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.
"... increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc." Your vaunted BS meter should be glowing red by now.
Very well-written and spot on. There are many of us who crave a relationship with God, but are loathe to mix with people-haters who claim to know the truth.
Wait... aren't you claiming to know the truth...?
Conservative Christians spend more on charities than liberals. Surveys have shown and you can find countless articles on this topic.
Besides, Christians can be Republican or Democrat. Churches that I have attended have sometimes included more than half who would vote Democrat. It all depends on where the church is located. It is hard to say that all Evangelical Christians vote one way or the other. It all depends on where you live.
Problem is that "conservative Christians" may pay more for charity but I bet ya ten to one most of that money goes straight to the church and not the actual charity.
It's amazing now ignorant conservatives enjoy being. There is this moronic lie that selfish greedy give more to charity. Unlike, educated Americans, conservative would rather be lazy and not get off the bulbous butts and research. This conservative lie about giving more to charity has long been discredited. To be a conservative, is you live a life defined by liars, lies and lying.
Evangelical churches tell their members how to vote, and it sure isn't for democrats. It is anti-science, anti-gay, anti-women, self-righteous bunk. For those of us who have faith, you have ruined it. Those who have a brain and think for themselves see that is is bunk (see the "invisible pink unicorn" comments), leaving those of us who still believe in a higher power and seek spiritual understanding on an island. We are not judgmental jerks, but want to understand the soul. But we want to love one another, not judge, and our votes want to save our creation rather than feed multinational companies. And I am a boomer.
My church is what she wishes her church could be. I love my church. If only more could follow.
Go Westboro Baptist Go !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus
hahaha funny one considering just about every kid my age that I talk to is either athiest/agnostic...i'll stick to my atheism please
Jesus is a lie as is God. I would never pray to this God that sat by while his chosen, the Jews were murdered. This same "loving God" sits on his butt while people are starve. God gives little girls cancer to test the faith of her loving parts who get to watch she die. What a loving God. I wolds love to met you God and spit in your face. God, I despise you.
I just don't understand how Evangelistic people work anymore, formerly being one, in this age of blooming enlightenment. To that end, I left the Church because I became educated and realized, through rational thought, that either the Christian God is mentally ill; letting trillions upon trillions die horrific, painful and agonizing deaths (after lives full of strife and poverty) across the millennia to prove some obscure point that obviously no one is getting; OR their God doesn't exist. I am going to go with the latter because having a creator-parent like that is just too much to bear... there is no reason for all of this if there is a god, none.
So you believe that either God should behave as you expect him to or he doesn't exist at all? Nice choice!
The pain and suffering you see may not be attributable to "God". Having adversaries is not a concept exclusive to mankind. There may be an enemy of the way you believe is good or right or true. It is possible we reside in the territory of an enemy of what is good and right and true and individuals are just blaming the wrong source for the pain.
I believe in God, but I do not believe God has to be "good". God can do whatever the eff God wants to do. Accept it, and stop hiding from the truth. There is a God, but you are reacting to cowards who are afraid of death. I have no expectations there will be a heaven of an afterlife, but I still do not doubt the existence of God because I do not necessarily feel per my own human ego that we asa species deserve eternity. I do not understand why we should feel that is part of the greater deal, that If we worship God, we get to live forever, somehow, someway. I don't think you need to believe in that to acknowledge there is one greater power responsible for everything known and unknown.
You chose to consider only two choices. There is at least one more - the one the Bible states. God gave man the ability and responsibility of choosing how to live. Having and making choices is logically accompanied by having to live with the results of that choice.
There are also Baby Boomers who feel much they you do. The church we grew up in is not the church we want to attend now.
Boomers and Gen X are the ones who did the work to free Gay Millennials from the tyranny of conservative thought. We fought the fight. They did not, yet they act as if they are experiencing the very definition of cultural oppression. It speaks to the arrogance of their generation, and given the music they listen to and produce, you'd think they were taking credit for all of the 1980's AND 1990's! I'm still waiting to see what makes this generation so "great" as they themselves claim. Never got drafted.Never fought a war and never created any industry. If they did, they would not be underemployed.
The author said, "We want a truce between science and faith."
