A couple of weeks ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog on CNN about why the millennials were leaving the church. If you missed it, or need a refresher, read this here. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/27/why-millennials-are-leaving-the-church/
While many can appreciate and debate what was said in Evans article, the reality is what she said is no different then voices before have said. Voices like Brian Maclaren, Dan Kimball, David Kinnaman, and even me have discussed this issue . The research and the reality has been clear that there needs to be a shift of mindset when we look at church. This is evidence by two clear factors.
The first one being that within the last 20 years, the vast majority of church growth has not been new Christians. It has been Christians going from one church to another. Either going from a bigger church to a smaller church or the exact opposite.
The second one being the sudden and traditional increase in attendance for Christmas and Easter services. Some places reported an increase of at least 25% of an attendance on those two days than a regular attendance. And while many within the Christian circles have wanted to criticize the “Christmas and the Easter” Christians, I think the question that should be asked is why some only attend Christmas and Easter.
While at first glance, this may seem like a criticism of the church, I think it’s important to note what Maclaren, Kimball, Kinnaman, and even Evans are really saying. As well as what these last two facts I shared with you also say. That is that there is a strong value in going to church. Why else do people keep searching and seeking even if it only two times a year? Because there is something about the power of being in the house of God that compels us to reflect and be grateful.
That being said, I also feel that we have been looking at a burning house, or a train wreck. We sit and we look, we subtly say what could have happened, but we don’t say what exactly happened. We are examining with books and evidence. People are politely asking questions and giving evidence of an issue, I feel like in general, the points have not been hit hard enough home as to why people of many generations are leaving the church. I’d like to give you some theories as to what I’m seeing as some of the problems. I’ll share 5.
There is a general arrogance coming from the preachers pulpit. Big and powerful preachers in nice suits, trendy clothes, and thick Bibles think they can say what they want because they are being “Scriptural”. They feel no need to be challenged or debated because they are right and you as a simple member need to listen. Some Catholic Churches in many ignoring some real issues of abuse that has happened. Other Pastors having affairs or scamming church members out of money. Political stands and sign disconnecting a group of people that are “in sin” conveniently ignoring our own issues. We forget how much that hurts.
The meaning of worship has been lost. There has been a transition from powerful hymns like Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art to words of romance and cliche to a Holy God. Worships leading in a cheering and applause and “ra ra” session instead of a genuine experience of worshiping and understanding of God.
The church feels clique and unwelcoming. Many have tried to enter churches only to feel that they don’t quite “fit in” to the crowd. Or in some bigger churches, they have been coming for years only to realize that the person sitting right beside them has been coming for the same time. Except, this is the first time they have met.
The church is missing intergenerational connection. Churches have moved into categories like a “Young Adult” or “Youth” or “Family” and unintentionally disconnected itself from other groups. I have had many discussions about how some in my age group miss the wisdom of seniors. It is a big loss that has huge impacts on relationships and understanding of people.
The church is lacking intelligence. Tough and honest questions from seekers have been answered with “pray about it”,”give it to God”, or “the joy of the Lord is your strength”. As opposed to honestly trying to answer. Or better yet, listen and support.
These are general comments not specific to one church or another. It’s an honest observation of 20 plus years of my attendance, reading and listening to stories and open discussion. And with all that being said, I still see an actual change for the better. I see a move to a more honest and reflective faith that captures Scripture, tradition and wholeness. An openness to research and dialogue and not think because you are a Christian, that you are right. And an openness to ask and answer tough questions with a supportive ear and an understanding heart.
That is why voices like Evans, Kimball, Maclaren and many others including myself have felt some passion about the issue. Because we see the benefit of staying in a real community and growing from it. Not because we hang with the trendy people, but because we hang out with the real people.
That’s the kind of thing that stops people from leaving and benefiting from spirituality.