It’s Our Fault Millennials Are Leaving the Church

It’s Our Fault Millennials Are Leaving the Church August 3, 2013
why don't you love me cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
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I know this cartoon will be a trigger for some of you, and I apologize that I couldn’t warn you before you saw it if it was.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a post, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church”. More people are weighing in. So I drew this cartoon in response to David French‘s post, “Why Are Millennials Leaving the Church? The Narcissism Factor”.

French’s concern for the church is apparent. His willingness to accept responsibility for the mess is admirable. Also, to examine other research’s findings is helpful.

But, this cartoon communicates my essential concern with French’s perspective on Millennials. He rightly admits we failed them. But his post communicates that it’s still their fault. He admits culpability but blames the victim. It’s like telling an abused woman that she shouldn’t leave her husband because divorce is a sin. That’s just not helpful.

In my post responding to Evans’, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church Really”, I said that Millennials just don’t care. The research done on Millennials and their opinions about the church lacks clout. Here’s why: just because a Millennial can criticize the church doesn’t mean she cares about it or feels that if there were improvements she would suddenly take interest in it.

French admits that we’ve created the problem. He admits that the church is “reaping what we’ve sown.” What Millennials believe “didn’t just fall from the sky into the heads of this new generation.” We did this! I think it is irreparable. I suggest that the church as we know it is, as I’ve said before, dying:

“You can change the style. You might keep some. You can change the substance. You might keep more. The substantial change people are talking about, in my opinion, is not substantial enough. Again, the substantial changes suggested are, in their own way, a more radical form of tweaking. I suspect a much deeper change is coming because the church is becoming not only less and less relevant, but less and less necessary. The suggested substantial changes can now be achieved without the aide or even presence of the church. This is the church’s problem that it doesn’t seem willing or able to admit. The church is gaping down the throat of its own death and can’t face it.”

I wonder if French intuitively knows this, so in a last ditch effort to rescue the church by bringing back those who have left it, he can only resort to another mistake in speaking to Millennials… appealing to religious expectations by sermonizing on what they should do:

“Why are Millennials leaving the church?  It’s not because they’re just so darn good, tolerant, and virtuous.  In fact, it’s because they’re sinful and lost — perhaps a bit more narcissistic than the generation before, the generation that failed them.  It’s not a virtue to abandon church.

“How do they come back?  The same way we all must return, through repentance and humility.  Stop waiting for church to be good enough for you.  Embrace the church because Christ has embraced it, as His bride — a bride that is often faithless but never abandoned.”

“Don’t play “hard to get.”  Set no preconditions.  Don’t demand that anyone win you over.  Humble yourself, pray, and come home.”

No, it’s not a virtue to abandon the church, but I claim it’s not a virtue to stay either. It is virtue-less. Rather, I believe it is a bold expression of self-care, something we didn’t have the guts to do. The 99% are voting, and they’re voting with their feet. Basically, the way I read French’s post, this is what he’s saying:

  1. We created the problem.
  2. The way Millennials believe and behave is the result.
  3. But they are breaking the rules so it’s still their fault.
  4. They are the sinners who need to repent and return to the church.

This kind of language makes absolutely no sense and therefore has no strength of appeal… not to me and not to my Millennial children. They just don’t care! But to me this is not a hopeless case. In fact, it is totally symptomatic of the stages of death and dying. I suggest French’s argument is hovering around denial, bargaining and anger.

I do believe that the best place to arrive at is an appreciation for the Millennials. We will see what is beautiful, admirable, wise and strong about them. We will not see, as French does, how they are worse than we are, but better! They are going about it totally differently than we did. Even though he calls out Millennials’ BS, I personally think their BS is far less harmful than ours. Even though French mentions Lady Gaga and her little monsters disparagingly, I believe it’s actually grassroots movements for equality and justice like hers that could possibly change the world and make it a better place.

French, like most people of our generation, still place unreasonable hope in the system, the organization, the institution, the authority, the structures, the paradigm, the theology and the values of what worked before. And this is the major difference with Millennials: they simply bypass all of that without a second thought to get what they want and to get the job done.

