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.
First – nobody is searching after Jesus (at least according to the scriptures). Second – most Christians and churches are not selecting one political party – rather they are agreeing with a party that agrees with the God of the scriptures. Third – it the youth are leaving the church because they do not believe the scriptures or that they do not agree with God – then they are not Christians. I am sorry – just because you feel a certain way you cannot base truth on your feelings.
that and she judges millions of people and churches she has never stepped in to. all the gentle people!
I have replied to many comments here, but want to say something.
Whether one believes in the Bible, God, Jesus, etc., they have something inside them that is missing. Yeah, c'mon, go ahead and make fun of me, as I know it is coming. If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, really searches deep down, they will find that there is something they are missing. Me too for quite a while, to be honest. We all try to fill the void with something. Work, sports, computers, hobbies, whatever. There is only one thing that fills that void, and it is totally addictive, free and brings total contentment in the heart. Peace and love through knowing you have a personal relationship with the King of all creation.
What I don't understand is why anyone would reject total, unconditional love that transcends time, space and measure. It can't be described, only experienced.
The only way to get it is to love Bod and accept Jesus for who He was and did. Most think that is too scary and there will be too many rules and they will change in the process. Yes, and yes. But the difference is that you don't have to change. Accept Jesus and you will gladly accept the change He will make in you.
Nothing,like going to sleep with a prayer on your lips and waking with a song in your heart.
Good post. I think the connection to the infinite (God, Jesus, Nirvana, ego-death, etc.) is a great point. Perhaps the christian "flavor" of such a connection is what is at issue. Perhaps others are filling the void with new gods. Not necessarily right or wrong, but different.
The reason why you need someone or something is because you have a weak mind and a pastor that can really sell his book. Now ask what would have happened if YOU would have been raised by Buddhists monks, and never heard of Jesus...who would you NEED??? We don't need Jesus. We are told we do, and when we feel a need for answers, we have been brainwashed to thing about God, so we make it up in our minds. Think outside your Religion, ask what you would believe in if you were born in Egypt 4,000 years ago before Jesus...who would be that someone?? What would your God be like? Would you go to Heaven?
And what if a person, let's say me, has looked deep inside and found nothing is missing? I have the love of my friends and family, love them in return, am realitively successful, have no major hang-ups, am of sound mind and body and no major run-ins with the law.
So, what? You are going to tell me I need a deity as well? Why? For when I die? Sure, honestly, I guess you can say that nobody really knows what is going to happen once they die, but I can tell you this, if there is some being waiting for me, I'd much rather go to that being knowing 'deep down inside' that I lived my life the best I could. Said being has two choices, it can either accept me as I am, or not. If the first is true, great, we will get along famously. If the second is true, it's a jerk.
Evolution is an assumption, not a fact. Fossils were created by the Flood as well as post-flood super-volcanic eruptions. Fact – earth is a geological wreck. In addition, mankind spread from Mesopotamia via Noah's offspring to re-populate Earth.
Christ not only believed in the Creation story, He compared His return, when He will raise the dead (i.e. reap the earth), to the Great Flood as well as the destruction os Sodom and Gomorrah. Heaven, Hell and judgment are real, but they are post-resurrection/future events.
Evolution and Gravity are equally well studied and tested theories.
With your concern, I hope you have a rope around you waist, tied to a stake in the ground, so you aren't floating up into the sky all the time.
Christ believed in Creation only because there was no PBS program called Nova back then!
HERE's the deal, just WHEN have LGBT had a problem at Church?? 'they' &/or this article keep saying they are Not accepted & are judged when going to church... well I want to read the stories with details about it. Every single church I've gone to I really didn't know if a person was gay. Besides who hasn't had issues at church, gay or Not, or any large gathering of people. I want to hear/read stories detailing what happened to them at church, b/c so far it is just TALK!!!!! or very few incidences..... I Do know some don't visit b/c of how they've been treated by Christians on the street or other but Never within the church bldg. Give me DETAILS, not just hear-say.
I feel LGBT just do Not "want" to go to church b/c they listen to the gossip & never even try to attend.. all satan's scheme to keep people from going, or anybody from going, b/c everyone has problems with certain people when you get a large number of people together, but in the case of church people expect perfect love by others & it just doesn't happen, they are messed up people too.
Maybe it just does not fit in this world anymore for no other reason than it has lost its usefulness. No conspiracy, no pulling away from god stuff, no satan's-winning junk, just no longer applicable..simple as that.
