Why are Young Christians Leaving the Church? - Part 2: Shallow - (Does not impact real life, wrestle with real questions, or emphasize what is most important)
Recently, I was asked by someone why I thought that we were losing the "postmodern generation"--why younger Christians are leaving our fellowship. It is a good question, and a question that other fellowships are asking as well. David Kinnamon, in his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking..., gives six reasons that young Christians are leaving Christianity based upon research.
In a series of blog posts I will share Kinnamon's six reasons, as well as my own thoughts on the subject. (You can read my first post here.) In this second post, I will examine David Kinnamon's second reason that he gives for why young Christians are leaving church. According to Kinnamon, young people are leaving church because they find that the church is:
Reason #2 - Shallow. "Among Mosaics, the most common perception of churches is that they are boring. Easy platitudes, proof texting, and formulaic slogans have anesthetized many young adults, leaving them with no idea of the gravity and power of following Christ. Few young Christians can coherently connect their faith with their gifts, abilities, and passions. In other words, the Christianity they received does not give them a sense of calling."
Here are two charts that David Kinnamon gives that illustrates the reasons why Millenials view the church as shallow:
Percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds who have a Christian background
completely true of me, completely or mostly true of me
- Church is boring. 16% 31%
- Faith is not relevant to my career or my interests. 13% 24%
- My church does not prepare me for real life. 9% 23%
- My church does not help me find my purpose. 9% 23%
- The Bible is not taught clearly or often enough. 7% 23%
- God seems missing from my experience of church. 7% 20%
- Had a close personal friend who was an adult at church or parish 28% 39%
- Had an adult mentor at church, other than the pastor or church staff 12% 17%
- Missional Outcomes Served the poor through my church 24% 20%
- Went on a trip that helped me expand my thinking 16% 19%
- Found a cause or issue at church that motivates me 11% 15%
- Received helpful input from a pastor or church worker about my education 11% 11%
- Received a scholarship for college through church 4% 3%
- Learned about schools or colleges I might want to attend through my church 4% 3%
- Learned about how Christians can positively contribute to society 28% 28%
- Learned to view my gifts and passions as part of God’s calling 25% 26%
- Better understood my purpose in life through church 23% 25%
- Learned how the Bible applies to my field or interest area 10% 16%
- Experienced none of these 44% 46%
So, how do we interpret these results and apply them to our fellowship (mine is Churches of Christ)?
I would say make these assertions:
- The fact that Millennials find the church to be boring is a reality that we must respond to (47% total). We can say that they should not find it so. We can say that they should change, not us. But that does change the problem. What is the solution? One is to change our communication medium and make it more current, involving technology, video and the arts. (See my previous post.) The second solution is to overcoming "boredom" is to make the church more relevant (see #2 below).
- The fact that Milennials find that the church does not help them see how the church, their faith, and the Bible is relevant to their lives is terribly sad and must be corrected.
We need to improve the content of worship and all of the other ministries of the church, making it relevant to their lives. We need to help Millennials discover their gifts and help them to choose careers and ministries that match these gifts, making their faith come alive. (This is what I seek to do in my Spiritual gifts inventory, www.YourSpiritualGifts.com). We need to provide guidance for them in the colleges that they choose, majors they choose, and how they live their life after college. We need preaching that helps them see God's purpose for their lives, that it is relevant in daily living, and Bible classes and small groups that do the same.
Much of this guidance, however, can be provided on the personal level. One of the best things that our youth minister, Lantz Howard, has done, is to connect our teens each with a Christian adult to build relationships that last beyond the youth group. Typical youth ministry isolates youth from adults, who can provide this guidance that Millennials in their lives that they say that they are not receiving.
- The fact that Millennials see the Bible as not being revelant or taught clearly (30 percent) reflects both a failure to relate the Bible to their lives and a misemphasis upon minor doctrinal issues. There are biblical issues that are more important than others. Paul said that the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection for our sins was a matter of "most importance" (1 Cor.15:1f). Jesus said that tithing of spices was a minor matter, and that their emphasis upon the minor matters of the law caused them to ignore the greater matters of the law--"justice, mercy, and faithfulness."
In our fellowship, we have to ask the question if we have majored in minors. Some of the "doctrinal" issues (which we have somehow limited doctrine, which means "teaching," to issues of what you can or can't do in worship, or church structure) that we should think through, should these be the front center issues? It is not that they should never be taught, but is our passion going to these issues, causing us to not emphasize what is most important? Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God, and the second greatest was to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-40). Jesus said that we would be known as his disciples by our love for one another.
Our primary identity is in Christ and our love for God, one another, and our love for our neighbors. Our primary messages, primary sermons, primary teaching, should be centered around these things, the gospel (which Paul says is of first importance), justice, mercy, and faithfulness, and the mission which Jesus gave to the disciples at the end of every gospel. Ironically, by majoring in minors, we have to ask if we are not driving Millennials away, rather than keeping them.
The center of Scripture is Christ. Jesus says that the Scriptures point to him (Jn. 5:39). He and what he says is most important should be at the center of our worship, preaching, and teaching. If you look at our publications, newspapers, bulletin articles, teaching materials, is Jesus' emphasis and the emphasis of Scripture what is emphasized in these publications? In our classes and sermons? Christ and him crucified is more attractive and powerful a message--and one which Millennials will keep coming back to hear--than any message we could preach or teach.
- The fact that Millennials have not gone on mission trips, served the poor, or been helped to find social causes to support has been detrimental both to their spiritual formation/discipleship and the church's evangelistic efforts. Numerous studies show that the most transforming experience that a teen or young adult can have is to go on mission trips, and those that go on these trips stay much more faithful to the church. This was Jesus' model of disciple making (Luke 10:1f). He sent them out to serve others and proclaim the kingdom of God (God's rule or reign in the world and in people's lives) two by two, where they had to depend upon God and one another. This also builds community and close relationships, as anyone who has gone on a short term mission trip can tell you, which can help keep them faithful.
If we want to continue to have the same results, we will not change a thing. We will say that Millennials should change. We should keep doing things exactly as our generation would want them done. We determine what needs to be done based upon the lowest common denominator (whoever complains). But if we want to reach Millennials--our friends, our children, our grandchildren, then we will make these changes to better help the younger generations to stay faithful to God and the community of believers.
What do you think of this research and the proposed changes that we need to make to better keep Millennials faithful to God? Do you think these changes would help some of the Millennials that you know? Why?