Yup August 2, 2013

Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

Despite the title, there’s some happy news here.

Rachel Held Evans writes:

“Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”

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  • Dave G.

    What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”

    What’s that even mean? That’s a statement that can be interpreted in many, many ways.

    • It should have read that “they want substance.” It’s what’s lacking that causes them to leave. They do have consciences, and preaching that doesn’t ring true, painfully true, in their inmost being is recognized for the fodder that it is.

      • Dave G.

        I wonder if they are talking about the Catholic Church, all Churches, or Protestant Churches, or the modern mega-churches?

        • moseynon

          Dave, the author is primarily talking about Evangelical churches, but the challenge (and opportunity) applies to all of Christianity.

          “We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

          You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

          • Dave G.

            To a point. I got that. But I also caught some other things,. Holiness? I’ve sat with fundamentalists, feminist pastors from the UMC and UCC, conservative Evangelicals, nuns proud to have kicked the habit, and all said the same thing: they want holiness. But boy did they bring some baggage in with them when they said it. I saw several things in that little piece that gave me pause. Things I’d like a little more information on before a round of high-fives. Not the least of which is obsessing about identifying by generation. That usually loses a point from me right from the start.

            • moseynon

              Dave, I agree that the author was making sweeping claims about a very large and diverse population. I took the article as one person’s opinion based upon her experiences. Still, I have read similar claims about the younger Evangelicals and what they see as serious neglect of traditional Evangelical values.

              • Dave G.

                Oh, it would be impossible to miss the upheavals in Evangelical Christianity over the last decade or so. And it’s worth thinking about. But several things she said sounded a bit off, and I wouldn’t want to rush out and put a stamp on her opinions.

      • Rebecca Fuentes

        I agree. I also don’t think it’s anything new to the Millennials. Back when I was a youth–those college days–I yearned for the same thing. The Newman’s center at our university was a great disappointment in that regard, but the first priest at my first parish after graduation was amazing. He had such an obvious love for the liturgy, an absolute passion for it, that I’d rarely seen. I couldn’t get through his Easter Vigil Masses without bawling, and he was the best confessor I ever had. His leadership at that time help turn my face to more faithful road.

        I don’t think we outgrow needing and wanting faithful, loving leadership, or finding ourselves put off by lukewarm positions and those who compromise with culture. Adults are just better at ignoring those little voices that tell them things could be better.

    • Sometimes it’s easier to understand what people mean if you return to Latin roots: “change in substance” becomes “transsusbstantiation” – which indeed is what all desire, whether they know it or not.

      (Since she’s evangelical, I doubt she meant the pun. But there’s always hope…!)

  • I’m not sure why, but people everywhere seem rather unaware of the fact that the congregations at mega-churches across the country are in perpetual flux, gaining and losing thousands of congregants every year. They retain a relatively large core, but tons of folks come for a while and then leave. Osteen has no substance, and only delusional people stick with a deluded leader.

    Consider the “revivals” in America and Europe in the early 20th century. Those preachers weren’t preaching a gospel of kindness, and they sure as heck weren’t preaching a prosperity gospel. For all their flaws, they did preach repentance and conversion.

  • Andy

    Let me echo what DAle below said, it what my three kids tell me – that want to see the church practice what it preaches, they want to see substance in what the hierarchy and priests say. They want not just to be challenged they want to be led. Francis I think can have a great impact on reverting many young people who have left the church is search of what he is saying. Now if only the rest of the leaders of the church listen and do.

    • HornOrSilk

      Some want this.

      I also see a lot want anarchy, hate the notion of anyone being in control of them, and they have a sense of entitlement. The substance they want is just affirmation of their own political ideologies. Sad but true. Not all, but I am warning you, for many, politics is religion and that’s the substance they look for. Alas.

      • Andy

        I am not sure that it is the “millennials” – I feel and it is a feeling that is it the generation prior to the “millennials” that have the need to affirm their own political agendas. In this instance they are no different then their elders. I am a professor in a program that prepares folks to work with individuals with sever and profound disabilities. I am basing my comments on these folks and my children. Perhaps it is my limited sample that has caused me to see a positive outcome.
        The issue I think for many millennials is that they feel abandonment – this was the first crop of having the helicopter parents run their lives. This is the first crop of having society make them fell better. Now it is not happening. They are looking for a center.
        I think that what we see presented in the media does not represent the larger segment of this generation. It is far easier to act outrageous and gain the sense of entitlement – see I am important, than to do the hard work that Christ calls us to do.
        Having said that I do recognize that there is a segment of the millennial demographic that is looking for what you describe, I just think it is smaller.