"Given the scale of our universe, it seems likely that god wouldn't be interested in humans at all, and his design would be so far beyond our imagining, so why care about humans? "
Atoms and sub-atomic particles are much smaller than humans, so why would God be interested in, or care about them. Suppose, since they are so tiny in perspective of the universe, we removed all sub-atomic particles from the universe. What would the universe look like?
"his design would be so far beyond our imagining..."
How do you imagine God? Do you box God into the limits of your imagination? Is God so large, and we so small that you can't imagine a relationship between us, like trying to imagine us having a relationship with pet germs?
Suppose God can transcend time and space. Could spend a year of his life riding an electron around one orbit of the nucleus of an atom. Or, he could he create things and place them where he wants them in a fraction of a second? Could he create laws that keep things in order, such as the scientific laws of relativity and thurmal dynamics? Could he be big enough to create this huge universe, and, at the same time, but small enough to stand beside us and have a relationship with us?
So, how big is God? What is the alternative if he doesn't exist?
For me, the choice is between the God of the Bible, the gods of other religions and evolutionism. I rule out evolution because in order for it to get where it supposedly is, one must believe that we are the existance of beating the trillions-to-one odds, billions of times and in violation of most, if not all, proven scientific laws. (I'm not trying to insult your intelligence, we may just have to agree to disagree here. That's what this thread is all about.)
The gods of other religions try to make man live up to gods standard. We have to prove to them that we are worthy to be accepted. Not many, if any, man can live up to these gods standards without taking from others to do so. (Talk about being proud and superior to one another...)
The God of the Bible is different. He tells and show us that we cannot live up to his standard. There is nothing we can do to earn his love or the right to go to heaven. He is honest with us and tells us we have failed his test to be accepted into his kingdom. He is righteous and just and cannot fellowship with unrighteousness. So, we must do the impossible and become righteous, or we will be forever outcast from him.
He knows we can't become righteous. So, he limited himself, while being fully God and fully man, he lived among us and suffered in every way we suffer. He saw the most hated and dispised sinners and said "I love you." He, the righteous and just God who cannot have unrighteousness in his presence, became our unrighteousness for us. He felt the betrayal of Judas, whom HE LOVED and yet still loved him. His father turned his back on him, I believe from the moment Judas kissed him, the same moment I believe he became our sin for us. And God the Father did not look again on Jesus until it was finished.
Now, Jesus, who defeated death, can pardon any of us who accept the gift of His righteousness so we can spend eternity in the presence of a pure, righteous and just God.
Even after accepting God's gift, I cannot live up to his standards. I have failed many times, but the same gift still applies. Jesus' blood covers those sins too.
I am no better than you in any way. In what can I have pride?
"I am such a spectacular Christian, and live so perfectly that God had to come down and clean up this big mess I made!"
Would you get "Employee of the Year" if your boss had to keep cleaning up your mistakes?
God made the move, God cleaned up my unrighteousness, and at great cost. I could not possibly live up to his standards.
Do I judge you by your lifestyle, or because you don't believe? NO! While they were still beating him, while he was hanging on the most cruel form of torture the Romans could muster up, Jesus loved the people who sent him to the cross. He loved the soldiers who beat him to within a single whip stroke of his life. He loved those who stood around and mocked him. He loved, and still loves the most ruthless, most vile, most insensative, thieves, murderers, rapists, people who live today. He even loves those who falsly teach and push others around in His name.
If they will accept His gift, believe in Him, then, they, even those who murder and molest babies, will be cleansed from their sins and can live together with Him for eternity.
You may think you haven't done anything worth dying for, and in man's eyse you are probably right. But the truth is, we have all sinned and it only takes "little white" sin to clothe us in unrighteousness. But even your sin is minimal, the fine is greater than you can pay yourself. It has been paid, if you want to receive the receipt. Just ask Jesus for it.
You may choose not to. You may choose to bash everything I said here and try to discredit me or contradict what the Bible teaches.
And, that's ok with me. Jesus still loves you and His offer is still open as long as you have breath! And, if you are to die, not accepting His gift, it will be a sad day in Heaven. Not a day of rejoicing. Heaven rejoices over a person becoming a believer, not over a sinner dying. I'm not here to judge you whether you believe or not or what lifestyle you are living.
I am here to say, Jesus loves you anyway and he offers you a free pardon, if only you will accept it. Not only for you, but for anyone reading this reply.
Sigh, cultist blackmail at it's finest. Love me or else.
What a screwed up desert cult mentality.
why was God walking through the pit making a blood covenant with Abraham? becuse He wanted to intervene with the world. He wanted to establish communion with you! He wants to resonate within you and He will, but you have to open up and quit being so defensive.
