Are millennials leaving church? I don’t know, but here’s why I did

CA4yVTtWkAEJvFd.jpg_largeTo 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?

zobooksIn 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.


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8 thoughts on “Are millennials leaving church? I don’t know, but here’s why I did”

  1. I’ve been out of the brick and mortar for about 6 or 7 years now. What’s ironic is that my faith and depth of biblical perception has increased and deepened more now that I’m out… And that’s not be a jaunt against ‘church’, but it is a ‘hmm is there a connection?’ moment.
    What do you do with the statement that church membership is a biblical requirement? How would you respond?

    Grace and peace in Christ


    1. I don’t deny that church is a biblical requirement. If anything, groups of “home churches” are closer to what churches looked like in Paul’s day than the mainstream “mega church” structure we have today.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not a millennial and I had a hard time going to church because of these issues. I finally found a good one that does a good job of teaching about God and catering to younger families. They are out there here just have to keep looking and let God speak to you


  3. Reblogged this on Rogue Millennials and commented:
    “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. ” Great thoughts from Sarahbeth Caplin on why more than just Millennials are walking out of churches – but keeping their faith.


  4. I love this! Wish there was more than a “like” button! There is a massive target fixation among institutionalized Christians as to what “church” means. People panic that Millennials are leaving church businesses in droves, but like you said – church is so much more to that. What we’re finding is that a majority of those leaving churches are actually practicing faith in other ways. House churches, doing church as a family, meeting with friends to study, accountability groups at work, ways to be with God and each other that don’t require pledging allegiance to a 501c3 business with “church” on it’s sign!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Honestly, I left “the church” for a couple years ’cause I’m a single twentysomething woman and most churches have no freaking clue what to do with that. Like, CLEARLY I’m an abomination just because I don’t have a shiny object on my hand. (I mean, I’m also openly mentally ill and just sliiiiightly less openly bisexual, so I’ve got a few issues going for me, but the fact that I’m 24 and unmarried seems to be the real winner here.) I was not an expected factor and therefore I was unwanted.

    That said, I’ve recently started going to a small historic church where I’m the only person anywhere *near* my age bracket and it’s extremely freeing to not HAVE any peers to openly express their disapproval of you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is frustrating! I’m at the other end of that struggle, married three years but no babies. We’re not sure we want babies (I’m also still in school). The ways people express judgment always astounds me!


  6. It’s really hard to generalize millenials – we’re so diverse. So whatever you say is true – there’s bound to be a group among us for whom it isn’t true.
    But the church is diverse, too – different denominations have tried different messages and different approaches, but it seems that we’re just a difficult bunch to win over.
    I grew up in the church and my experience differs from those who joined it when they were older – as such, I got to see my denominations issues play out in slow-motion over a long time. I’ve read the fine print and seen the double-talking that they sometimes do to justify anything that gets them what they want, sometimes even going against their own rules.

    Liked by 2 people

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