      • Paxton Reis

        “I also see a lot want anarchy, hate the notion of anyone being in control of them, and they have a sense of entitlement.”

        Our society values competition, consumerism, getting ahead, etc., and I see the sense of entitlement being a result. Thus the challenge for the Church is to continue to speak up against the consumerism and materialism around us, which has engulfed so many, and pronounce and live the Good News.

      • Newp Ort

        So convert them.

  • jeff

    what’s that? forms of worship matter and affect whether the next generation will want to bother with church?

    What’s that? trying to be “cool” drives the young away from the faith? (Yes I’m looking at YOU, dancing WYD bishops)

    perhaps, Mr Shea, that you should reconsider your position of being “unable to care less” about such things.

    • Unless you have the ability to read minds, you can’t know if the dancing bishops were “trying to be cool” or if they were simply moved by the music and the spirit around them. So, since you can’t know what they were thinking, why not give them the benefit of the doubt?

      • Newp Ort

        Can’t know if they were trying to be cool, but definitely failing to be cool. Who knows, though. In a person whose usual persona is one of dignity and restraint, a rare bit of dorkiness is usually endearing rather than offputting.

        • Andy

          When I saw it I thought it was the auditions for a new show for EWTN – Dancing with the Bishops.

  • Stu

    Reinforces what we are seeing at my FSSP parish.

    It’s a youth movement.

  • B.E. Ward

    Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that she and most of her readers are bound for the Tiber….

    • Newp Ort

      Neither was Mark at one time. (or more correct to say he was, but who woulda thunk it back then?). Lookit the guy now, he’s on fire!

      • B.E. Ward

        It’s true, and I was mindful of that when I posted. Anything can happen.. I just don’t want people to think that she and most of her sympathetic readers are anywhere close to leaning that way right now. A brief viewing of her other posts, as well as a trip through the comments, will confirm that.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I cannot remember where I read this, but it always comes to mind in seeing news like this. As I remember it:
    A parish priest asked the youth minister, “What will make our young people more sincere and devout in the Faith?”
    The youth minister replied, “Your sainthood.”
    We must lead by example. I’ve found that teenager are very often thoughtless and selfish due to all the hormones raging through their systems, but I’ve also found that they have a VERY sensitive BS meter. When it comes to the adults in their sphere of influence, they can smell insincerity like a shark senses blood in the water. If you aren’t practicing what you preach, they’ll know it and have no respect for it.

  • johnnyc
  • So what your telling me is that liturgical reverence matters?
    *Dons Traditionalist Cap*
    Go on…..

  • kirthigdon

    I’m pretty clear that the baby boomers are the generation (cohort) born between 1945 and 1965. Since then we’ve apparently had three more “generations” – X, Y, and the Millenials. And the last of these, the Millenials, are already old enough to be changing churches. Can anyone tell me the time range for the births of each of these post-baby boom demographic cohorts? Just so we know whom we’re discussing. The author of the article says she has one foot in Generation X and one in the Millenial camp, so I guess she straddles Y.
    Kirt Higdon

  • Lee Johnson

    Last time I checked 🙂 churches grow when they preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Bible, it says that believing in Him comes from hearing the gospel preached, and that no one can believe unless God draws him.

    Thus, if you want to grow your church, boldly preach the Gospel of Christ and let God take care of the rest.

  • Alias Clio

    It is all very well for church-leavers to talk of wanting to see the various churches practise what they preach, but do they not understand that, beyond a certain basic level, *none* of us does that? Even the saints are marred by original sin. Only Mary, of all mankind, was not.

    One suggestion that I don’t see here, but that would be worth considering, is the creation of new “religions,” (that’s the French term); that is, new Catholic religious orders, with a vocation to deal directly with the particular fears and concerns of post-modern men and women. Traditionally, it was new orders that galvanized the faithful in the Church, during times when faith was lukewarm and the Church as a whole mired in corruption. The Discalced Carmelites, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Dominicans – all were founded under such conditions.