, Mosaics, Busters. Boomers, or Elders, for you are all one in Christ.

    What a foolish idea.

  • Nancy Gordon

    Ran across this 2 part blog on the future of social networking where the author is decrying social networking’s lack of narrative and story. Thought it had some interesting insights that might contribute to the conversation around the difference between social networking and the church. So I offer them for your consideration!


  • http://anewkindofminister.blogspot.com Cody Stauffer

    Linda in #38, I didn’t take it that Beck was trying to name “the” reason- in fact, he mentioned the more proximal reason being that many perceive the church as hypocritical and shallow, and that social computing now provides an what was lacking as additional motivation in the past.

  • Richard

    This seems a timely thread for this thread:


    I tend to agree with #9. Electronic media is a small art of this equation.

  • http://www.pastormattrichard.com Pastor Matt

    This identifies the problem with assimilation to the church for social reasons alone. Assimilation and the draw for church needs to be deeper than social connections (See Below). Great posting!

    Best Friends Forever (BFF) and Church Assimilation:

  • http://christcultureandchipotle.wordpress.com/ Jeff Harding

    I agree with some aspects of this blog post, but disagree with others. The fact that people use (or from Professor Beck’s perspective, used) church as a social connector is understandable and logical. I did the same thing when I was able to drive, and to choose whether I went to church, or not. Especially when I was in college, the main pull to church was not theology or biblical exegesis, but was instead the chance to see and talk with my friends.

    However, even when social media and the flow of text messaging started becoming more prevalent, the attractive quality of initiating and enjoying authentic relationships did not fade. I strongly disagree with Professor Beck when he stated that “Facebook isn’t replacing “real” relationships with “virtual” relationships.” I would argue that pure online interaction is NOT an authentic relationship. Sure, brief comments and banter accompanied by pictures of past or present events can be a fantastic supplement to filling in a close friend or family member. BUT, if that is the extent of the relationship, the person really hasn’t invested or risked anything at all. Relationships take genuine effort and investment, and restricting interaction with “friends” to online-status only is, frankly, lazy and perhaps cowardly.

    It practically takes no effort to initiate, sustain (I use that term loosely), or terminate an online relationship. The person simply has to click “send friend request” or “add as contact” to begin a so-called friendship; accordingly, a person can just as easily block or delete that person from a cell phone or facebook profile to terminate the relationship. This is even done in the case of significant, romantic relationships! One fourteen year-old boy can have over 1000 “friends” on facebook, or through countless hours playing an online role-playing game, and never physically see or speak to anyone. The shocking add-on to this example is that the supposed fourteen year-old boy could easily be a forty-seven year-old man, or woman! If you completely lack physical interaction, shared life experience, or anything remotely in common with your online “friends,” can you honestly label that connection as an authentic relationship? Authentic community? It’s hard to see how you can.

    Perhaps Professor Beck implied that people who interacted online always knew the people outside of the virtual world, as he mentions in the final paragraph. However, a sweeping generalization about how technology-only interaction can serve as truly authentic relationships should be carefully thought over before being stated as fact. In the current post-modern culture, convenience is the driving force behind shaping technology and innovation. Crowning convenience as the king and task-master is a dangerous path to travel.

  • http://Blog.trainforpurpose.com Dennis

    I think this matches what I have been seeing for the past 5 years. But it doesn’t really answer the two questions I think it leads to.

    1. What do we need to do instead of the old things when we are together at church?

    2. How do we engage at the social media space in a meaningful way?

    Diagnosing the shift is a good first step, but I feel like the answer to what does that mean interns of guiding a response is still missing.

  • http://facebook.com/thattalldude Shawn K

    My experience has been good and bad. Social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, has enhanced my Church experience by enabling us to be more connected, more often, and engage more deeply when face to face. However, in a Church less focused on rooting people in small groups, social media can expose how unconnected you are to the others. I believe it goes more into how well the church is doing to keep people connected in a meaningful way, and social media will enhance or detract from that.

  • Treva Whichard

    As a member of an ecumenical monastic community, jam-packed w/ more social connections than this introvert wants – in person and via Facebook and texting, I still need to attend services in person – I desparately need to walk to the altar, to look the clergy in the eye as he gives me the body and blood of Christ. Absolutely nothing compares nor replaces that. Nothing. That interaction is vital.

