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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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.
Until religions distance themselves from the evangelical fake christianity that has evolved over the decades to serve corporate interests, all generations will be turned off.
Its all fake Mike, That's why there are so many brands of Christianity. The old guard are just frustrated that other con men have swooped for a piece of the 'action'. Every religion, from Christianity to Buddhism, have seen people hatch new takes on the BS.
Prayer changes things .
"Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately." Numbers 31:17
"utterly destroy all that they have, and don't spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing baby, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" 1sam15:3
"Yahweh struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it was very sick." "It happened on the seventh day, that the child died."
2 Samuel: 15 & 18
The wages of sin is death.
Yep. God even kills nursing babies. How barbaric!!!
Ok, the guy who told me I am rude and hide behind mockery is smugly telling me I'm going to die.
I suppose if you don't have anything going for you, it's nice to have something to boost your morale.
Justice is never barbaric.
LOL! Tell us what sins NURSING BABIES commit. Still COMPLETELY STUMPED?
Observer, them being born into sin is their sin. but it's not about the newborn babies being killed because they sinned but because of something bigger that displeased God, and his wrath was upon the entire people for the sins of those conscious of their choices, and because of that, it was upon the infants also. if you really want to understand why, read the entire text that was quoted by One One in the context that leads up to those scriptures.
Sin is sin, all are guilty of every sin until they are born again and set free from the penalty of sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I keep asking and you are totally CLUELESS.
You made an idiotic statement so try to back it up.
Tell us what sins NURSING BABIES commit. Still COMPLETELY STUMPED!
What a moronic philosophy. "ALL" have sinned? Please: what are the sins of a newborn baby that is, say, 30 minutes old. Please be specific.
We are all born guilty of every sin ever committed on the face of the earth. We all share genetically equal responsibility. Only the Salvation of Christ sets us free from the penalty of sin.
We are not under the law we are under grace. before moses, the fathers were not under this law. and the reason for the strict law was to make sin clear to the world, and IsraeL was A PRIESTLY NATION.
A "PRIESTLY NATION"? Like, with lots of priests? Lots of priests going around abusing young boys? With the church protecting those same priests?
Those priests that have abused young children cannot rightfully call themselves godly men. They are sickening and they do not represent the will of God by any means! So the answer is "no", not like those priests.
No, change changes things.
Without prayer there can be no constructive change.
Prayer certainly changed the Manhattan skyline on 9/11, when the prayers of the hijackers – all, pious, devoted religious fanatics – were apparently answered. it appears that the prayers of the passengers on the planes were not answered. Why is that?
Are you really expecting an answer from Colin?
@ Athy: An answer from Colin? Of course not. Typical response: run away! Run away! They're asking us questions we can't answer! We must continue to bury our heads in the sand!
Not lowering ourselves into the muck of sects, there are two general types of Christians: literalists and moderates. Each are reprehensible:
Literalists must turn their religion into a conspiracy theory: any fact, no matter how logical or simple, in conflict with the story must be regarded as a conspiracy by sinners, a trick of a demon, or a test from a god. It's nothing more than crimestop, more commonly known as 'faith'.
Moderates react to problematic facts with revisionism: when study shows that the Earth is actually billions of years old, they will claim that the belief in a recent creation (literal until now) was only ever metaphorical. They will claim perfect compatibility between their story and genuine study by presenting each exposed belief as having never been literal/relevant/real. This is the revisionism of the Ministry of Truth, keeping the dear leader/big brother/savior eternally correct.
...and yet at the end of the day we only find the of test of science created in a lab to be just an 'educated guess', with a number attached to it. Keeps food on table thats for sure.
However without science there can be no God. (works the other way as well) Call it an 'intelligent design if you like. (I prefer God it has a nice ring to it)
Foolish, HC: The guess of an educated modern human is more valuable than the guess of a Bronze Age Palestinian. Age is irrelevant. Popularity is irrelevant. Passion is irrelevant.
Correct. All that is relevant is God ..
Which god is relevant, harry? Thor? Zeus? Ra? Manitou? Allah?
I do not think you are a serious person, because you have not responded to any argument. You have simply asserted allegiance to a character in a story repeatedly while dismissing the work of those genuinely curious as to how the universe works. I deem you a literalist.
@Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear,
I seriously doubt it was any God created by man.
Harry: News Flash. All gods were created by man. Oh – let me anticipate. All gods except YOUR god, right? Except that is exactly what every other believer believes – that their god is the one true god. Why is your claim better than theirs?
