July 27th, 2013
08:33 AM ET
Why millennials are leaving the church
Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN
(CNN) - At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.
I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.
I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.
I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.
Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.
Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates - edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions - Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. - precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. 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.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.
Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.
But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community.
Their answers might surprise you.
Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.
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About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Insightful and should be listened to. Just wondering her definition of the Jesus she and this generation wants. I hope the Jesus that died for our sins and has graciously forgiven our sins. The Jesus whom Paul says shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? He answers God forbid. I agree we do need this generation in our community where the deeper things about Jesus are taught and tough questions wrestled with. We should never scare and shame this generation away but welcome them so Christ can deal with our sins. It is a fallen world and fallen generations so let's not pretend and let's not accept it as God's will and therefore we can just remain as we are without submitting to the Cross of Christ.
The Church is not a country club but the bride and body of Christ. The members do not decide who should belong. Jesus is the only one who makes anyone a member of the Church. The Church is for whosoever believes in Jesus shall be saved from sin and from hell. Have you believed in Jesus. Jesus does not patronize sin but loves people neither should we the Church. We are called to preach the Gospel of Christ with love and not patronize sin.
Nah, they want a Jesus that accepts what they want him to accept. It is the liberal belief way...
John Q. You have discerned correctly. I do thank God for Rachael the author of this article and for CNN to publish it. We need a forum to have this vital conversations while respecting people. You really cannot leave the Church if you are a member of the Church because the Church is not a building nor a denomination. The Church welcomes all sinners who want Jesus to forgive their sins and help them establish a relationship with a Holy God who tolerates no sin but accepts what His Son Jesus has done on the cross to pay for the sin of all people who believe in Him.
As a young european pastor in Europe who has grown up in the Bible Belt of the US, I am glad to say that this article is right on. People are looking for Jesus and not religion.
And you are a pastor/cult leader in a religion/cult telling your flock how and what they should think in your cult. How pathetic.
"Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …”
This is symbolic of what I often say to, and about, the ultra-right-wing-conservative-"christian"-GOP-Tea-Party movement and its members! It is NOT about 'how' you are saying your ideals... it IS the IDEALS! (Or in more simple terms for them to understand.... It is NOT the wrapping... it is the package!) Until they understand that social times, values, and morals have changed and moved past them they will continue to be a group on its way (thankfully) to extinction.
There is a lot of overlap between fundamentalist Christians and Republicans if I'm not mistaken.
There's less overlap every day between either group and the general population.
I wish I could post an image here. I've seen a Venn Diagram with two circles. One is labeled "the truth" and the other is labeled "the Bible." And they don't overlap, even a little.
Does this mean that you believe nothing in the bible is true?
Do you know everything about the bible?
Do you know everything about who wrote it and when and why?
And you studied Philosophy? Did you ever study Rhetorics?
No, not everything in the Bible is wrong. Even a broken watch is right twice a day.
"But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances."
This is the most clueless quote ever. Kids nowadays are so easy to fool. Just look at them engaging in the mass consumer culture. They are worshiping celebrities and buy into anything told to them by entertainment.
Why the fuss over a man no better or worse than any human who ever existed?
Tis mind boggling that this man and his religion can be brought down to earth in less than ten seconds. With this in mind should not the moderators of this blog and their buddy Stevie P be looking for new jobs?
Again for the new members:
Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!
• As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.
• As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.
• There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.
• There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.
• There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.
• Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.
• Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.
Added details available upon written request.
Wow, clueless... And you are probably a professor or a student at some very liberal college. No wonder America is falling further and further behind in worldwide educational rankings...
Atheist tend to have higher IQs more money and know more about religions than Christians
...and yet they tend to be equally annoying as religious people; zealots who have nothing better to do than trash other people's beliefs and post endless tedious messages about how they are right and everyone else is wrong. Why is that?
Do you have anything to refute what he said or are you just going to reply to every post with insults and "no it isn't" .
Do you have anything but opinion?