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  • Amy Mitchell

    I find it really funny that French calls Millenials “more narcissistic” than the previous generation. I think that’s been an accusation since civilization began. My generation was called the most self-centered, and my mother’s generation before that had the same problem. Personally, I don’t see it. Do I know some obnoxious and self-absorbed Millenials? Sure. But I know some obnoxious and self-centered people of all ages. I also know some pretty amazing people of all ages. That’s a human-thing, not a generation-thing.

  • Shary Hauber

    Thank you for this post.

  • Totally agree.

  • Phyllis Mathis

    i totally agree, david.

  • Caryn LeMur

    In my opinion:
    To me, the Boomer generation was split – those that needed a ‘new’ anchor in a changing world, and those that needed to reason before accepting an anchor in a changing world. We needed; they provided.
    The Gen-X went a step further, and needed not ‘to reason’, but ‘a reason’… and they entered into negotiation with the church. ‘What do I bring you, and what will you do with it? What do you bring me, and how will it affect me?’ We both needed; and a negotiation was born – and the church walked away from the negotiation table, and demanded absolute surrender.

    The Millennial Generation is not even willing nor wanting to negotiate with the classic church. They start with ‘What do you bring me, and how will it affect me for the better?’ It is not narcissism; it is self-preservation. They may consider ‘discussion’, but the church must stay away from the negotiation table and the ‘safe harbor’ filled with anchor-proposals… the Millennials are not even willing to walk from the discussion arena to the negotiation table… and the harbor of anchors is far away in their distant vision. They long for dialog, to be heard with respect, to be allowed to explore, to reason, to be given multiple motivations for joining (beyond an appeal to authority), commitment is to their own self and family first, and… if they commit… they will/must be part of the decision-making body.
    A new church is forming on the Internet. For example, TLS is experimenting with dialog and ‘hearing with respect’, and then allowing further exploration. Quite a start; quite a radical departure.
    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • You’re welcome Shary.

  • me too 😉

  • I like how you said that Caryn. Thanks.

  • Aviatrix

    David, I think your analogy to the abused spouse doesn’t go far enough. It seems to me that what French says is not so much like, “you need to stay because divorce is a sin” as it is like, “there’s no excuse for his abuse, but leaving him is both a sin and evidence of your selfishness – and if you’d just do what he says, when he says, how he says, he wouldn’t be pissed off at your provocation.” Classic victim-blaming. Anytime an explanation contains a “but”, like this one, everything before the “but” is negated – yeah, they behaved badly BUT it’s really all your fault.

  • I agree Aviatrix. Totally. Right on! I hoped my cartoon together with my post would have communicated that. But you said it best. Thanks!

  • Aviatrix

    And the title of the post would be “It’s our fault Millennials are leaving the church (well, not really – it’s actually their fault, but we’ll say it’s not and see if any come back)”. But that’s just too long…

  • haha exactly. you know the drill 🙂

  • mteston1

    David, I think you nail this very early in the blog. “The research done on Millennials and their opinions about the church lacks clout. Here’s why: just because a Millennial can criticize the church doesn’t mean she cares about it or feels that if there were improvements she would suddenly take interest in it.” Don’t care and uninterested pretty much nails it. I caught that you have some children that fit the Millennial category. I do as well and it appears that my kids are almost as uninterested as maybe yours. I spent almost 30 years pastoring and left because of some of the most harmful behavior by leaders and an institution that would not acknowledge such behavior, behavior that has gone on for decades. Given that and the massive duplicity among “pew sitters” and the blatant blindness to the very practices of following the “ways” of Jesus, well it was time to no longer take a check to continue the cover up. It has been a bit frustrating to have given so much of my life to an institution that IMHO lives so fraudulently.

  • Pat68

    “No, it’s not a virtue to abandon the church, but I claim it’s not a virtue to stay either. It is virtue-less. Rather, I believe it is a bold expression of self-care, something we didn’t have the guts to do.”