  • Jan

    I think churches shouldn’t worry so much about catering to people. If a person is truly seeking God, he/she will find Him. If they are only seeking social connection, they will find it somewhere. If the church is striving to help their people live in an intimate relationship with God, and be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance – then the church is doing what it is supposed to do.

  • Jim Mettenbrink

    Let’s cut to the chase. If Christianity is about social connection, then the Bible is wrong. The fact is the last couple generations are essentially biblically ignorant. Thus real conversion to Christ does not happen. Folks who are converted will follow His commands and instructions in the NT. That would include having a strong desire to attend any aseembly of the Christians, because of love – for God and one another (to encourage and admonish as well as simply socialize). So all of the otehr excuses for not “going to church” is mere ignorance or rebellion.

    Keep the faith


  • Ann

    Instead of blaming facebook or texting maybe the church needs to realize that technology isn’t going to go away. We need to reach out to the community through those very same technology avenues. My teenage daughter loves church, well she loves youth group, probably because they discuss stuff like this. Just something to think about.

  • http://www.ladywriter.ca Rhonda Bulmer

    I’m a Gen Xer, I’m 43, and I was not saved in a church, my parents were atheists, so I came to church as a young woman with a different view of it than those who grew up in it. Those who grew up in church, and stayed in church, tend to hold on to more traditional points of view.

    I can see both sides of the argument…personally I think with growing resistance to Christianity in the West we’re eventually going to be driven underground, and in that case, the Internet may prove to be a very valuable tool indeed. However, if “church” is the gathering together of believers, as in “Where two or three are gathered in my name…,” nothing, to me, can replace personal contact.

    Social media is great for all of us (not just the Y generation) to make plans, stay in touch, and hear the news almost as soon as it happens, but it is NOT church to me, at least not yet. Church happens AFTER you make plans to meet up through social media, or, God forbid, the telephone.

  • http://modeletics.blogspot.com/2009/06/godless-christianity-movement.html JG Lenhart

    Over forty years ago, the church in America chose to embrace the Godless Christianity Movement. The church chose to go without an orthodox explanation for God. The church encouraged people not to be able to explain God…which meant they couldn’t tell if they were connecting to God or not. The church became about connecting with each other. Now, people don’t need to go to church to connect with each other. We were warned about this by CS Lewis and AW Tozer: http://modeletics.blogspot.com/2009/06/godless-christianity-movement.html

  • http://www.DrawNearToGod.com Gwen Meharg

    It is taking every bit of self control I have to keep going to Sunday School. I turned 50 in January. Over the last two years corporate worship has morphed into “special” music and solos. I know that some can are fine with spectator worship, but some of us are not. I don’t attend “worship” service any more. They call it “corporate” worship but “spectator” would be more accurate. Listening to a sermon is not worship for me. While it can be fun, working up a sweat doesn’t prove one has worshiped either. There are just so many rules whether one is in a traditional or “contemporary” setting. I think that is why so many of all ages are leaving. We are calling things that aren’t as if they are. If one of the key issues in church is corporate worship, we need to look at what that really is. It is time to ask a LOT of questions. It is time to examine each and every aspect of Sunday morning (that is what we are talking about) and discern what it is really saying.

    What do the plastic plants all over the platform REALLY say?
    What message does the bulletin send? Is that cut and paste graphic REALLY glorifying God?
    “Traditional Baptist Values” Really? WHAT does THAT mean?
    The choir robes?
    The podium?
    The throne chairs on the platform?

    There are so many things being SAID and we don’t even know it. We need to stop and LISTEN to ourselves, to what our order of worship is SAYING and what Holy Spirit is saying.

    Everyone else has been so articulate. I am just ranting, but somewhere in the rant is a grain of truth. It is not just the young folks leaving. And in reality, many of the folks still there left a long time ago.

    My adult life has included several churches. The longest was 14 years, the other churches 2 years, five years and five years with a four year “break”.

    Church community is every bit as shallow as online community. If one leaves a church the chances of ANYONE ever contacting them again or maintaining any relationship is very slim.

    As the Body of Christ, as the church, we are doing very little right and we need to take a good hard look at ourselves. Two and a half years back “in” church and I am desperately missing the deeper relationships I had during my break. Deeper relationships with other believers, probably because I had to work to maintain the contact and time to wrestle together, and deeper relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit. Nothing waters down scripture like a 30 minute sermon.