No, America's falling behind partly because religious fundamentalists are blocking the teaching of science in schools, trying to replace it with pseudo-scientific claptrap like creationism and it's alter ego Intelligent Design. They've got the textbook publishers so terrified that they hardly include evolution at all, usually giving a page or so in a whole biology text. Better hope that the USA can keep importing people with actual science education from overseas.
If that is true, how is it that the educational system continues to drop? All those icky stone age Bible beliefs have been removed from it...
Rachel Evans has a platform because she speaks AGAINST the church. That's the only reason why CNN gives her this platform. She is the Katie Couric of heresy. She is SOOOOOOOO dangerous because her contempt for the Body of Christ is so well disguised. If you want to destroy something....don't do it from the outside. You do it from the inside. You make people believe that your "approach" is a viable alternative. Example: Hip Hop wasn't destroyed by Bible Thumpers from the outside...it was destroyed by commercial rappers from the inside of the culture. Rachel Evans is the P-Diddy of the Millennial Church!!
Exactly, why else would CNN give her a platform?
I'd give Christianity maybe another 100 yrs max then it will die out
That is what the Romans said...
Even if she has contempt for the Body of Christ, does that make her points less valid?
It's interesting that people say they want to have more of Christ and God in church, but then seem to be angry when they actually meet him. It seems to me people are looking for a way to justify their own perception of God instead of accepting God for who He is. Can't reconcile science and God? Of course you can, because God is the author or science, also the author of morality and life. But when we don't like what God has to say about these thigns then we blame the church. We want a God that lets us believe whatever we want and live however we please.
That's not God. If you are just looking for what will please your itchy ears, then you aren't really looking for God.
looked for god found a beautiful cosmos without god instead
Easiest fall in da wurld, creature instead of Creator.
The easiest way to reconcile all this is to accept that there is no God.
The easy way is not always the right way... If we lived all areas of our life based on that principle, where would we be today compared to where we actually are?
The unspoken preamble to "we need hipper music": "well, obviously we won't change any of *that*, so...."
Trying to stay hip to the latest fashion as a boomer concern, not a millenial one. The evangelical movement lost its way when boomers were young and demanded that churches meet their selfish desires for services and entertainment otherwise they'd leave for one that would. Millenials are actually asking to be told what it right, what is true. It's an exciting time for church work now because of that. But they aren't going to accept the easy answers that the boomers were happy with. You can't put a new coat of paint on this old boomer church that wasn't much good to start with and expect millenials to want it for very long.
You are all going to hell. For you have forgotten Christ's most powerful commandments: "Ye shall behave like panty-sniffing lunatics", "Ye shall remain tools of the GOP", and "Ye shall believe the Earth is 6,000 years old and Moses rode a Pterodactyl".
There. I just saved your soul. Send me five thousand dollars.
You kick puppies too don't you?
Probably only Republican puppies.
all puupies are Gop puppies...until they are old enough to open their eyes...maybe thay are theists too
Yes, but only gay puppies. I used to kick interracial puppies, but they won't let me do that anymore.
Stay outta my pup tent, qweirdoggies.
The writer hits it on the mark when she cites the need for not only substance but also responsiveness on the part of organized religions. No one is looking for a faith community that tries to be all things to all people – but many of us (millenials, Gen X, Boomers) are drawn to faiths communities where the spiritual leaders address critical questions and challenges to morality and the path of living a spiritual life.
"No one is looking for a faith community that tries to be all things to all people"
I always had a different perspective: You should find the truth and adapt to it, not the other way around.
Wacko, everybody has a spiritual path, justice different destinations.
I do not think church needs coffee shops, video presentations, or hipper songs. "With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40) Old fashioned worship focused on God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the only point. "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) We do not worship to please man/woman but to please and praise God.
The author of this article says “We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.” “ When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Yes, ask those questions but do not expect answers from a human (if it is not answered in the Holy Christian Bible I would not trust it). The Bible tells us everything we need to know, as Christians. However, the Bible does not tell us everything we want to know. The Holy Christian Bible and your talk with the Lord gives you those answers. Man can not give you spiritual knowledge and wisdom. Only God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit can give you that.
Exactly! The church in a rush to "be acceptable to this generation" has lost it's power. That is the reason why people are leaving in droves.