    And so it goes, from one generation to the next. My mother’s generation (the Silent or WWII generation) tend to live by that motto of sticking it out no matter what. My generation of Boomers or borderline Boomers (I was born in ’64) have had a kind of awakening and are not adhering to that as much. And the Millenials, being two generations removed, know very little about sticking it out if it’s not working, particularly if one is being hurt. In some ways, it’s healthy. Whereas older generations would stay in unhealthy situations, younger and even younger generations are saying, “No more!” It does not make sense to us to stay where we are neither wanted or being actively hurt. Emotional and mental health are being chosen over loyalty to an institution or idea.

  • wow mteston1… our stories sound remarkably similar. Thanks for your comment. Agreed.

  • Jeannine Engle Buntrock

    As the child of a lifelong pastor, I have seen all of this too, mteston1.

    David, this entire series of posts has resonated with me completely. I really liked your Z-Theory too.

  • why thanks jeannine!!! kind of you 🙂

  • 2TrakMind

    Clearly, French mistakenly believes that: 1. The church (institution) is the Bride of Christ. 2. The church (institution) has authority and that millennials should submit to that authority by humbling themselves, and repenting for their sinful behavior. 3. People who leave the church are essentially behaving like spoiled brats and are, essentially, trying to hold the church (institution) hostage until it meets their demands. Meanwhile, those who have left are just living in the freedom they’ve been given in Christ, and are blissfully unaware that people like French are all up in arms over their absence in the first place.

  • Bianca Ndm

    As gen-xer myself I find the Boomers response the millennials all the more puzzling. I can’t help but wonder: how did they NOT see this coming? The genexers did everything but rent a marching band to tell them that the tide was turning. I was raised as an episcopal and a Buddhist due to my parents respective faiths and for a long time practiced both. When I was in my 20’s I got into an argument with a priest over some of the things I didn’t and did believe, he told me my approach to faith was sacrilegious and demanded I make a choice so that I could save my soul and go to heaven. This my way or the highway approach went against everything that I as a gen-xer hold sacred. We are the generation of loners, who enjoys doing our own thing and for the most part have never minded the concept of existential and spiritual isolation. After the argument I went to my Buddhist teacher and asked his opinion his response was: “Why do you need me to tell you the answer? Any answer I give will be wrong. Only you know what is right for you.” I went back to the priest and said point blank: “You are the problem, not me.” and walked away. I have never for one second regretted it. God, dogma, faith, none of these things really matter. Its the seeking, the trying to be better in your own way, those are things that matter. Give me a generation of questioning hearts and I’ll rest easy knowing the world will be stronger for it.

  • That is an amazing story Bianca! It sounds like you had an advantage being raised to think for yourself and act accordingly. A lot of us have to get there first. Right on!

  • As an out-of-church-christian for more than 5 years now (born 1960 – German) the greatest mistake church always repeated was, to interpret “repenting” and “coming back” with coming into their rooms and programs. Their theology might say correctly, but that never has been practised.

    How to…. church and not how to …. God.

    They did the same with baptism. Christ never baptised “into” the church, but they use this phrase all the time to make sure to stay in control. And let themselves being used as an control-instrument by third-party-whoever-conservatives.

    No need for a “church” since Rome took over. The answer always was Jerusalem and it still is. Mission is not needed as well. God’s goodness will do. Stop trying on waiting for a new Rome from above. Read the manual, stay at home on Sundays and see what happens. God is able. Have a walk with the creator in the garden of life. See the carpenter choosing some wood for preparing a nice chamber for you and watch the dove flying in real. You can share your experiences and people can like it or follow for a while. And if they want, and why not, they make their own date with God.

    God is able. Are we?

  • mteston1

    I read your notes on your bio. It is uncanny how our stories are remarkably similar even to the year of birth 1957. lol

  • mteston1

    And its ugly and I’m still trying to figure my way out of my own way after the nonsense Jeannine

  • klhayes

    So caring about others who are typically discriminated against by the church and caring for the environment are qualities that are seen as narcissistic?

