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.
This author has not a clue about Christianity and being born-again and being a messenger of the Gospel. She says that churches should BEND towards what people today want in order to allow their sin, to allow their desire to live as we ought not, and to make our selfish hearts even harder, to not realize sacrificing self is not about the church sacrificing the Message, but for people to turn to their own hearts and how hard they have become. Science & technology, which I love and even work with, have no place when it comes to heart issues, hatred issues, and repentance issues.
That's not what she's saying at all. Thanks for sharing. Always good to hear from the judgmental, hateful Christians.
there is nothing to repent. without guilt, christianity is dead in the water. apparently, you have swallowed this guilt thing hook, line and sinker. good for you. jesus is waiting. what are you doing down here?
You make it sound terrible. Could you be a demon?
Unfortunately, the laws of God are not as permissive as the laws of Man.....you can leave the church but you cannot escape the responsibilities of your human existence. If there is afterlife as most of us practicing Chiristians believe then we have to live our faith and die faithfully to what we believe. It is easier to be a Christian today than before and yet we do not hear about this types of articles from them who are either dismembered or thrown to the dens of lions. God is real and the only way to experience his presence is by suppressing the human follies which this article so blatantly manifest.
Another way of saying that is 'she doesn't believe like I believe, so she is wrong'. Quicker.
people are realizing they don't need god to be a good person. they're realizing the bible and other holy books express ignorance and bigotry as much as love and understanding. they're realizing religion is just plain silly.
I tried the atheism, but I did not find either answers for many questions. Then I understood religion and atheism are alike because religious people can't answer something they say it's God's wishes. Science when can't answer something creates a theory and its followers accept as a fact. Then today I prefer to be a Christian trying to understand the Science and the "spiritual" things.
Celso. My advice would be to stay on the track you are on, but don't try to hard to explain God through science. If you do, you may find those who will try to explain that which true faith brings to the Christian heart.
We as humans cannot EVER comprehend totally the things and thoughts of God.
And we Christians are fast becoming the minority in this world. Jesus said it would happen. We have to stay strong in our faith. Not an easy thing to do these days to share said faith and not be attacked by those who cannot and will not adhere to rules as set forth in the New Testament.
science is honest. science realizes it's okay to say "we don't know yet." i prefer truth to fairy tales. i've had the opposite experience. i had a lot of questions religion couldn't answer. science and philosophy have answered more of my questions than religion ever could.
facts and faith are not the same thing, neither is atheism or religion. atheism is based on facts and evidence - religion is based on faith and believing what you're told without testing. exactly opposite.
When science doesn't have an answer a question they say "we don't know the answer." When religions don't have an answer a question, they make one up out of thin air and hold science won't debunk it too quickly. You're obviously someone who prefers an answer there is no reason to believe is the real answer to admitting you just don't know the answer.
You have obviously had a different experience with science then I have, I have yet to hear anyone, including scientist, suggest that they don't know. The Science behind the big bang has some gapping holes yet its put forward all the time to the public as the only other option is....., as well as Macro evolution but well we all know that they say its the only option...
Could it be that science doesn't accept a concept of God from the outset so then the big bang and evolution are the only options.
Actually theories arent just made up.. they are working bodies of knowledge and discoveries based on experimentation and research which is then checked by a scientists peers to see if its reporducable or re-observable..research in all fields of science generates theories. If you were to learn to play a guitar..youd read a book on guitar theory..a theory isnt a guess.. its a tested body of knowledge.. unless gravity is just made up as well as the theory of relativity. thats the difference.. one is about demonstrable evidence to support claims and hypothesis. and the other is to accept a story without trying to see if its true.
oh no no no....the person who wrote the original article is wrong on so many things. I've been through Christianity and even still have hope and I can clearly see that he has his 'priorities' with the world, not with Jesus !
PLEASE GO TO OUR WEBSITE WHICH IS, INCMEDIA.ORG AND CHECK OUT OUR CHURCH, IGLESIA NI CRISTO, IN ENGLISH, CHURCH OF CHRIST.
More people are leaving "the church" because less people are believing in god.
The bible states that in the last days there will be a massive aposity or a leaving of the church, so its no real surprise really. *shurgs*
Yeah, that's what they said when Luther started his mass exodus (The Great Apostasy)... and, probably at least 500 other times over the centuries. When are you finally going to realize that the book is bunk?
The local weatherman predicted that in the upcoming week there will be days of rain and days of sun. Obviously I should worship this guy.
Apparently they knew the day would come when people would start to figure out it's all a fairytale.
Could be a myth, but to say its all a fairy tale is to say that you know everything, just like you accuse people of all faiths I assume. I suspect its a fairy tale because you just want to do your thing without any consequences. If thats the case all life has consequences its best to decide which ones you want to live with. I personally like to live in harmony with the creator, but all to often choose things that are not merely against the Kingdom but not even good for me.
how do you define the creator?
people have been predicting the last days for millenia. each generation considers the following ones less moral. so, this "end days" warning is self perpetuating.