    I don’t want to give up on the church. I don’t want to play numbers and attendance games. We need to be asking questions, now, before it is too late. I’ve watched several churches die as the elders “pooh poohed” the needs of the generation two decades back. God IS doing a new thing and we need to be checking the condition of our wine skins.

  • Tim Mainord

    What if the real issue is that the gospel is not preached with power. By that I mean that there comes a point where the gospel either enables us to put up or we must shut up. Gen Y wants the same thing that their parents and grandparents wanted and that is to see some evidence that God truly loves them and is engaged in their lives by means of the miraculous. Let me propose this question to all; what if your favorite recording artist simply stopped singing at concerts, stopped recording music and simply discussed on an intellectual basis how the qualities of their voice had made them so special? Would the concerts continue to sell out? Would the fan club membership continue to grow? Would endorsements continue to roll in? Blaming this on social media is yet another attempt to avoid the obvious (the elephant in the living room), the church must become a representation of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ or The Church will slip into total irrelevance.

  • michelle

    I have to constantly remind myself, through the Word, what the purpose of church is. Simply a gathering of believers in Christ and a place to be equipped to walk out my testimony and participate in the Great Commission, as well as corporate prayer and scriptural training. The only churches losing millenials are either falling down on the job of discipleship or the millenials they are losing are unbelievers….The Holy Spirit is the only one who will straighten out this “dilemma”…Even so come Lord Jesus!

  • ab

    I am honestly a bit surprised that Dr. Beck would claim this (and Dr. McKnight would post it) without any actual data to back it up, or without a caveat calling it a “hunch” or assumption– which is all it is. What we do know is that this age group is actually saying they are leaving church for many reasons, and they do not list social networking. He is making a pretty large claim with this, and honestly it sounds like yet another member of the older generation blaming something “new” for the church’s failure to retain younger generations and effectively pass on the faith. As long as older church member’s blame new technology, the supposed selfishness of the young, and other fads, instead of looking inward, we will continue to hemorrhage the young. What is interesting is the stream of data (secular and religious) demonstrating the rising interest and passion of young people to serve the poor and work on issues of social justice. Yet, so many of our evangelical churches do little to none of this, or criticize it as ‘liberal” and distracting from evangelism…. My personal hunch (based on that actual data) is that it has more to do with those disconnects than new social technology.

  • http://www.redbankchurch.com Pastor Lenny

    How does one take the Eucharist online?

  • David

    I was born in 1979 and I am a Millenial, NOT Gen X, because I am tech – savvy, open – minded to diversity of ALL kinds, and I like the latest pop culture. You can’t really define which generation an individual belongs to depending on his or her year of birth, because that is too vague. You have to look at one’s CHARACTERISTICS. For example, it makes no sense to call a 20 – year – old a Millenial if she does not have a computer or cell phone, supports only racial equality, and likes the Beatles. She’d be called a Baby Boomer. Also, many people do not like to be labeled – they prefer to choose whichever generation best matches their characteristics/the one they identify with.

    Anyway, there are people born before the 1980s that are leaving the church – I’m sure that even a few elders are among them, given that there are tens of millions of them in this country.

  • Lee

    I went to church for the first 17 years of my life, and except for my own wedding (done by my Episcopalian priest father), and assorted funerals, left, and have never looked back. As a committed atheist, I don’t see that church has any redeeming virtues, and the sooner it is ignored into oblivion, the better. Sigh. But not in my lifetime, unfortunately, as I am now on the far backside of my life.

  • JamesG.

    While I appreciate the sociological insights…I can’t help but see this as one of those “Dewey Defeats Truman” headlines. I don’t like obituaries written for those who ain’t dead yet. 😉

  • Cary

    You’re right… I don’t believe it.

    Your argument has valid points but is entirely too simplistic and simple-minded. Millennials are leaving the church because of a host of complex social, cultural, and spiritual reasons. Social networking and mobile technology have certainly altered the social landscape, but it hardly holds the smoking gun before an institution that was losing relevance with the postmodern set long before Mark Zuckerberg came along. Give GenYers more credit in their assessment of religion. The fact that we can connect with our friends outside of church wasn’t a concept invented by Facebook and cellphones. It is an all-too-easy out in trying to understand why institutional religion doesn’t hold much water anymore.