  • klhayes

    Especially since one of complaints he has against Millenials is their concern is for those marginalized by the church and the environment….that requires empathy and looking outward.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    A while ago i started to understand that what is going on with the church can best be understood through the model of Jesus. He worked outside the existing religious structures and went straight to the people. He didn’t wait for permission, endorsement or approval from religious leaders. He worked out of devotion to God rather than to the religious structures devoted to God.

    I think we are in a time like the time of Jesus. The existing religious structures aren’t bad per se, but they have done their job of getting us from where we were to a point of being ready to move past where we are. It’s a time to do like Jesus did and take our religion to it’s logical, radical conclusions. And in the process, I think the existing church will be upended and transformed in ways no less profound and transformative than what happened to the Jewish faith 2000 years ago.

  • I agree. I don’t think shaming the Millennials back into the pews is going to work. That is not how they roll. And once the shaming stops working, the gig is pretty much up.

  • I think I agree.

  • Starfielder

    Love this, “No, it’s not a virtue to abandon the church, but I claim it’s not a virtue to stay either. It is virtue-less. Rather, I believe it is a bold expression of self-care, something we didn’t have the guts to do. The 99% are voting, and they’re voting with their feet. ”

    and the finish of this,
    “French, like most people of our generation, still place unreasonable hope in the system, the organization, the institution, the authority, the structures, the paradigm, the theology and the values of what worked before. And this is the major difference with Millennials: they simply bypass all of that without a second thought to get what they want and to get the job done.”

    Thanks nakedpastor for breaking it down. Well done.

  • Caryn LeMur

    Hang with me for a small moment, David. This insight came to me recently, and I call it ‘The Three Villages’. It has helped me very much to understanding the paradigms being used by each group…. and why they have such difficulty in communicating with each other.

    Imagine three villages: the first is next to the harbor – it is a shipping village. It understands – lives and breathes – becoming subordinate, being a crew, the mission having supremacy (or the ship will sink), self-sacrifice, storms calling for anchors and safe harbors, and the need for commitment.

    The next village is few miles away. It is a merchant/trading village. They live and breathe negotiation, they have a sense of property/boundaries, their family unit comes first, storms call for good walls and trade-offs, and the need for dialog that leads to a trade of ‘my time’ for ‘ultimately my benefit’.

    The third village is a few miles away, and very much on the top of the hill overlooking the harbor(s) and the trading village(s). This is a philosopher village. They live and breathe dialog and mutual respect toward other ideas, they come first (not in an evil way… they simply watch out for their own authentic self first), storms call for individualism and thoughtfulness, and they have a need for dialog that may lead to no action-right-now (the sense of urgency is much less here on the hilltop).

    And so, a sea captain travels all the way to the third village, and states, “I got you an anchor here. You will really need it for the next storm. I tried me hardest to get them people in the trading village to take it – but they kept asking ‘why? what’s in it for me?’ Selfish bastards, the whole lot of them. They don’t even understand the word ‘sacrifice’….”

    And then, the sea captain continues, “So, now I have gone incredibly out of my way to evangelize you all in this here hilltop. You need an anchor! You really do! In fact, if you’ll just realize how ugly this hilltop view really is, and how selfish you really are by not living in the harbor, I may allow you to join me and my crew. All you have to do is submit to me, work your way up the ranks, and sail the seas for Jesus…. why are laughing? … I am serious… repent! return to the harbor! Well, your blood is not on me hands….”

    There are people of all ages in the harbor, or in the trading village, or in the hilltop. In my mind, one of our sons is primarily GenX and in the trading village. He left a church organization after several years of working to be accepted by them… and was shocked that the organization would not even negotiate with him, but told him to repent. Another of our sons lives in the hilltop with many Millennials . I can discuss his Eastern philosophy with him, and gently flow into other discussions with him… but he is not there to ‘join my ship’ nor to ‘even make a trade’…. .

