It seems everyone is leaving the church these days, especially the coveted millennial generation.
And quite honestly, I don’t really blame them. I almost left the church myself.
I would have left by the time I reached high school if I’d had that option, but in my house, attendance at my cool, hip, contemporary-worshiping, youth-group-glorifying, theology-eschewing McCongregation was a non-negotiable. So I went. Through every small group fad. Every True Love Waits commitment ceremony. Every rapture-ready dispensationalist Bible study. Every sermon series on how to have a happier marriage, how to control my anger, and why 2 Chronicles 7:14 was obviously about America.
In my mind, no church would have been better than that church.
I still believe that, all these years later.
I almost left in college, too. If it hadn’t been for a wonderfully warm fellowship offering me a generous scholarship for singing in their choir, I’m sure I would have. It had become all too easy to stay in bed. And I didn’t feel like I was missing much, anyway. I didn’t need another youth group experience like you often find in college towns.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know Jesus. In fact, the more I learned about Jesus, the less he seemed to fit in the evangelical culture I grew up in.
If you want to know why Millennials are leaving, there are plenty of Generation X’ers who will answer the question for you in their books, articles, and polls. Honestly, I’ve never found them to be particularly helpful. Statistics never tell the whole story. In fact, the only story they convincingly tell is that, after years of catering to young people, those young people still have no use for the church.
I never really left the church, but I came very, very close. I can’t speak for everyone else, but here’s why this millennial almost didn’t stay.
- I almost left because of the silos. A siloed church is not really a church at all. It’s a Christian-themed para-church ministry. And the atmosphere in those silos becomes stagnant and toxic. We all need each other.
- I almost left because I didn’t believe a growing church was always a healthy church.
- I almost left because the contemporary worship experience wore thin. It doesn’t attract Millennials. It attracts the weak-minded.
- I almost left because the church wasn’t as good at entertaining as it thought it was. If all we’re about is a good performance, we might as well all stay home and watch the Joel Osteen live stream.
- I almost left because the life of the mind simply wasn’t taken seriously. Deep thinking doesn’t attract big numbers. Evangelicals have for so long refused to engage deeply in their faith, most of their pastors are unable to do so anymore.
- I almost left because the moralism was stifling. The evangelical church bows at the altar of good behavior, and wants everyone else to bow there, too. Not only does that pull the teeth from the gospel, its code of conduct is taken from a superficial and biased reading of its sacred text. If the Bible is merely a rulebook, then our faith is a sham.
- I almost left because I was sick of hearing about sex. This is not a joke. The evangelical church is completely preoccupied with sex, mostly with how to keep their teenagers from having it (It’s not working!), and to make sure wives are always available to their husbands (That’s abusive!). It’s weird, and pretty creepy.
- I almost left because I couldn’t believe my depression was because of lacking faith.
- I almost left because lament was sinful. Evangelical Christian culture isn’t comfortable with negative emotion, and questioning God, well, that’s enough to earn you a one-way ticket to a lake o’ fire.
- I almost left because of altar calls. Manipulating people into saying the sinner’s prayer is not evangelism.
- I almost left because I was sick of being targeted by big business-style marketing schemes. When worship becomes a marketing tool, it ceases to be worship. It transforms the work of the people – all the people – into a violent act willfully and maliciously perpetrated against the targeted group. It’s also a striking lack of faith. When we create worship in a generation’s image, we are saying that we don’t believe Jesus is enough. This is true of all generations, but we Millennials have been the most commercially targeted generation in history. We will see your act, and it won’t work.
- I almost left because worship is driven by industry. The worship industry is absolutely killing worship. What we do in liturgy should be a real alternative to anything that is commercially marketable.
- I almost left because they always had the answers. But their answers were always black and white, and the world around us simply isn’t. Church isn’t so much the place to find some big cosmic answer key. It’s a place to learn to ask the right questions, and to grow more comfortable with the inherent mystery and tension present in the world around us.
- I almost left because an inch of Scripture spawned a mile of sermon.
- I almost left because, in trying to make itself relevant to my generation, the church had made itself totally and completely irrelevant. Church, be yourself. Embrace your tradition. Rediscover your identity. Worship in a way that seems foolish to outsiders. Worship like you take Jesus seriously – that what happens at bread and wine is infinitely greater than any topical sermon series or trendy music.
- I almost left because I wasn’t needed. Oh, they needed my butt in their
pewstadium-style seat. But they didn’t need my gifts. They didn’t need my thoughts. They certainly didn’t need my participation in worship. The whole show was going to go on, even if I wasn’t there. So why even show up? The bad entertainment? The formulaic, pseudo-biblical, self-help preaching? The youth group pool parties?
That’s the question so many of us struggle to answer.
How many of you had a similar experience? Did you leave? For good?