  • frustrated

    #52, 20 and others with similar responses, you might actually read all of peoples’ arguments before bashing folks. Maybe ask first, Have I understood properly what they’re claiming? I don’t think you have.

    Amen to Cody/#44/27.

    I think, as Beck, Cody and Todd/#6 suggest, they’re leaving for many reasons. experience of shallowness and hypocrisy. alternative means of engaging in authentic community. alternative means of expressing worship and encountering God. alternative hopes for the use of funds given to God’s service (i.e. other than buildings). And so on.

    Folks searching for community in church are not replacing worship, not putting “me” before God. They have richer since of worship. They seek to worship daily, in all aspects of life. They still worship corporately as well, to you Heb 10:25 folks. Just maybe not in big, expensive, poorly used buildings. They observe sacraments, in less ‘sacramental’ context…the way Jesus did, around a table (communion), in nearby bodies of water (baptism), etc. They meet God and join God in going out to the community rather than thinking God is only accessible in this building (on this mountain or that…) and I think Beck pointed out that social networking is helping in this endeavor. They study and are theologically/missionally challenged beyond a 20-minute weekly sermon.

    as beck said, changes provide OPPORTUNITY and challenge. i hope cynical folks in traditional church will learn from the shifts taking place, listen to critiques, and respond accordingly, rather than slandering, name-calling (ignorant/rebellious), those they don’t understand. I hope jaded folks (millennials and others) leaving institutional church will not throw out baby with bathwater and will realize the positive resources such forms of church provide.

  • http://chezman86.blogspot.com Kevin Chez

    very interesting but i’m sure there is more to it

    I like comment 39 by the twenty two year old.

    one quick fix would be for mommy and daddy to stop paying the cell phone bill! lol.

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers
  • Charlie Coil

    I’m afraid we’re overstating our case here when it comes to social media and “millennials” leaving church.

    1. First of all, it’s pretty clear by now that millennials haven’t been showing up at church to start with. It’s not like they’re leaving in droves. And it’s certainly not a new discovery by millennials that church is hypocritical and shallow. It’s not like there’s this new alternative called social media that’s suddenly arrived on the scene and now they have a new place to go besides to a church.

    2. Let me challenge another assertion. Since when has anyone required physical locations for social affiliation? This is not some new thing. People have been interacting socially without benefit of physical proximity since the invention of language and the written word. Even that intensely social act of proposing marriage by mail has been occurring for centuries.

    3. It’s important to remind ourselves once again that technology is neither the answer nor the problem. [I’m sure this was a throw away remark, an intentionally provocative line to say that “Facebook killed the church. May it rest in peace.”] But it’s a little too thoughtless to suggest this about some new technology. The Catholic church made this same kind of ridiculous remark about Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press before the church figured out how to be far and away the most prolific publishers of the printed word!

    4. Look, even (dare I challenge the sacred cow of our social media frenzy) when it comes to social media, the real difference from say the ancient “landline telephone” or the good ol’ “snail mail” of the U.S. Postal Service, is simply speed and access, not some hypnotic fixation that draws millennials away from all that is good and wholesome and spiritual.

    5. I think a more profitable way of thinking about social media computing is to go back and look at how historians suggest that the invention of the printing press and the telegraph/telephone changed society. Again the issue is communication speed and access. These technological inventions in communication (social, commercial, political etc.) are hardly seen as a problem for the church today. BUT, the church can ALWAYS and will always influence content. Give it time. Actually we’re doing it right now with this blog exchange!

    Charlie Coil, Bentonville, Arkansas

  • Jeremy

    Some of these comments reveal, at least in part, why a lot of millennials aren’t doing traditional church. There is a MASSIVE disconnect between the older generation and the younger ones. It seems the boomers have forgotten that most of THEIR older generations thought they were hopeless heretics too.

    There is a joke that any new thing that happens after you turn 35 is seen as a crime against nature..this is only funny because it’s true. It’s time to realize that the world has changed yet again, and it’s adapt or die time. I have no doubt that God is fully capable of (and will) preserving His Church, but it’d go a lot easier if you old folks (HAH) would stop pontificating about our godlessness because we aren’t doing things your way.