    When I read of the life of Christ, I read how often Jesus offered (or went into) someone’s home. He traveled into their world. He spoke their language. He met them. He was not selling anchors. He gave love.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • very nice analogies

  • Al Cruise

    The Church is changing and people like French and his ilk will be left behind. At one time a principal part of the labour force consisted of slavery, but many saw it was wrong and moved on. A heavy price was paid by them. History has proven them right. At that time there were many “French’s” defending the practice of slavery with scripture. French doesn’t really care about the Church, he cares about protecting the myth that has been smothering it.

  • wanderer

    Yes, it strikes me that this is him saying “okay, you silly kids got your apology, now come sit down and be submissive and say you’re sorry too and that you won’t ever challenge my authority again…”

  • wanderer

    I think it’s a good description to say French’s arguments are in the midst of the anger, denial and bargaining phases. Hopefully he’ll get to acceptance before he blames too many more victims publicly.

  • Robert John Millar

    Caryn, May I share this with the people who read my Blog. it is one of the better explanations for why much of methodology can’t work due to cultural disconnect between people. I’m an Irishman living in America speaking whatever language and using the cultural values of my audience (College students) Thanks for this!

  • Caryn LeMur

    Jeff and Robert: thank you for the kind words. Please post anywhere you wish, as He said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” And Robert, you are right – it is three different village cultures.
    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • mirele

    I recall back when I was growing up, we late Boomers were called the “Me Generation.” So the accusations of narcissism have been around for decades.

  • Jeannine Engle Buntrock

    I’m so sorry. I feel your pain – truly.

  • Juvor

    I stumbled upon this blog by accident and mostly agree with your points David. I’m a millennial myself who left the church 7 years ago at the age of 22. I grew up Lutheran and when I was younger I enjoyed going to church with its pretty architecture, beautiful music and friendly people. Around age 14 or 15, the whole thing started to become less relevant and when I went to church for the last time in 2006, it already felt so alien to me that I truly didn’t care about it.

    Whenever I think back about the church, as I frequently do,
    I think that it should emphasize its strength as a community builder. Where
    else can you meet with most of your neighbors at the same time, but in a
    church? Unfortunately, the church has started to slip from this very important

    What started to drive the wedge between me and the church was the overemphasis on sexuality, around questions such as, who sleeps with who, who can marry who, what kind of families are good vs. bad, divorce, abortion etc. These things are problematic to focus on, since they are deeply personal, yet on a societal level they make very little difference – meaning that they can alienate someone very quick, yet, even their perfect application (lifelong marriages between men and women only) would not cure our social ills – what about wars, starvation, national debt, environmental decay, cheating banks, resource depletion, peak oil etc. etc? In the end I realized that I had stopped believing in Jesus. He’s probably just a myth. I guess I can still somewhat imagine the existence of god, but even that seems farfetched these days.

    After reading more about my (prior) faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that for the so called Old Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Calvinist, and Lutheran) the central part of their existence is really tradition and not doctrine. I still love and appreciate the ceremonies of baptism, marriage, confirmation and funerals to mention a few, as well as like some of the structure of the average mass. However, what I don’t like is the context. Instead of talking about Jesus and god, why not try removing them and just talk about being good and why that is important for everybody. Instead of psalms, why not sing popular songs together, like Bohemian Rhapsody, which most people know and like? Similarly, why focus on funding missionaries? Why not simply split the funds 50/50, where half goes to a worthy cause outside the community, like fighting malaria, and the other half goes to building something for the community that everyone can enjoy, such as a playground for kids? And heck, it would be even better not to make the playground only for the church members, but instead everybody in town, to show that together we can accomplish great things. I know this all may sound radical, but this is something that is being tried now around London by the Church of England, who is in pretty deep despair. They have noticed that when you remove god and traditional Christian mythology from some forms of service, the people are actually coming back!

    Unfortunately for most churches, making these kinds of changes probably comes too late, because at this point virtually everyone under 40 (especially every male) has left the church for good. This is sad, because once these churches are gone, we don’t have many places left to go to, to get to know our neighbors and build our communities together.

