There’s a serious breakdown happening in modern Christianity. It’s a growing divide between millennials and church communities. Especially millennials raised in churches.
More than 1/3 of millennials do not affiliate themselves with any faith. 56% of millennials call themselves Christians, even though 8 out of 10 say they are from a Christian home. (These statistics are from this CNN article.) And people are scrambling to figure out why.
As a Christian mom now, the next generation of faith weighs on my mind. I want to introduce my kids to my faith, and a loving, compassionate, and steadfast Creator. It is my hope that they will choose to follow God themselves someday, because I truly believe it is the most fulfilling, purposeful life.
I’m also one of the minorities in those statistics. I am a church-raised millennial that is still a Christian, and part of the same church at that. I can feel the gap as I read article after article on my newsfeed about why millennials are leaving, often posts from friends who no longer claim Christianity. Here’s a couple: 12 Reasons Millennials are OVER Church, and Want Millennials Back in the Pews? Stop Trying to Make Church Cool.
This week will mark 17 years for me of being a disciple of Jesus. That, plus these recent statistics, are making me consider why I maintain my relationship with God after all these years, and stay with the same beliefs and church. I’m sharing those with you today, but with some prefaces:
First, the points in these articles are so valid and people need to hear them. This is a response to those articles, but not out of disagreement or disdain. Not for the people writing them, and not for the people sharing them, either.
Next, please don’t take this as me telling you what to do to save your kids or your teen ministry. Everyone is different, and free to make their own choices. My experience does not fit all.
Lastly, these are NOT some of the reasons I’m still a Christian:
- It’s not because I’m perfect. Just ask my husband, my kids (maybe in about 10 years), my parents, my brother, my friends, my old roommates, my old coworkers…
- It’s not because my family is perfect. They have been loving examples to me of Christians, they do great things, but it’s not because of them that I am a Christian.
- It’s not because my church is perfect. It’s a group of openly imperfect people, people who make mistakes and sometimes hurt each other, who say and do the wrong things.
That being said, here are some of the reasons why:
- Solid role models and mentors. Growing up, I remember women taking me under their wing, letting me tag along on campus with them, taking me for coffee, and welcoming me into their lives. When they did, I saw women who were living what I saw as “the rules” I’d grown up with, but living joyfully and free, which I wanted in my life, instead of the duty I sometimes felt. It spurred me on to learn more about the God that made those things possible.
- Meeting friends from all over. My parents made it possible for me to attend every camp, every teen event, every service project they could. To this day, the friends I made in those places continue to inspire and encourage me. They are some of my best friends.
- Having room to question and doubt. I had the resources available to me, plus positive attitudes and responses, that allowed me to wonder. It helped me figure out where I stand and gave me depth in my relationship with God.
- Family priorities. It was an expectation of my parents’ that we not choose activities conflicting with church times, and that unless sick or otherwise physically unable to make it, we all attend. It showed me the value my parents had for church, when they themselves didn’t let anything get in the way of church either. Also, character and effort were prioritized over talents and grades. I was never forced to get straight As or stay with the same activities if I didn’t like them. But they did expect I fulfill my commitments and try my best. Those things showed me that my character was more valuable than my achievements.
- Seeing vulnerability. In my parents, in teen leaders, in friends. In fights, I experienced my parents apologizing to me (even though it was likely much more my fault). I had teen leaders be (cautiously and appropriately) open with me about their own struggles, with things like former eating disorders and depression.
- Depth, not trends. I’m noticing a current trend of sermons with movie clips, and other “cool” things like that. We had a few events that were meant to appeal to teens and all, but mostly? Real sermons, real lessons, real Bible studies, real discipleship times. Depth makes a difference. I’m glad my teen ministry allowed me to grapple with the scriptures and with my own sinful nature.
- Family love. I have so many mamas, dads, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews that are truly family to me. People that have known me most of my life, and people who I just met. The Bible says, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35). The darkest times in my life, times when I was struggling to figure out what I believed about everything, this is one of the things I held onto.
This is my experience. I hope it’s helpful to know for those attempting to understand my generation a little better. But please, read the articles above, and consider them. Again, the points being brought up for discussion now are good ones, and need addressing. We need to be stronger in our love for those in need, we need to stop worrying about church being cool enough, and we need to be trustworthy in the important things. And so much more.
But millennials, I also hope you don’t completely give up on church for these reasons. It will always be full of imperfect people, but a church community is part of Jesus’s call and plan for us. It can be an incredible source of support and encouragement, and it helps continue to build faith and “work out our salvation”. And churches need you to fight for what is right, to “not let people look down on you, but set an example,” (1 Timothy 4:12) as it were.
What is your experience with this topic? What are your thoughts? (Please be kind and keep an open mind.)