Agreed. I'll add that Los there are rules that God stein place, which defy "tolerance" and "love thy neighbor". In this society today, it is "all about me".
In my opinion, the Church MUST get back to where it was in the beginning. Helping others. Loving others. Forestalling worldly possessions and fame, and remember what Jesus said was the greatest commandment.
The more you think, ask the right questions, and get to understand how your organized religion (whichever it is) came to the making and what interests it really serves, the closer you are to becoming an atheist.
I tried the atheism, but I did not find either answers for many questions. Then I understood religion and atheism are alike because religious people when they can't answer something they say it's God's wishes and they followers accept it. Science when can't answer something creates a theory and its followers accept as a fact. Then today I prefer to be a Christian trying to understand the Science and the "spiritual" things.
This will never make sense no matter how many times you post it.
You prefer fairytales to reality. Got it.
You can become an atheist instead.
Dang it - this hunting for new comments is getting tiresome and frustrating. CNN please fix that function.
"We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities".
Yeah....so you can tell them that they are sinners and they need to repent.
I'm an Iraq Veteran who faith really came into question while on patrol. I'm told God gives you what you need and he is control over all. I have a hard time believing that when you have a man burned alive or shot and the only thing they scream is God help me, God help me, then they die a painful death? I guess that's what they had coming right? We have high ranking officials in the Church who are extremely corrupt and were just suppose to trust because you say so then you're looked down upon once you question the word.
Hold the very idea of God to the highest standards. If you require evidence as strong as the extraordinary claims merit, then you will be in the best position to arrive at a justified belief about God.
Its also ridiculous to hear a preacher talk about a husband and wife (8 months pregnant) die in a bus crash and leave a 3 year old child behind continuing to repeat that "god is good, always".
nice to hear from a vet who actually kept his mind
2nd Timothy 4:1-5
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Sound doctrine is based on what you actually know about your God. Set aside what you have been convinced is true about your God. What do you actually know to be true about it?
People who quote Bible verses in online discussions just end up looking as if they lack any ability to think for themselves.
There may indeed, be a reason for that...
Look at me, I can copy and paste scripture as well!
Don't forget 1 Timothy!
1 Timothy 2:11-15 (the nice New Testament), "A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."
Anyone can re-write the scriptures to suit their own end.
I'm all for a more compassionate Christianity, but do we really need Christianity at all? Asking enough "questions that don’t have predetermined answers" will lead you far away from the ridiculously specific claims of religion and into a more compassionate, enlightened, realistic frame of mind. Science and religion will never truly be at peace with one another.
Every blog and you atheist pull your egotistical bull you are nothing but angry voices in a void, enjoy your colleagues praise while you can. Judgement will come
Oh look, another frustrated, obnoxious Christian. Shocker.
christians believe that the creator of everything spends all his time watching them and desires nothing more than eternity with them and the atheists are egotistical?
you are yet another pompous christian j-e-r-k-o-f-f
Reblogged this on Grace and Stuff and commented:
Rachel Held Evans offers critical insight on the decline of our churches.
"To any Millenial out there. Most (ex-Christians) are atheists for one or more of the following reasons.
The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.
The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.
The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.
Throwing the three together into one being effectively cubes its already dispositive implausibility.
We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe. The idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive) makes no sense to us. We can’t help but ask ourselves, “did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?”
The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.
The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, the Judeo-Christian god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?
We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.
We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”. Likewise, we know how all faiths evolve, morph and change over time and do not think we were lucky enough to have been born in the one generation that “got it right.”
We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.
Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away,” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more näive, timid minds among us.
We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.
“You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, or even a relevant point, because an inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is not even evidence for their existence. It is impossible to prove a negative in this context.
When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, a talking snake, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.
It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Mao Zedong was a great man because The Little Red Book says so, and the reason I believe The Little Red Book is that it was written by Mao Zedong, who was a great man.” Do you even have the slightest idea of how your Bible was compiled over the centuries or who decided what to include and what to exclude and on what grounds? Can you even name one of hundred plus authors who contributed to it? One of the many people who decided what got in and what didn’t?
To be bluntly honest, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.
So, before some priest, minister, rabbi or iman next claims to you that they know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, simply because their parents or church taught them some comforting stories from Greco-Roman Palestine as a child, you might like to reflect upon the overwhelming enormity of the claims they make and the complete paucity of evidence that underwrites those claims.
No, you DO NOT have to dumb yourself down. Be as skeptical as such claims as you would be of any others."
Bingo! Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions and and don't take mystical bullsh!t as answers.