  • It is funny that each generation tends to disparage the younger generations but never-the-less attitudes towards social justice tends to increase generation by generation.

  • Very well said.

    I think churches have known from day one that if they can control sexual behavior, they can ussually get the rest of the person as well. To maintain their relevance, many churches are trying to double-down and reinforce their sexual restrictions. It is encouraging that the younger generations are more able to live outside this religious system. I’m sure they will find ways meet their needs for community.

  • Ron Cram

    If Millennials are criticizing the church for upholding Biblical standards, that’s not going to change… or shouldn’t. On the other hand, if the criticism is valid then the church should listen and make changes. We do not want to put barriers in front of the gospel.

    Rachel writes “We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.” Is this a valid criticism? Or is this criticism for upholding Biblical values?

    Making people feel welcome without any need to change is not what Jesus was about. Jesus would say “Go and sin no more” while Rachel would say “I will help you fight for gay marriage in the church.” These are not the same things.

    Rachel Held Evans seems to be dealing with intellectual doubts about the Bible. If she really believed the Bible is truth, then she would not put her own judgment about gay marriage above the Bible’s judgment.

    Rachel’s “analysis” of why Millennials are leaving the church is very shallow. It appears Rachel may have read the book “You Lost Me” by David Kinnaman (a good book) but the book is far more insightful than Rachel’s musings.

    Kinnaman is the head of Barna Research Group. His book is based on actual
    research. However, his conclusions understate the role of intellectual doubt among Millennials because the questions focused on attitudes the Millennials held toward the Church. The research would have been more helpful if it probed the intellectual doubts Millennials have about the existence of God and whether science and Christianity are compatible.

    Millennials are dropping out of the Church mainly because of the university experience. In a Pew Forum poll published in 2009 and revised in 2011, 44% of respondents say they do not hold to the faith of their parents. Most of those changed their faith before age 24, during the university years.

    In the same 2009 poll, when those who had become unaffiliated were asked if science had proven religion to be superstition, 32% of former Catholics and 32% of former Protestants said yes. Why is this happening? Two reasons.

    1. Atheist professors are very comfortable supporting their worldview while Christian professors are not. Christian professors at state universities are afraid if they are too outspoken can be sued for “establishment of religion.” Or, they are afraid their colleagues will block their advance to tenure. As a result, students get a biased view of the scientific evidence for the existence of God. Physics and astronomy strongly support the existence of God, but students are not given the theological implications of the facts they learn.

    2. The rise of militant “new atheists.” Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens all wrote NY Times bestsellers in the last 10 years which encourage readers to publicly mock Christians for their superstitious beliefs. Hitchens book, God is Not Great, also blames religion for all the evil in the world – wars, racism, bias, intolerance, divisiveness, etc.

    The result is the Church has two problems: 1, Christianity is seen as not intellectually viable and 2. Christianity is seen a immoral. If Christianity is not objectively true, then it loses its moral authority.

    In October 2012, Pew Forum published a report titled “Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation. As the title suggests, unchurched Americans are growing at a surprising rate. In 2007, the unaffiliated were just 15.3% of the population. By 2012, the unaffiliated had grown to 19.6%. This growth took place almost exclusively among those under age 30. In 2007, 25% of Americans under 30 were unaffiliated with any church. By 2012, 32% of Americans under 30 are unaffiliated. If the growth of the unaffiliated continues at the same rate, by 2017 41% of Americans under 30 will be unchurched.

    While we cannot compromise on Gospel truth, it is necessary for us to understand the kinds of intellectual and cultural influences Millennials are experiencing. Currently, 60% of youth group kids walk away from the faith during their four years of college. We need to do a better job of understanding why this is happening and help strengthen their faith.

    My church has an “Apologetics Weekend” with a number of speakers talking about evidence for the existence of God and why we know the Scriptures are reliable. We also have an apologetics ministry that holds meetings once a month on the same topics. These meetings are attended mostly by Millennials who are college graduates still struggling with intellectual doubts from college days.

