The thriving genre of How Your Church Can Reach Millennials articles continues with no sign of slowing. This has been going on for several years now and some pastors and denominational officials have gotten so exhausted from panicking over Losing Millennials that they’ve already started moving on to panicking over Losing Generation Z. But the flood of these Millennial-outreach articles isn’t going to subside any time soon because the fear driving them — and the facts supporting that fear — remain an urgent concern for many churches.
Nina Burleigh summarizes this in her recent Newsweek article on “Trump and White Evangelicals: Support for President Grows, But Millennials Leave Movement“:
Evangelicals’ fervent support of Trump is not universally shared by a crucial, and rapidly evaporating, subset of the white evangelicals — their children — who are leaving the faith in droves over its anti-LGBT and anti-science positions.
Only 35 percent of white evangelicals are under the age of 50, compared with 54 percent of the population, according to the PRRI. And they are bleeding youth: Only 8 percent of white evangelicals are under the age of 30, compared with 21 percent of the American population.
The droves are, yet again, on the move. Droves are always, apparently, the preferred mode of departure for younger generations leaving their religious upbringing. This is what all the How Your Church Can Reach Millennials articles and all the Terrifying Rise Of The Nones articles tell us. (Just as it was the near-constant term in all of the nearly identical How Your Church Can Reach Gen-Xers articles in the ’90s.)
I’m not just chuckling at the overuse of a cliché here. I think it’s revealing in ways that might be fruitfully explored. “Droves” refers to herds on the move — a mass of cattle or sheep being driven along. If younger people really are “leaving the faith in droves” then they’re not merely choosing to leave, they’re being driven out.
So who’s doing the driving? And can you be sure it’s not you?
Those might be more urgent questiosn than How Can My Church Reach Millennials? (And I suspect Burleigh is right about the answers.)
The biggest problem, I think, with all those HYCCRM advice columns is that they don’t quite admit what they’re really about. Most of them aren’t about “reaching” Millennials but about keeping Millennials. Or, more bluntly, about keeping control of Millennials. Concern about the “Rise of the Nones” isn’t usually focused on what it means for those “droves” of younger people, but on what it means for the congregations and institutions they’re leaving behind.
I think that’s being noticed. I think it’s one of the drivers of the droves.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to stop reading How Your Church Can Reach Millennials articles and to turn, instead, to younger people themselves and give a listen to what they’re saying. Social media is filled with #exvangelicals who aren’t reluctant to speak candidly about what they left behind or why they left it. Check out those voices, and the people and stories behind those voices. And try to just listen without doing the clingy, whiny, What-about-Breakfast-at-Tiffany’s ex-boyfriend thing where you can’t resist the urge to inject your own protestations while searching for some desperate ploy to get them back.
Instead of reading the next crop of HYCCRM articles, let me also recommend some concert tickets. Here are the tour dates for upcoming shows by Julien Baker and for Lucy Dacus. Both of these immensely talented young artists were raised in the church and both are part of the droves being driven out, whether they like it or not. Their music has a thing or two to say about all that.