Bravo! So well said.
Excellent comment. I noticed you included all of it in a set of quotes. Who is the original author?
Colin on Reddit Atheism
As a human being – an immortal, all-powerful and all-knowing being is difficult to understand – but access to that being, God, is available.
God isn't confined to my limited understanding of how the universe operates.
This is a very good thing.
God wants your heart. Change your mind, God will change your heart.
And you know this how? Have any evidence besides an argument from ignorance or wishful thinking?
That's all you guys have ever been able to offer.
More meaningless platitudes unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.
My heart is fine. Why didn't God change Hitler's heart?
Ok, I just called out to god and he apparently answered 'cause my next thoughts were that the world would a better place if everyone chilled out, used a little more Canadian weed and had consensual protected s3x more often. I'm not sure my god is the same as other's but that's what mine is telling me, so please everyone, respect my beliefs and let me practice them as I, sorry, my god, sees fit. Peace.
Humbly ask God.
I can't imagine Hitler had that many humble thoughts...
Asking God to change your heart is a placebo. Believing God will make the change you want gives you the confidence to change it yourself.
According to the Bible, Saul was struck by God on the road to Damascus where he was going to persecute Christians. If this account is true it is evidence you don't need to be humble or ask God for anything for him to change your heart. If God changed Saul's heart on the way to persecute Christians, why did't he change Hitler's on his way to persecute Jews?
Saul's heart did not instantly change.
Look at what happened after his encounter with Jesus:
He was blind. He didn't eat. He sat in a room at a stranger's house for 3 days.
He probably had a lot of time to humbly think about his life.
Hitler killed himself. His life must have been hell.
@AE: Explaining the story of Saul's conversion does nothing to answer my question, which you keep dodging. Why didn't God change Hitler's heart? He didn't, not in a day, in a month, in a year, or ten years. Why are you so incapable of dealing with reality?
People always ask why did he not change the heart of man, but why did he not change my heart when I did something against my neighbour, or why did he let someone get cancer or why does he allow abortion. I would say, "freewill." we will never understand completely, but Hitlers evil was only evil if their is some sort of deity and answer for eternity. If all of life just goes on then we are just animals and Hitler was not evil he was just a part of the chain of evolution. Some try to argue for a morality outside of a deity, but that is foolish and the arguments are empty to me at least
AE, there are only a few people actually opposed to having a relationship with an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly benevolent immortal being responsible for the creation of our reality – if such a thing is possible, should such a being exist. I would welcome one, even set aside my own will and desires to have it. Obviously you think you have such a relationship. You can't seem to tell anyone why you think that way, just that one must be in that relationship to receive knowledge that it is based on something true. But belief requires that basis – evidence that the Creator being is true. And people, many I expect, need belief in the thing before a relationship can begin with it.
I had to get honest with myself to get right with God. It was difficult. I had to get over major self-deception.
The main key is getting outside of my self-centered and selfish nature.
@AE: "I had to get honest with myself to get right with God. It was difficult. I had to get over major self-deception."
I had to get honest with myself to become an atheist. It was difficult. I had to get over major self-deception.
"The main key is getting outside of my self-centered and selfish nature."
Religion is a product of self-interest.
I have a desire to follow Jesus Christ, not a religion.
"I have a desire to follow Jesus Christ, not a religion."
You are pretty much up the creek then. You only have what religions have said that this alleged "God" and "Jesus" said and want and demand, beginning with the Hebrew religion and then onto the Christian religion... or does your Jesus have a different story and attributes and characteristics than they have presented?
@AE: "I have a desire to follow Jesus Christ, not a religion."
Why quibble over semantics? All of your understanding of Jesus comes from Christian teachings and a book created by Christians.
It's all driven by self-interest. Promises of salvation, living forever, seeing loved ones again in the next life, forgiveness for your mistakes and wrongdoing and so on, these are ultimately the reason you want to "follow Jesus." If the story were that when you die you're just gone and that God will never do anything to help you I can assure you that your desire to follow Jesus would evaporate.
From one Atheist to you, the reader, that is THE REAL REASON!
Well of course he only revealed himself to a group of Jewish goat farmers....they were his "chosen people" after all. Just ask them.
Really? So then...how old was Adam when God created him? You ASSUME no such being as God exist because you ASSUME Him to be subject to the same laws of nature of this universe in which we exist. Have you ever considered that such a hypothetical being would by definition NOT be subject to such laws, especially if He created them? God can make a universe as physically OLD yet as is chronologically YOUNG as He wishes. Adam proves it, because though he was formed as a mature man, he was actually only a few seconds old.
Christians have always been trouble makers. It's the rebel in all of us that seeks Jesus, and He's the rebel that answers.
Nothing in me seeks Jesus.
He answers only in your dreams.....