To be honest, I’m a little annoyed by all these alarmist-sounding “Why are millennials leaving the church in droves?!” kinds of articles. Okay, not all of them are quite so alarmist. More like…concerned.
There are sources that want to understand, like this one here, and Christian groups that just want a new demographic to make a strawman out of, like this one. And then there are personal blog-style posts that I kinda-sorta, almost-but-not-quite relate to, like this one, which hits many of my own concerns, and yet strays a little further from the points I wish it would make.
The problem is generalizing a demographic that really can’t be put in a box, no matter how large the survey sample. People are complex, as is faith. But Millennials tend to lean this way or that way, studies say. They vote in these patterns and support Issue X over Issue Y. They are not like their parents’ generation – well, duh. Times indeed have changed, but God is supposed to be the same. It doesn’t always feel that way.
At worst, these studies tend to feel a little condescending. And I do need to have a bit of grace for the researchers, because I did not grow up in church, so it’s only natural that some part of me will feel a bit alienated or underrepresented in their findings. But that’s nobody’s fault.
I want to touch on the last article from FaithIt that I linked to, because that is the one I related to the most. I have definitely felt the “You can’t sit with us” effect, and the power struggle of not being “important” enough for my thoughts and opinions to count. I found myself saying, “Yes!” while I read it…and “Ugh, so close” at the same time.
Perhaps the biggest issue I have with the “Millennials are leaving church” crisis is how researchers, bloggers, and leaders are handling the definition of “church.” Of course pastors want to see young butts in the pews, but in the broader scheme of things, church is not limited to a building. Church is other people. This should be inherently obvious, but it isn’t always.
I haven’t attended a “church” church in several months. I don’t have any immediate plans to do so, though I haven’t completely sworn off the possibility (especially since I’m calling myself a “solo Episcopalian” these days).
So what have I been doing?
In addition to reading my Bible, books about the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and keeping a prayer journal (practices I’ve maintained for the better part of my adult life, though the BCP is a fairly recent addition), I’ve been taking my questions and struggles to pockets of social media. I have found community at virtual tables thanks to Twitter and blog voices from Jory Micah, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, Benjamin Corey, and some friends of mine who like to pose provocative questions for people of all religious stripes on their Facebook pages.
I have met friends in coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants to talk about how we still love God even when we’ve been hurt by other Christians, or chased out of bible studies where our questions weren’t welcome.
My dream is to consistently have a handful of people over to my house on a regular basis, where we will drink tea, coffee, or wine and sit in my homemade library and share what’s happening in our journeys. Maybe even start a spiritual-themed book club (I can’t ever read Evans’ Searching for Sunday enough times). But at least there will be a consistent conversation going…a conversation where doubts and unconventional questions will be welcomed, even if not everyone shares them or reaches the same conclusions.
I don’t want to downplay the importance of being taught the Bible by people who went to school to study it – namely, pastors. But for most of human history, the average person did not own a Bible, nor did they even know how to read. They learned about faith from other people, and in many cases, hearing about what God is doing in a peer’s life – someone with no fancy Bible School degree, no knowledge of ancient Hebrew or Greek – is more beneficial, depending on where I am in life.
I want to say to these researchers, It’s okay, really. There’s no need to panic or sound any kind of alarm. We may be leaving church, yes, but that doesn’t immediately equate to a loss of faith. We don’t expect all our needs to be met in one place, and just because we’re taking a break from traditional church right now doesn’t mean we won’t return later.
I have more thoughts on why millennials are leaving church, which has more to do with the handling of specific issues like the treatment of the LGBT community, the response (or lack thereof) to Black Lives Matter, the unwavering support of Trump and “TrumpCare” (ie: no care), the refugee ban, and other politically-charged topics that were also politically charged in Jesus’ day, but I’ve droned on enough and may come back to that in a future post.
Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.