My Musings

Why Young People Leave the Church

Why Young People Leave the Church

When I see an article about millennials, generation Xers or young people in general leaving the church, I prepare myself for another round of ‘bash-the-bride’ As a lifelong church-lover, I brace myself for harsh judgment. The criticisms I read, offered under the pretense of caring about the condition of Jesus’ church (his bride), are usually stereotypes that our secular culture stamps on the church.

I detest stereotyping certain races, as if the race is responsible for trends in presumed laziness, violence, shiftlessness, sex obsession, taste for watermelons or whatever. Such bigotry is inexcusable and offensive. But when it comes to the church, people inside and out seem to feel free to accuse her with rank stereotypes about presumed intolerance, lack of compassion, obsession with politics (usually politics the critic does not like), rigidity, obsession with sex, disregard for the poor, hostility to gays, lesbians bisexuals or transgendered persons, irrelevance, hatred for women, disdain for science, and impatience with anyone asking honest questions.

Why the double standard for stereotyping? I think the stereotypes listed above are as evil when applied to Christians as other mean-spirited stereotypes are when applied to races. I know and love the church far too well to let such selected stereotypes besmirch her unfairly.

Sadly, I have seen some of these flaws featured in a few Christians and churches, but I see them all far more outside the church than inside. Besides, the flaws listed above could be found in churches (and in society) decades ago when the church, by and large, was flourishing and young people were staying.

Blogger Rachel Held Evens is a harsh critic of evangelical Christians. She recently wrote an article titled, “Why millennials are leaving the church.” In it she wrote, “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” This unwarranted judgment is as extreme as it is disrespectful. Millennials are not that blind nor are evangelicals that phony. Presuming that Jesus is not to be found among evangelical Christians is not friendly fire.

Another article I read recently blamed Sunday School for driving young people away. It selectively summed up the typical Sunday School message as a “lie” and claimed that using Bible heroes to encourage kids to be good is too big a “burden” and contrary to the gospel. I wonder, is the need for Christians to beat each other up and knock each other’s efforts down so acute that we have to stretch this far to do it?

Truth told, the reasons people of any age leave the church vary widely. No article can do full justice to this rising concern. In this article, I am simply trying to discourage knee-jerk church-bashing presumptions. As our culture becomes increasingly intolerant of biblical Christianity, a certain popular approval comes with criticizing the church. The truer we are to Jesus, the less we fit worldly paradigms and values. This drives some people (young or old) away who are highly influenced by a secular culture that traffics in cheap stereotypes to discredit Christians and the church. The good news is that some of these wanderers eventually come back. The secular culture loses its glitter and they finally see beyond the stereotypes.

Christian churches call for strong commitments, first to Jesus and also to each other, to the community and even to the world. Maybe some young believers (not to mention the old) just don’t like commitment. Of course this is not true of all because I know many young people who have chosen to remain in Jesus’ church, fully committed. They love her enough to stay.

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About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.
  • Anonymous

    Helps when we hear all that someone has to say before assuming that the conversation is complete, or that someone saying “I don’t see X” is equal to “X cannot possibly be there.”

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/02/why-millennials-need-the-church/

    As for stereotyping, unless every.single.one of the people of Israel was rotten-to-the-core evil, the prophets engaged in a fair amount of stereotyping and hyperbole in order to make their points.

    I don’t agree with several of Evans’ observations, and I’m not an avid reader of hers – I find her writing intentionally inflammatory at times, seemingly in order to drive blog traffic. But I had no problem discerning the difference between her description of what millennials see and what is actually there. The map is not the territory.

    • Joel Solliday

      Dear Nick, thank you kindly for reading my thoughts and responding. I want you to know that I did not say that a negative generalization required every single person in a category to fit it in order to be fair. I just think that there is a stereotyping double-standard that seems to me to be mean-spirited toward the evangelical and/or Christian church. When some Millennials or others make accusations (sometimes repeating what secular comedians and pundits claim), their claims should be subject to fair scrutiny too.