@Attack of the 50 Foot Magic Underwear,
My God,,,please. I think you mean to say 'our God'. Your just to scared to comprehend it all that would require faith. You need the touchy, feely and seeing mantra.
Well. what can I say but praise the Lord and pass the beans.
The bible clearly says that if my neighbor works on the Sabbath, I should stone him to death.
It also says if two men have sex they should be stoned to death.
Ditto for disrespectful children.
If the only way to heaven is through jesus, then everyone who ever died without having a chance to read a bible, or never heard of jesus is on their way to hell.
I also don't believe that we are born deserving of eternal damnation because of what Adam did thousands of years ago.
There are millions of us with questions, and we cannot believe in the bible and your god until you supply reasonable answers. Quoting the bible, by the way, is circular logic and not reasonable.
no what is irregular is your exploitation of the old testament. God is a covenant God, there was the adamim covenant, the abrahamic covenant, and we are in the new covenant. We are not bound by o.t. law, the seed of abraham is bound by the grace of the messiah. We are under grace. This is from God.
Would you be thankful if you understood it correctly or do you insist on the cheap shot?
The ten commandments are in th O T also. Do those still apply?
To Arabs and Jews.
Jesus said the only way to the father is through him. New Testament! All those who never heard of jesus or met a christian are still going to hell.
that is not true about people who never met Jesus. You have to hear the entire gospel and reject Him.
It's a good thing I skip the last page of every gospel then, that way I haven't read it all, and don't have to worry about it.
If you are serious about what the Bible really teaches go to jw.org or talk to those people that come to your door to share Good News about what the future really holds out for those who love God and their neighbor. Have those misconceptions about the Law given to the Jews clearly explained and find out why God allows suffering and where the idea of a hellfire really came from and what the truth is that leads to eternal life. Freely, of course.
where did the idea of hell fire come from james. i have a friend who has told me this is mans misconception.
on the other hand, what can you say about demonic activity in relation to hellfire.
You can say that both "demonic activity" and "hellfire" are simply creations of the human mind. They don't exist. There are no demons. There is no hell.
Austin; Burning people was something the pagans did and for one example, at Jeremiah 7:31 he was told that it was something that never came up into the heart of the God (creator) he served. The Hebrew "sheol" and the Greek "hades" in the bible just meant the common grave of mankind and as far as the devil and his friends the demons are concerned they are waiting for eternal destruction," the second death" but for right now they are ruling this earth for a little while longer. Burning in hell is just a tool for the priests and preachers to put fear in the hearts of the people so they can keep them coming with their money but again they mislead the masses for their own gain. Check out Matt. 7:21-23 to see Jesus response about their future. again go to jw.org for all your Bible questions and learn what the Bible really teaches. It may be worth your life.
Hey Alias, how are you this evening?
Stoning people to death for breaking the Mosaic laws you mentioned was for the children of Israel. Following those instructions was a requirement for them to continue in the land God promised them and to receive his continued protection and blessings.
“ If the only way to heaven is through jesus, then everyone who ever died without having a chance to read a bible, or never heard of jesus is on their way to hell.”
Is this your opinion? My opinion is that if someone has never heard of Jesus, or heard the gospel, then God would look at them the same way he does an innocent child.
“ I also don't believe that we are born deserving of eternal damnation because of what Adam did thousands of years ago.”
Original sin? What about sin in general, do you believe you have sinned? That is the whole point of the law, it shows us we are sinners in need of savior, because if we try to follow the rules we find out we aren’t capable without the power of the holy spirit. And, even with it, we still mess up.
Nothing wrong with questions, I have been a believer for many years and wonder about things all the time. I hope you get the answers you are searching for.
Jesus said the ONLY way to the father is through him. Not my opinion.
You are seperating ideas that work together. According to your bible, we are born with original sin. If that sin is not forgiven through jesus we are not allowed into heaven.
no jesus, no forgiveness, no heaven.
By the way – you are taking innocent children in a context that I have never seen in the bible. No one is without original sin, so none of us could be innocent at birth.
What if someone never heard the gospel or was too young to understand it? Do you think God would cast them into hell? I don’t know for sure, do you? Jesus speaking on little children said something like this, “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Statements like this taken along with the forgiveness and compassion of God leads me to believe that someone who had never heard the good news, was too young or even mentally unable to understand it would be “of such.”