Blood, nails, floods, thorns.... your deity has a decidedly gory way of trying to relate to people.
Speculating wrongly about science you clearly don't understand, does not then somehow justify there being a god.
Millennials are "leaving" the church because their parents psychological conditioning (indoctrination) is not taking hold ... and they never would have "joined" a church to begin with if not for their parents taking them from birth.
Religion is the most ridiculous concept ever created by man. Gods, miracles, rising from the dead. The fact that we are even having this conversation in 2013 is absolutely absurd. Do you believe in Santa Claus? None of this stuff has ever been proven by anybody, ever, yet we still have religion. Religion was created to explain what science of the time could not. It's no different than Greek mythology. In fact most of it is derived from mythology. Wake up humans.
Faith is ignorance disguised in fear of what might happen if you don't believe blindly. MIllenials are becoming more atheist, 15% now and rising, because we're more educated and answering scientific questions with: "Because the Bible says so" or "You just have to have faith" just doesn't cut it. No, Kangarros could not have traveled to Noah's Ark and neither could Llamas, so if one story is BS, the rest is most certainly BS as well. Millenials question everything, and it is these questions that the Religion simply cannot answer. Religious elitism is the #1 cause of all wars, Millenials know this as well. While there is Moral great side of religion, there is just as much evil in Religion as well, and MIllenials see through that. Atheist, We are a silent minority often as ridiculed as Chirstians were once too...About time to open our eyes and see that there is no GOD.
Well, if that's how ya wanna frame it,
""fear" AND "not"
occurs in 144 verses in the KJV, including 63 exact phrases shown first. "
This sounds good. But there is a deep problem with implementing it. If we evangelicals go back and seriously engage in issues of substance it will split the evangelical coalition into several parts. Evangelicalism is built on a style best captured by Billy Graham in which the idea of salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus, coupled with a compelling emotional worship structure, allowed them to import the beliefs common in 19th century American protestantism into the late 20th century without bothering to seriously engage with the intellectual inconsistencies that led mainline protestant churches to abandon those beliefs in the early 20th century. If you look seriously at what we know about the history of life on planet earth, you have to abandon young earth creationism. Despite some highly educated evangelicals who argue that evolution is compatible with evangelicalism, the overwhelming majority of worshipers at evangelical churches in the USA are young earth creationists; and they will leave any church that doesn't help them hide their beliefs from reality. Despite the fact that the political agenda of the Republican right is about as far from the message of Jesus as any other political voices in the western world, many (maybe most) evangelicals will leave any church that is critical of right wing politics. What you propose is indeed happening. Some of us are trying to evolve forms of evangelicalism that abandon some of the mistakes of the past. But this is splitting the evangelical coalition and the name 'evangelical' will probably stay with the conservative group that will remain the majority in the next decade or two.
Ya know...if we Christians would just get rid of the Bible..then everyone else wouldn't be bothered to actually LIVE a righteous life.
Are you implying that you only live a good life because of your Bible?
If so you're not giving yourself nearly enough credit.
Morality is largely innate, you don't really need a bible to show you how to live.
Which Gods are you talking about, these writings ARE written by MEN, edited by MEN, explained by MEN. So please inform us which God(s), we have so MANY to choose from. Also just to help you understand what you are talking about. Other than the religious fundamentalist, almost all serious scholars (myself included) whoever wrote Peter 1 did not write Peter 2 and Peter’s own self admission he was illiterate (try reading about Gnostic Gospel). These writing are the work of trained Greek scribes written century’s later. The earliest works of Peter are in Konic Greek and dated from the middle late 3rd / 4th (Papyrus 72) century CE
40 authors of different trades, over a periodof 2000 years with the same consistent message, with Jesus as their grand subject. Coincidence? Not so.
No, not a coincidence .. just utilizing the same reference point. Does not make any of it true. Just evolving folklore.
You realise that that argument could be used as evidence that the ancient Egyptian gods were real right? Or how about Hinduism? It is far older than Christianity, with many many many writings about the same basic topics, so by your argument it therefore must be the truth. Now we have a problem though; there are more than one mutually exclusive 'truths'. Therefore your argument that 2000 years of writings on the same basic principals confers truth doesn't work.
"2Ti 3:16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
But it is not older than Judaism, which is the real starting point of Christianity. Just sayin'..
Ladies and gentlemen, the face of atheism.
Of course–if you don't like the message, make fun of the messenger.
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. I know of no-one who "yearns for Jesus". My kids sure don't. 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.