That is easy. Quit believing nonsense, or if you can't help yourself from believing that nonsense, stop blaming science for pointing out that it is nonsense.
Science is not waging war with faith. Science is indifferent about whatever baloney you choose to believe. It is also indifferent about how you feel when it shows how moronic your beliefs are.
If you want a truce with science, stop fighting it. Of course, once you stop fighting it, and truly embrace it, your faith will disappear.
I agree. Science isn't fighting a war against religion. Religion is fighting a war against science for some unknown reason.
I am a scientist if academic creds are the qualifier. I find no problems in the scriptures that would cause me to make a choice between science and scripture. The problem is in the interpretations. For example some say man was created in a day. The scriptures say a day and a thousand years is the same to God. Someone may say, Oh, then one day equals one thousand years. What if the point was that God is not subject to the concept of time as we see it? It could easily have been stated as a day or X (whatever) number of years. The scriptures say man was made from the dust of the earth. What is that? It could be an evolutionary process and man wasn't complete until his soul entered him, as the scriptures say God breathed life into man. Why do some people think evolution is contrary to God's design? Either way, via evolution or a snap of the finger does it matter? From another layer or dimension of universe (also a scriptural concept) who can say what ability an individual might have to influence matter in this layer of universe we all reside?
Perfectly stated. Thank you.
As a boomer, I see the "BS" factor as a major turn off in the church today. For the last 25 years, we have introduced rather slick marketing and cool factor secular commercialism used by the church-growth gurus as the way to get people into the church. And this technique has failed miserably. Young people, as well as boomers are tuned off by it. This blogger is spot on correct in her observation. We have replaced liturgy and sacred music with slick video productions and user-friendly messages. We've abandoned the sacredness of the sacraments and replaced it with come-and-get-it-dude nonsense. No wonder young people are turned off. Pastors dressed in blue jeans, untucked shirts, and Rob Bell glasses trying to be cool is laughable. Youth leaders trying the latest gimmicks may seem cool at the time, but fails to keep the youth. The blogger nails it when she says that people are not seeing Jesus in the hip and cool trend. In my small community, I am seeing a trend toward more formal liturgical worship. And this movement is driven by the under-35 crowd. They have experienced the phoniness that we've thrown at them, and are rejecting it is masses.
Prayer changes things
Prayer doesn't change a thing troll.
YOU ARE THE TROLL
My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.
Your hatred toward Christians is unbelievable. You don't believe who cares. But to sit here and give yourself IQ points while demeaning believers is rather self serving.
Do you hate Santa Claus?
It sure does. It changes your perception from reality to fantasy, binky boy.
18But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silasc and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
23I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
Prayer has changed everything. Evil is exposed and defeated in prayer.
There is no Proof that god exist. There is continuity of the bible.. written by anonomous people then changed according to society and what benifitted them the most. Prayer changes NOTHING. You are only talking to yourself. Let the smart people fix things, and let your invisible friends make your gullible mind free from guilt of being lazy and unwilling to physically do anything real. Go kill someone in the name of your god, whiel atheist live in peace and defend against the Hatred, Violence and Intolerance yoru religions teach and corrupt pure minds. F You.
Really? Then why do children die of cancer? Don't they have enough people praying for them?
Nothing fails like prayer.
You live your life, and let your neighbor live theirs. That is God's will.
It is not your job to decide what is best for other people. That is God's job, so stop trying to do it for him you moron. Do you honestly think you no better than God, because every time you tell someone make a declarative statement and tell someone how they should live, you are doing his job for him and that makes God VERY VERY ANGRY.
For alot of these people in churches it seems to be about prejudices they are taught on FOX news. People have to ask themselves no matter where the input of information comes from, is What is the agenda for this statement? So many churches have developed ultraconservative political agendas about what we should and should not do and who we should hate. Alot of very unChristlike behaviour.Alot of organized religion has become an unwieldy political tool for those with an ax to grind. No wonder kind loving people are leaving.
wait a minute many of the comments are out of context opinions, first no one can even argue that Jesus did not exist, He did that is fact and Died and rose that is all facts. the bible is proven over and over again to be true in many ways, the younger in american leaving churches have the bearing on international, that is what happen in Europe as well. as people think that get smart they do not need God, but we are ones that need him the most.