The reason for the coffee house and the communal time is this, as brothers and sisters in Christ we are to share each others burdens. You can't help someone if you don't know what they are going through. Fellowship is important and it is the reason God tells us not to forsake the assembly; for the purpose of encouragement.
Karen, Can you give me the verse about not forsaking assembly? Thank you.
I completely agree with you, except that I wouldn't trust what's in the bible either. It's 2000 year old mythology, written by people who had no idea how the world worked. Millenials are leaving the church because its becoming increasingly obvious that god doesn't exist and there really is no point in going to church once you realize that.
It's not the bad coffee, or the lame music, or the creepy youth minister it's the fact that Christianity like all ancient religions are freakin stupid and based on lies
You hit the nail on the head.
I have to disagree w/ the author when she states that this generation like those before her's are yearning for Jesus. This is blind christian arrogance. However the basic premise behind why people are leaving the church is correct in that many of todays pastors are completely clueless but would add that the information age has helped educate people as to the history of how the bible was written and the truth behind many of the stories. Like there's no evidence of the Exdous, The plagiarism of the ark story, The fact that the 4 gospels were not written by the disciples, etc, etc.... People like Bart Ehrman have helped highlight these issues.
Typical atheist ignorance. Maybe read some of the latest archeology reports coming out of Israel...
lol keep waiting for proof that moses was real
When you get that proof you'll wait for something else. You will waste your whole life waiting for proof and spend eternity in hell because you refused to recognize what is already there.
Citation required. What reports?
LOL, they said the same about King David too... Though new additional evidence was recently found of his kingdom...
You are not going to live forever. You exist and then cease to exist. Only your ignorant arrogance allows you to believe in fairy tales. But, hey, you'll never be proven wrong so go ahead and waste your life worshiping something that doesn't exist. After is exactly like before.
It is true that there is absolutely no evidence of the great exodus from Egypt. By foot, the journey, even for 2 million people amounts to less than a week. But 40 years! That would mean that every day – thousands of train car loads of food, water, firewood and other essentials would have had to be railed into the desert to keep all those people alive; and there were no rails! The bible is merely a somewhat interesting fairy tale. Don't waste what little time you have to remain alive on this planet searching and scrounging for a god that really amounts to a proverbial North Korea in which we are watched and judged at all times by someone who actually made us the way we are. It is simply impossible and it root cause is a gross fear of death. When you die, you're gone, that's all. There IS no heaven or hell. Spend your time here wisely.
It sounds to me like the information age has only become a tool to spread ignorance, especially ignorance about Biblical history.
"What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance." Thankyou! I am one of those you mentioned who has returned to Eastern Orthodoxy. They at least recognize that God is not contained in or defined by doctrines, and that the church's involvement in personal lives should remain that of a spiritual guide and support, not a step-by-step handbook for getting from the womb to the pearly gates.
Crazy that CNN always reports the opposite of what is actually happening, especially when it comes to Christianity. People are leaving the church because it accepts and teaches a lot of new age, progressive liberal teachings.
No. We are leaving because they have regressed into an obsessive, controlling bunch of Pharisees who spend their time berating others to distract from their own shortcomings, instead of recognizing that we all have shortcomings and offering a supportive hand.
Like the germ "theory" of disease (like we don't know the truth about evil spirits), and interracial dating!
Opposite of what is going on? Gallup confirms this as well is other independent researchers that since 2011 that average Sunday attendance has falling by over 1 percent and as much as 20 percent over the past 20 to 30 years.
No, people are leaving the church, but it is not because they are looking for a place to hang out with their LGBT friends and talk about the joys of abortion. But because the church has accepted these and many other liberal teachings.
We dont go to Church because people that attach themselves to church come off Holier than tho.
Is tho the shorter form of thou?
I converted to Catholicism for exactly the reasons you state. Fundamentalists are clueless.
I got tired of the spiky-haired, slick suit, flash-and-bang approach to religion that I was seeing in more and more Protestant churches.
To be honest, if I could have found a church that sang the old hymns and had a sense of history and place and authenticity, I never would have converted, but I never found it.