Perhaps your children don't because you don't. Parents today are as self absorb as the parents are. (and most just as clueless) Get away from the religious teaching of a God. About as much God there as in your home.
You wouldn't let your children hang out with murderer would you?
Then same goes for your primitive desert god.
Yeah, about as primitive as you. OH great thinker ya are .. Perhaps it's time for a fatty, and don't forget to blame God .
Please do not spread misinformation you read on reddit – and wikipedia won't cut it, either.
Charles: You might want to try Dr. Bart Ehrman. Biblical scholar and chair of the theology dept at NCU. That's where I get most of this info. Might want to read some of his books and learn the truth about the bible. Oh, and Wiki DOES in fact "cut it". It's a great starting point and studies have shown them to be about as accurite as Britannica. You just don't like hearing the truth behind your fables.
Harry: You're right. I don't. I also don't forbid my kids from attending a church if they want but thus far, they've shown no interest.
Don't lose hope. Remember that everything that is taking place in the culture was already
written about.It is in the BIBLE!!! God is not panicking God is not sleep he hears us ,he sees everything
that is taking place and his WORD WILL NOT BE MARKED NOR WILL IT RETURN VOID.
Continue to read his word he reveals WHO WINS:)
KEEP THE FAITH:D
IOW...continue to reject reason and gulp the kool-aide and don't let pesky evil satanic facts get in the way of your delusion.
Faith is believing in something without proof or a good reason. Sorry, but no person uses faith to go through their everyday life so why would they use it when trying to answer the biggest question? God isn't real get over it.
As long as you view religious belief or faith as win/lose, you've already lost. Or rather, you're "WINNING" in the Charlie Sheen sort of way. If you were honest with yourself–you know, honest, that's when you're not lying or being delusional out of wishful thinking–you would admit that you have absolutely no idea whether there is a god or an afterlife.
Try looking around and helping to fix the actual problems occurring today in the real world. Faith and religion and all the trappings that go along with it are at best distractions and at worst the luxuries you have as a member of one of the richest, safest places on earth.
There is no evidence that your god exists so your assertions are baseless. What needs to be done is more of a move toward logic and rationalism so we can finally free ourselves from this religion that has infested our culture. The only innoculation is science.
Old lady Rachel Held Evans should roll up her sleeves and get busy with God's work instead of indulging her fantasies and tickling people's ears, that is, if she is a Christian, and not a KOMMIE KILLER MOMMIE. At 32, she should know better. She must know some 15 or 16 year old pregnant girls that need guidance in loving their own children and hubbies.
"Tts 2:3-4 The aged women likewise, that [they be] in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,"
a KOMMIE KILLER MOMMIE where is the guitar? what artistry!
Settle for piano with Jerry Lee Lewis??
Case & point. What this entire article is about, come on...
I would like to say emphaticaly that Catholics are identical to atheists with one small difference. A catholic dissmissis Zeus, Appolo, Vishnu, Thor, Krishna, Sun God, Moon God, Brahma, etc..etc...same as a atheist........The small difference... an atheist dismisses one more....
All christians/theists are like Atheists, Atheists just take it one step further and dismiss all gods.
God with Abraham dug a huge pit, they cut a cow in half vertically and drained the blood into the pit. then they formed a blood covenant promise. Abraham walked through the blood, up to his thighs, and then God went through the pit and there was a fire.
This is an everlasting promise, why?
Because God absolutely intended to intervene in your life. He has always shed grace and mercy. He allowed Adam to live after this commandment..................
Genesis 2:17 ►
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die."
Leviticus 17:11 ►
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.
the rest of this comes down to prophetic foreshadowing of a messiah. If there was no resurrection, I would vote for the end of every religion. and I hated the bible, until for some reason God allowed me to have my eyes opened to spiritual life, power and struggle.
We have one savior! His plan is The Way.!
"God with Abraham dug a huge pit...". Lol...does that not have any hint of a story that would be told around a campfire by sheep herders 2000 yeas ago?
@austin, that is some crazy sh!t. why does anyone believe it?
What was the name of Adams first wife and how many creations stories are listed in the Bible?
Proverbs 22:6- King James Bible
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
The second largest generation ever will return to the church eventually, just as their boomer parents did.
All glory and power to our Lord Jesus Christ!
All hail Zeus!!
At 58 I'm a baby boomer, and after four decades of being a Christian I couldn't keep rationalizing a lot of beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
They are leaving because it's fake and it's obvious it's fake. Grow up, there aren't any sky fairies that goat herders came up with 2000 years ago.