5 Reasons Millennials Aren’t Leaving the Church. We’ve all heard the statistics about millennials leaving the church after high school or college and we don’t know if they’ll return. But…not all millennials have left the church…and in many churches, millennials are coming, or returning in significant numbers. Here are five reasons millennials aren’t leaving the Church.
We’ve all heard the statistics about millennials leaving the church. We know that many millennials have left after high school or college, and we don’t know if they’ll return. We know they tend to view the Church as judgmental, too political, too fixated on sex, and generally out of touch with modern science and culture.
Dwelling on trends can leave a pastor disheartened, because they are more than statistics. Each number has a name, and a face, some of whom we know personally. As someone with a burden for college students, my head and heart are frequently weighed down with the stories of those who have walked away.
But these aren’t the only stories. Not all millennials have left the church. Many have stayed. And in many churches, millennials are coming, or returning, in significant numbers. Here are five reasons millennials aren’t leaving the Church (and a bit about the kinds of churches they aren’t leaving).
1) They Want More of Jesus Christ
Millennials love Jesus. They love the humility of the incarnation. They love the wisdom of his teaching. They love his patience with knuckleheads like Peter. They love his self-sacrifice at the Cross. They love the hope of the resurrection. They resonate with the love he offers to outcasts like the woman at the well and Zacchaeus. They love that he was unsullied by political factions, and offered a redemptive alternative for engaging with the powers-that-be. They love Jesus, and want more of him, in all his unadulterated, unvarnished glory. Don’t give them a sappy, diluted Jesus. Give them Jesus and all his difficult sayings. Give them Jesus in all the nuance and complexity of his God-man identity. Sure, some will say that they can meet with Jesus outside of “organized religion,” but many are realizing that churches who passionately proclaim and celebrate Jesus offer ways of knowing Him that no individual can equal on their own. Is Jesus the center piece of your church’s life? Is he part of every sermon? The focus of your mission? The delight of your worship? Focus on Christ, and the millennials will thank you.
2) They Want to Read the Whole Bible
This is a generation raised on cherry-picking. Starting in kids programs, they heard a relatively small canon of Bible stories, if they heard Bible stories at all. That didn’t change when they graduated to grown-up church. They’ve heard us gravitate to pet texts and our favorite inspirational anecdotes. They’ve noticed how we avoid difficult, complex passages and even entire books. Odds are they’ve never heard a sermon series on a minor prophet. Or a cogent explanation on why we eat shrimp and bacon and wear mixed-fiber clothing. Or how we should read the Old Testament in light of Christ. Most of the Bible remains closed to our hearers, because we haven’t opened it to them. They are hungry for it! Stop picking cherries and give them some red meat! Don’t spare the difficult passages. Explain the slaughter of the Amalekites. Demonstrate the importance of the Levitical code in history. Talk about the reality of Hell. These conversations are happening in classrooms and coffee shops, dorm rooms and bars, but the biblical perspective is often missing. Preach and teach the whole Bible, so that people get their whole Bibles back. Millennials are hungry for the full foundation of their faith. Give it back to them, and they will thank you.
3) They Long for Intergenerational Community
The congregation I lead is across the street from a large university campus. We are 60% college student and about 80% 13-29. Which means we have trouble paying for some things. It also means that some would call us a “student service.” Except that we’re not. We’ve resisted that, because doing so would kill us. Not just financially, either. It would also deprive us of the wisdom and experience of older generations. We value the vibrant, intergenerational community that we have, and welcome young families, younger and older singles, older families, and empty-nesters in to our fellowship. We look for ways to get these generations serving and doing life together. While we do have some ministries that focus on life stage, the boundaries are soft, and involve other generations as mentors and leaders. We’re not interested in segregating one cohort off from the other parts of the Body of Christ. Why would we do that? Millennials are the most aborted, abandoned, and neglected generation in history. They are looking for spiritual mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, mentors and role models, leaders and shepherds. Help connect millennials to people other than millennials, and they will thank you for it!
4) They Are Looking for Places to Serve
Millennials are an active generation. While they are commonly seen as bored, lazy, and distracted by social media and video games, the reality is that they are a very busy and active generation. From a young age, they have been schooled in the values of community service. They are adept at working in teams, and they are looking for places to belong. Churches which actively and strategically cultivate ways for millennials to serve will find more millennials sticking around. In the workplace, millennials are often regarded with suspicion and even disdain by their older counterparts. In the church, we should do the opposite. We ought to be welcoming, accepting, and helping them grow into the calling God has for them. Instead of sending the message that they can sit on the bench until they “grow up,” find ways to involve them. Give millennials places to serve here and now, and they will thank you for it!
5) They Are Desperate for a Purpose Greater Than Themselves
Millennials are more aware of the needs facing the world than any generation in history. Whether it’s poverty, orphan care, clean water, human trafficking, anti-malaria mosquito nets, Third World debt relief, disease-preventing footware, or one of the hosts of other causes in our world, millennials know what’s wrong with the world. And they want to fix it. Sure, there’s some naiveté in their ideas. Sure, much of what they come up with has already been tried. But their enthusiasm and energy far outweighs the drawbacks. Churches which seem to only care about themselves, and aren’t doing something about the larger world, won’t speak to the hearts of millennials. But Great Commission, Kingdom-minded churches will have heart-stirring stories to tell, and shouldn’t have a hard time connecting with cause-minded millennials. After all, the Kingdom of God is the greatest “cause” in history!
This list isn’t a fool-proof formula, by any means. None of these can be faked. Neither are they only good ideas for millennials—they are good for any generation! If we understand what millennials love and long for, and whole-heartedly put these values into practice, we will more effectively connect them to our churches.
photo is from Hillsong Young ↦ Free’s Instagram.