  • http://experts.patheos.com/expert/frederickwschmidt/ Frederick W. Schmidt

    There may be another reason as well and that is the way in which the first half of the boomer generation has failed to lead by letting go…


  • http://wwwi-wonder-as-i-wander.blogspot.com/ linda

    i think charlie, #68 hits the nail on the head when he said:

    1. First of all, it’s pretty clear by now that millennials haven’t been showing up at church to start with. It’s not like they’re leaving in droves.

    i don’t know of any stats out there about the numbers of millennials leaving the institutional church, but there are stats saying they just aren’t showing up to begin with. really, this is what the whole emerging conversation was about in the beginning and there is still much good info from them. just because some folks in the emerging conversation drifted theologically doesn’t mean there isn’t still tons of good work there that is all about reaching the younger generations.

    as for what the millennials, and others, think of christians you can read it in their own words from the unchristian study commissioned by barna.

    According to Kinnaman’s Barna study, here are the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:

    * antihomosexual 91%
    * judgmental 87%
    * hypocritical 85%
    * old-fashioned 78%
    * too political 75%
    * out of touch with reality 72%
    * insensitive to others 70%
    * boring 68%
    (from an amazon review of the book ‘unchristian’)

    no one is saying facebook is a good substitute for the church gatherings, but to ignore the fact that some people, millennials and some older generations, aren’t much interested in “going to church” but prefer to gather in other environments (e.g. 3rd spaces) is really missing the point.

  • http://twitter.com/brandonjbrown brandon

    I work with 500 middle school students. Cell phones and social are not a “fake community” to them. They are always connected, and in many ways teach us about what it means to be a community that loves ‘one another.’ They will stay up all night TXTing back and forth with a friend who is sad, or lonely, or hurt…

    When was the last time I did that for anyone?

  • George McGrath

    Haven’t any of you looked at the new census? Ten years ago, 5% of the population said they had no religious affiliation. Today it is 17%! THAT is a huge change.
    Also, I married a Lutheran and see that the social element of the Church is HUGE. It’s were your friends are. As a Catholic, I’ve never seen that. It’s about worship. I would suggest you read: “How God Changes Your Brain” by neuroscientist Andrew Newberg on how beliefs and practices (ANY beliefs and practices) change the brain. Once you read this, you will see why religion or any spiritual practice is attractive to people and it doesn’t matter where,when, who or where they come from.

  • DA

    For the sake of argument, let us say that when Christ broke bread, blessed it, and said, “This is my body,” He meant what He said. And when He said, “Do this in memory of me,” He meant what He said.

    Therefore, the communion experience has been commanded to be tactile.

    And if the bread and wine truly become Body and Blood (and so much so that Paul warned that people would get sick and even die if they received those gifts improperly)then it is imperative that people continue to gather in the Church, and receive that Reality.

    Technology is only as good as it leads us to Christ. And if technology begins to lead us away from the Lord’s Supper, then it may be time to disconnect, in order to reconnect.

  • http://none sarah

    If people went to church just for social reasons, well then now we see who the real Body of Christ is! Those who love Jesus stay connected to the vine (Jesus and his family not facebook) John 15:5-8. To abide in Christ means to stay connected to other branches because the only separate branches are the ones cut off. As for worship well you do not need a building with a steeple but what you need is a gathering of at least two or 3 who also love Jesus and seek to obey Him. If you don’t worship regularly with the family of Jesus, then you probably aren’t really interested in spending eternity with Jesus and his family either. So far as yet facebook is fine for connecting with friends but I don’t see fb promising eternal life. Read Matt 24, 2 thess 2,2 Tim 3 these are the signs of the times.

  • Brandy M Miller

    I don’t think you’re right. I don’t think they’re leaving the Church because of social media. They’re leaving it because Gen X and the generations before them haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them why they need to be there in the first place. Seems pretty clear to me, no offense, that the person writing this blog doesn’t understand it very well either. I go to Church because that is where Jesus is found. That I find community there is a secondary benefit. I cannot find Jesus nearly as profoundly or clearly on Facebook as I do in Mass. I cannot receive the Eucharist and become a living tabernacle on Facebook. I cannot confess and receive absolution on Facebook.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/stuffchristianculturelikes stephy

    I really don’t think that’s why they’re leaving.