    While these efforts are good, they are not enough. Churches need to do a better job preparing high school students for the college experience. High schoolers need to know that science and Christianity are compatible. Science has done an incredible job in explaining our natural world, advancing technology and curing physical diseases. A faith that is in conflict with science is not an intellectually viable faith.

    Physics and the standard cosmology are strongly supportive of the concept of a Creator God. But college students are not told the theological implications of the facts they are learning. We cannot expect non-Christian university professors to explain these implications. Churches and campus ministries like Cru, InterVarsity, Navigators and Ratio Christi need to explain the theological implications of the science.

    The conversion story of Dr. Allan Sandage is very interesting. He is the only man I know of who started his spiritual journey because of a scientific discovery he made. His discovery convinced him that God existed, but he didn’t know which God. This began a two year long spiritual quest to find the truth and he became a follower of Jesus. Stories like this can go a long way in persuading university students the Christian faith is intellectually viable and compatible with science.

    When Millennials understand that Christianity is firmly established as “Truth”
    confirmed by “Science,” then Christianity is seen as having moral authority and
    the judgment of Christ on issues such as gay marriage will hold more power.

  • NotLostJustWandering

    Great series of posts, David. I very much agree.

    A few things that came to mind: The cultural decoupling of morality and ethics from religion is not a genie that can be put back in the bottle. I say this as someone who has gone from Presbyterian to pagan. I talk to Deity, and he (and she) talk back. Why is that any less sacred and “right” than someone to whom the Christian God speaks through church or the Bible, which have a lot more imperfect human hands in their creation and doctrine? If we go to church to look for God, why bother dealing with all the people-based drawbacks of a church (internal politics, cliques, tut-tutting, and perhaps people who you have nothing in common with, etc.) if God talks with you directly, as we all know he/she can? I have morality. I have ethics. I have a deep, personal connection with God. And I haven’t been to church for anything but family holidays for about 15 years. So…what does church offer me, exactly? I’m doing fine, helping others, aware of my faults and my responsibilities as a human being, and God tells me that’s good enough.

  • Michael Edwards

    As a pastor, David, what is your response? If this is the end of the Church as we know it, what is the next step for Christians as a movement?

  • Christianity as a unified movement is over.

  • It would be interesting to see (perhaps in a blog post) whether it would be possible to craft a definition of Christianity (in 240 characters or less) that all people who self-identifies as Christian would agree with. I would think that would be a challenge unless the definition avoids any docternal particulars. Perhaps a meta theory of Christianity. Z theory?

  • Michael Edwards

    Yet meanwhile, 10% of Chinese are in house churches; the US has had large numbers of Christian immigrants pouring in from South America andI Africa; and (unfortunately in my eyes) churches in the developing world aren’t exactly gay-friendly and seem to be more fundamentalist. I’m trying to wrap my brain around this. Will we become a bunch of sects and house groups? Will we polarize into fundies versus those of us who respect other spiritualities? I’m a pastor myself and am jarred by a demand for chaplains in hospitals, hospice and for funerals, but a disinterest in actually being involved in congregations. The world has shifted under my feet.

  • Thanks Jeff. Actually, the z-theory hopes to accomplish that, but even more to include everyone. It is very ambitious.

  • Joshua Gibbs

    “Emotional and mental health are being chosen over loyalty to an institution or idea.”

    Which is good if that institution is just some man-made tradition, but extremely bad if it was established by God. Modern “church” is really a mixture of the two. Just read Already Gone by Ken Ham or Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. We millennials are spiritually unstable in part because our spiritual foundation is unstable.

  • Steve Flower

    Caryn, I’d like to share this as a note, attributed to you, to share with my church congregation and a bunch of my seminary sisters and brothers who are now Lutheran pastors. I love the images you use, and I would really, really love to see what happens when more folks see this. If you have this in a blog, I’d gladly link there. Such goodness.