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An Overlooked Perspective on Millennials Leaving the Church

Recent articles written about “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church” and “How to Keep Millennials in the Church” have left me wondering why nobody is interested in my opinion. Well, not necessarily my opinion, but the opinion of my generation—Generation X. We’re the ones born in the 60s and 70s, after the Boomers and before the Millennials. Granted, we’re not the largest generation, and we’re not that boisterous, but there are 80 million of us and we’re quietly reforming the church in America.

My intention here isn’t to whine or pout on behalf of Generation X. I’m not jumping up and down, shouting, “What about me? Pay attention to me!” I’m not demanding a seat at the table. I’m simply one Gen-Xer offering what I think is an overlooked perspective on the issue of Millennials leaving the church.

We’re Not Your Parents

First, I want to say something directly to Millennials. When you complain about evangelical Christians and the church being too political, too judgmental, and unconcerned about social justice, you’re not talking about Generation X. Gen Xers gave up on changing the world through politics long before you were old enough to vote and we’ve been leading the charge for social justice within the church for more than a decade. So the guys on television that claim to represent “evangelical Christians”—yeah, the guys you hate—they don’t represent us either.

So millennials, when you paint the church with broad, condemning strokes, be careful how wildly you wield your brush because you might not be as angry and frustrated with the church as you are with what your parents have done with the church.

Stop Selling Church

Second, I would like to explain why the question, “How do we keep Millennials in the church?” is counterproductive and why the question itself can cause a Millennial to storm off, muttering, “You don’t understand.” Millennials are the first “connected” generation, which means that they are the first generation born into a perpetual stream of media and advertising. As a result, they are able to filter information at a speed and in a fashion like no other generation before them; and therefore, they have the uncanny ability to smell a sales pitch miles away. So when Evans, in her CNN piece says, “Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances,” she’s making a profoundly important statement about how Millennials view the world. For Millennials, words are cheap and seeing is not believing. For Millennials, they have to experience it to believe it. And can you blame them? They were raised to never, ever, trust a stranger, and they grew up at a time when you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing a new update on the latest sex scandal in the church.

So Boomers, if you really want to keep Millennials in the church, then stop wrapping up Jesus like a Christmas present with a pretty bow and stop trying to sell church. Just love. Without an agenda, without an end goal in mind, just love people with reckless abandon, and who knows, you just might be surprised who shows up at your church next week.

Don’t Exchange One Product For Another

Finally, I would like to offer a word of warning to all us church-going Americans. Whether we like it or not, we’re consumers, and in the pursuit of experiencing genuine faith, we have to be careful not to merely exchange one product for another. As a culture we’ve been church hopping and shopping for decades, trying to find the church that fits us just right. But the truth is that the Church, in its purest sense, has never been about a building, a style of worship, or a liturgical form; the Church has always been about a community of Jesus-followers gathering together to worship God and serve one another.

So fellow Christians, I leave you with this: if or when you find the right church, don’t just sit there as though you’ve survived an exhausting pilgrimage across a desert and entered into the Promised Land. Because it does not matter what church you attend, if you’re not actively involved in being the church—loving God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself—then, I promise you, your faith will run dry and before you know it, you’ll be on your way, searching for your favorite flavor of Kool-Aid within the newest church trend.

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About Leon Hayduchok

Comments

  1. Your response to some of the recent articles is perceptive. I hear a lot of criticism about the “church” and often rightly so, but I also am failing to hear honest responses about what the church is doing well. There is an emerging generation of church goers who are giving of their time, energy and finances to help the poor, minister to the sick, and reach out to the marginalized.

    Are we still “selling” Jesus so to speak? Yes, to a great extent the church is… but there are a huge number of churches that are authentic in their desire to help others.

    Millennials do seem to care more about social values than some generations and the church would do well to listen to their perspective. That goes both ways though. Millennials seem to have little patience for their less technologically and socially conscious parents and grandparents. Forbes recently posted an article called 7 Ways to Serve — And Keep Millennial Customers. I hate the title as would Millennials, I’m sure. Millennials seem to be the new force to be reckoned with though. It will be interested to see what their kids and grandkids have to say about them?

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