Christianity isn't a religion as much it's a religious smorgasbord, ideal for the church-shopping crowd, people who want all the benefits of the core narrative but want to be able to pick and choose how and to what extent they have to incorporate it into their daily lives. This ability to pick and choose is a major reason Christianity is so popular, this and the fact that it offers so much while asking so little.
That is very true, and I think it's why Catholicism is experiencing a bit of a revival; it has never split. Protestant churches split every time someone has a disagreement. There are probably thousands of sub-denominations in the Protestant church, one for every flavor a person could want.
The solidarity and history, both good and bad, will continue to draw more and more people looking for some form of suthenticity from religion.
I don't like any particular brand of religion, but the Catholic Church is particularly disgusting due to its hiding and support of known child molesters. Surely you can something better.
"The church never split." Wrong – they were the first church to split. Ever heard of the reformation?
"people looking for some form of suthenticity from religion"
The Catholic church is as big a fraud as any of them. They just haven't evolved much over time. There are some pretty dark periods in their history.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.. umm I don't think I want anything to do with a doom day cult leader that is faker than Barbie
obviously you haven't read the words of Jesus thoroughly, just superficially...not surprising.
awww I guess god just didn't love me like he loved you when I read the bible all those times
what did you think about the part of the bible that says slavery is ok and gives rules for how to properly beat your slaves?
Real Christians follow the teachings of Jesus, no such thing as a rich Christian, sorry, give half your wealth away to the needy or quit pretending.
Where does the Bible say give half your wealth? The rich young ruler was told to give all and follow. If you want to reference Biblical principles do so correctly.
Jesus said give all your stuff away and not to have kids
The so called atheist is not limited by the Truth. Atheists do not understand the Bible they merely repeat a lie that some atheistic guru has come up with about it. Real knowledge and Truth escapes them.
Isn't that what religions do?
and you wonder why no one with a brain would want to spend 3 hrs on a Sunday with someone who thinks that 20% of the us population cant read the bible because they are what stupid liars?
"The so called atheist is not limited by the Truth."
Actually, he is. It's you who isn't. Don't like reality? Just make up a comforting fairytale to keep reality at bay. For all Christians' babbling about "the Truth" (since they idiotically capitalize it) they can't produce one iota of any evidence showing what they believe is true. What a bunch of delusional hypocrites?
If believers were so concerned about the truth they wouldn't have a history of making up nonsense to explain things, such as claiming epileptic seizures were caused by demonic possessions. No one who cares about the truth just makes up stories to explain things with no supporting evidence whatsoever. Yet that's the bread and butter of religions.
Furthermore, as one who has spent years discussing politics on line, usually with Christians, I can assure you I have encountered my share of pathologically dishonest Christians, so go peddle your lies and delusions at church, where they thrive on lies and delusions as long as they make them feel better about themselves.
"Atheists do not understand the Bible"
Apparently you think the commandment to not bear false witness is more of a suggestion than a commandment. Sorry to break it to you, but a lot of atheists are former Christians who have the benefit of having "understood" the Bible from both perspectives. You only understand the view from inside the bubble.
"they merely repeat a lie that some atheistic guru has come up with about it. Real knowledge and Truth escapes them."
Christian jerks like you are one of the reasons I came to realize Christianity is a fraud.
Atheists don't listen to gurus.
There is no such thing as a former Christian. You cannot unmeet God. Once born again you remain Gods child, if you are not you were never born again. You have merely exchanged one deception for another. You thought you were a Christian you weren't. You now think there is no God and you're wrong. You remain lost on all counts.
LOVE EXISTS? PROVE IT! EVIDENCE!
You don't exist.
Great article Rachel. I appreciate this article coming from CNN. As a Gen X'er with one foot in the Millennial door, I can relate to your thoughts here and say they are right on!
Do you feel that the labels "Gen-X" or "Millenial" are really descriptive of you? I worry that these short-hands for an entire generation of people are merely stereotypes and don't represent most people in those generations. There may be some Gen-X people like this or Millenials like that, but most of us are individuals and don't have much in common with the stereotype.