With all this proof, I don't suppose you'd mind providing some?
I have proof that the Spirit of revelation gave me dreams that were fulfilled sovereignly by a supernatural God or spiritual force.
I have data and evidence. and i will clarify that this is not salvation Faith that comes from the authentic ministry of the Holy Spirit is salvation. Resurrection power.
26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.
How in the world would you propose to prove what dreams you had?
experience is proof enough for one person.
i tested this scenario and while i was writing my dreams down, 13 of them came true. i was handing people dreams of the conversations they were bringing me, and other people dreamed what i was thinking and brought these thoughts to mind with synchronicity.
it was nothing short of supernaturally miraculous.
Jesus died and rose is a fact ? Evidence please ?
Good luck with that. They 'talk' but in reality they just trade phrases to please themselves.
Colon, there is no evidence for the Loch Ness Monster than for salvation.
MORE not NO
A myth does not qualify as evidence for another myth. Sorry.
You said, "no one can even argue that Jesus did not exist"
Baloney. While it may be likely that there was a guy that the Jesus myth was modeled on, it is in no way established fact that he was real.
You said, "He did that is fact and Died and rose that is all facts."
Utter nonsense. There isn't a single credible piece of evidence supporting your assertion.
You said, "the bible is proven over and over again to be true in many ways"
Present your evidence.
You said, "as people think that get smart they do not need God, but we are ones that need him the most."
As people think, they will realize that your god is no more likely to be real than the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. People that think will shed the nonsense, because it is nonsense.
The Roman records have no recordings of troops, materials used to execute a Jesus. And scholars no Roman record keeping was meticulous.
So you want your gay friends to be able to worship with you? You want to be able to question the bible? You want authentic religion? It's called the Episcopal Church. Come on in, the water's fine. They're a welcoming bunch who like your questions. Everyone is welcome at our communion rail.
This made me smile. Thank you for being inclusive, loving and kind!
why not try Islam
Why not try an ice pick in your eyes?
When you ignore prime rib you don't seek out McDonalds. Truth be told, Islam is a false idolatrous cult that enslaves its followers here and guarantees an eternity in hell.
This is exactly the "thinking" that turns "thinking people" away from the church.
there are no words or science that can counter the perpetration of Satanic evil, like the truth of the Spirit that brings life more abundantly.
2 Corinthians 4:6
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Now, that's a word that fits well in any religious discussion.
You wouldn't believe the things my invisible pink unicorn has perpetrated.
Really, you wouldn't.
Purp= imposter of truth pervert of reality counterfeit
"Purp" is not a word, unless you are talking about Grand Daddy Purp.
"Perp" is short for perpetrator, one who carries out a plan. At least that's what Merriam-Webster says. It doesn't mean a "pervert of reality" or any of your other nonsense.
Religion must die for humanity to survive.
your approach brings death.
the one world religious issue lies between the apostles and disciples word, vs. the perversion of these details by the people who wrote the Quran. people who think they are stronger mentally than those who walked with God in the flesh Messiah Lord. He is risen.
it does not take war live and let live. We can simply apply the teachings of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace.
the procession of evil is growing.
I like Rachel Held Evans–she's the least evangelical evangelical I know. I admire not only that she is a charming writer, but, more especially, that she is cautious in speculating, that she actually makes research-based claims, and that she seems to be such a profoundly good listener. I am often puzzled though why she only flirts with the idea of connecting to mainline, historic, liturgical christianity and doesn't fully embrace the inclination towards which so many of her essays and observations point? I would venture to guess many of the evangelical pastors she speaks to (as described in this essay) don't "get" what she's arguing, because they take for granted that she's an evangelical in essence, just an edgy one; whereas, by her own admission, she is talking about "not a change in style but a change in substance." And, when she describes that change, what she ends up describing is what already more-or-less exists, namely: mainline christianity, embracing the reformed and the catholic, the scientific and the traditional, which has been doing (never perfectly, to be sure) the sort of deep thinking, social justice, and disciplined prayer that she talks about continually while the evangelicals were breaking off to do their own thing (the thing she seems to want them to stop doing) throughout the twentieth century. Does anyone else feel this way reading her, particularly in this fine essay?
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