I'm a tail end Baby Boomer. We're supposed to be all about organized religion. I opted out eons ago. The reason is that organized religion on the whole seems to bring with it folks who do an overwhelming amount of harm and so little good. The overhead for the organized religions is onerous. The other thing is that I have a real problem with faith in the trinity. I'm closer to being a Unitarian than I am to any of the rest. Mainline religions tend to be "anti" – anti-gay, anti-government – anti- everything. They whip up "Family Values" to the point that it makes me seriously ill. As if they have the corner on family and it comes straight out of Ozzie and Harriet.
a few years ago the Lord gifted me with the sprit of revelation. I was writing my dreams down in the middle of the night becuase i had noticed that they were revealing things that had not happened yet. what i gathered over the next 4 months, what i allready knew due to a few unquestionable revelations over the years, was that there was in fact spiritual revealation that was evidence and my own data of superntural sovereign power.
The Lord our Provider
you confuse the spirit of revelation with the DTs. you just traded one drug for another
Sam, thats not it. I realize that many people can not rationalize what I am saying because you refuse to entertain the idea that there is a supernatural God who can communicate interdimensionally, but I have to be honest. I have data and evidence, that went from one situation to another, and it grew and grew and grew.
There is no doubt. Jehovah, provides faith and spiritual gifts. He is the Good Shepherd of souls. and He has gone way out of HIs way to intervene with humanity, providing the means for atonement and a CLOSE personal relationship.
God is love. God is faithful to forgive, and you have been liberated and justified by the blood. BEcause your blood contains sin, and God has become the scapegoat for the evil hatred we carry.
It's called mental illness. It's not a gift from your god; it's your brain chemistry that's out of whack.
You do not have data or proof.
If you write down your dreams, and share them with other people before they come true you will have something.
If all of them come true you will have proof.
Fear of death is normal human psychosis, not mental illness.
You do not have data, and you know it. Yet, you continue to lie.
Your lord didn't teach you how to spell? I would suggest you seek medical help quick.
3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
wow, austin....a quote! pretty impressive, i tell you
Whats going on Sam? How have you been bro?
Why are millennialist leaving the church? It's because you assume that everyone is seeking Jesus. We've figured out that your religion is bs (all religion for that matter is bs) and just want to move on in peace. If you people just want to worship your imaginary god that's fine, I would just like to live in the real world without being told I'm going to he'll for it.
John 3:17 ►
New International Version (©2011)
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Thanks brother. Nice Armor.
Way too funny. But indeed, good music videos will get people to watch and come to church! MTV proved that long ago.
My wife and I are millennials. We love our church and faith. It is a huge blessing in our lives – it brings us peace, simplicity and happiness. We wouldn't trade it.
Good for you. Some of us need it, some of us don't.
Thank you, Reid. Lots of nasty, doubters on this site. Makes me so sad. I will be praying for them. You too, eh?!
Looking at some of the comments of these people, no wonder why our country is a shell of its former self.
There are definitely some folks out there who appear to be living empty lives. Too bad. There's even something greater to look forward to in the future. But the know-it-alls will say something sarcastic in reply since they feel like they have all the answers anyways.
Hope those folks enjoy their central air conditioning here on Earth since I hear it gets a little toasty in another place once you leave this planet.
It can't be as bad as the one you've unfortunately made for yourself on this earth. I feel sorry for you.
"our country is a shell of its former self."
it's a shell of it's former self since too many politicians and the public started trying to inject religeon into politics
Gee, Jerry, there is sure nothing more scary than empty proxy threats.
Ah, so you are referring to that place of eternal torture that your "loving" sky fairy is going to send us? No, it is your delusions that are at the root of some of our problems, moron.
Keep your fictions about your torturing, human rights abusing ass hole in the sky to yourself. K, thanks.
God is not mocked.
Umm, Jon: I hereby mock your ass hole sky fairy god. So there.
I mock him continuously. So there.
No God is not, but religion is ! Religion has been mankind's greatest curse. We did not need religion to ever question our being. We would have evolved as we have to question the puff the magic out of salamander spiel.
jon: your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck. mocking enough for you?
That which does not exist cannot be mocked. I assume that's what you meant?
Which God? Ganesh? You know how much he hates mocking.
I mock your god.
MOCK MOCK MOCK. What are you going to do about it, invisible sky fairy?
Oh that's right. Nothing. Because you don't exist.
You sound stressed.
I have experienced the Sprit of revelation. Have you? anyone?
I experience it all the time. Of course I pay for it the next day with a severe hangover.
i have, austin....after eating a handful of something at a greatful dead concert
I'm still hoping you'll dream about lottery numbers, win millions, and share with your friends and non-friends on the Internet.
Where did you here that ?
So many people fail to realize that science, like everything else ,is a gift from God. Use it to advance his will ,and we thrive. Use it to feed selfishness and we will all suffer.
When the US was full of faithfu; people we were sending men to the moon. When we sent men to the moon we said we don't need God anymore.
God canceled the flights to the moon and pretty soon Mankind will find himself fighting for his life everyday.
Faith and obedience.
The article says there is a choice between holiness and compassion. That mindset is the problem.
And how exactly is a mere mortal supposed ot know the "will" of an all-powerful, all-knowing, immortal, immaterial deity? Can a bacterium know your will?
Threats are not necessary or effective. They also seem a little desperate.
Jerry...you seem to relish the thought of other people going to hell. How Christian is that?
Why do we waste so much time and money discussing and celebrating "faith" (ie. anti-reason) and the myth of god?
Because if you don't stay vigilant believers will insert their fantasies into your schools and laws.
What does that have to do with anything?
What is a reply button?
Who are you talking to, Lynn?
Church is not a supposed a coffee shop or a nightclub with "edgy music, " its a place to reflect and meditate on your life, and to converse with God.
Problem is, god never responds when you try to talk to him, and never has. It's hard to talk, when you don't exist.
Better to replace churches with coffee shops or bars. At least people might accomplish something there, or even talk to each other somewhat openly.
Actually, God has answered many of my prayers, my wife was very sick, she is now better, I was my self not doing well and now doing better, things dont happen over night when we pray it might take a day ,months or years. We just have to notice when it does happen in the littlest things in life. Remember God is not a genie to make your wishes come true.
Actually, other Robert, your post is complete bullshit as far as being proof of god answering any request. Millions of other people have sincerely prayed to have sicknesses healed, to no avail. The success rate is totally random and indicates the opposite of your claims. Furthermore, you should ask why such horrid diseases exist at all, and why god doesn't simply do away with them.
You are a stupid, deluded fool.
To the angry Robert, I guess its just faith my friend, I maybe deluded but im not taking any chances, I will say a prayer for you if you like it or not. Peace.
So, I don't see a demonstrable difference between, 'I prayed and things got better' and 'In time, things got better'. That's why it doesn't meet the rigors of being actual 'proof' of efficacy.
@the robert who believes in a deity
Hang on a second.... now did you just pray for your wife to get better or did she go see a doctor and get better? I mean, if you have a cold and you take cold medicine, chances are you are going to get better. I guess you can pray after taking the medicine and say because you prayed you got better, but isn't it really the medicine that's at work here?
Your last sentence seems to make no sense in light of what you shared with us because wasn't your wish answered?
if you want to converse with god, what is the point of church?
As an atheist, I can answer that – socialization and community, and reinforcement of one's beliefs, are the point of church.
For me its a place of meditation, but thats me. I like the feeling of like im visting God at one of many of his safe place.
well the point of Church is worship. and as.sembly. music is a spiritual gift, service is a spiritual gift, sympathy , teaching a spiritual gift.
robert: god cannot hear you if you pray from home?
austin: music is an emotional thing, and it is a suspension of critical thinking skills. have another drink
I was impressed by what Pope Francis said in Brazil. “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need.” I think this puts those who would deny food stamps to the disadvantaged in the US in a difficult spot.
Puts the church in an awkward spot too. Especially with the priests in those expensive silk dresses.
It has nothing to do with denying food stamps to those who need food. It has to do with the government taking my money and giving it, in the form of food stamps, to someone else. Of course, the government has taken on this human responsibility because the churches – filled with the Christian Right – have failed abysmally in following Christ's exhortations regarding taking care of the needy. They're too busy ranting and raving about how our 'Christian' nation is going to hell in a handbasket under the hand of the Muslim Imposter.
What should we do with those not in need but who are gaming the system ?
Let me just add to the "ME TOO" (and I'm in my 40's).
Jesus agrees with everything I believe !!
Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright oh yeah !
Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright oh yeah !
Funny what you imagine of your imaginary creature.
The reality is people have stopped going to church because the world is finally waking up to the fact that this god business is nothing but a huge lie.
We can take all of our versions of how it is - there is a God, there is not a God, and everything in between - put them in a big pile, and set fire to it all. And still, the Truth will operate as it does: wholly beyond our comprehension. The fact that there are differing view points is a living testament to the fact that WE DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING AND THEREFORE ANYTHING WE THINK WE KNOW IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE. It is the grace, or lack of, in traversing the change that tells the story of what we harbor in our hearts and it is what we harbor in our hearts that creates our story.