August 2nd, 2013
08:00 AM ET

Why millennials need the church

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - For a time, I counted myself among the spiritual but not religious, Christian but not churchgoing crowd.

Like many millennials, I left church because I didn’t always see the compassion of Jesus there, and because my questions about faith and science, the Bible, homosexuality, and religious pluralism were met with shallow answers or hostility.

At first I reveled in my newfound Sunday routine of sleeping in, sipping my coffee and yelling at Republicans who appeared on ”Meet the Press.”

But eventually I returned, because, like it or not, we Christian millennials need the church just as much as the church needs us. Here’s why:


As former Methodist bishop Will Willimon has often said, “you cannot very well baptize yourself.”

In a culture that stresses individualism, the church satisfies the human need for community, for shared history and experiences.

And in a world where technology enables millennials to connect only with those who are like-minded, baptism drags us - sometimes kicking and screaming as infants - into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church.


“Sin” is not a popular word these days, perhaps because it is so often invoked in the context of judgment and condemnation.

But like all people, millennials need reminding now and then that the hate and violence we observe in the world is also present within ourselves.

We can be too idealistic, too convinced we can change the world from our iPads.

The accountability that comes from participation in a local church gives young Christians the chance to speak openly about our struggles with materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride.


While the flawed people who make up the church can certainly inflict pain on each other and sometimes on the world, we also engage in the important work of healing.

At their best, local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless.

Millennials who have been hurt by the church may later find healing in it.


Like a lot of millennials, I am deeply skeptical of authority - probably to a fault.

But when I interact with people from my church who have a few years and a lot of maturity on me, I am reminded of how cool it is to have a free, built-in mentoring and accountability program just down the street.

We can learn a lot from the faithful who have gone before us, and the church is where we find them.


One of the few things the modern church has in common with the ancient one is its celebration of the sacred meal— the Eucharist.

There is simply not the space here, nor in many volumes of theology for that matter, to unpack the significance of remembering Jesus through eating bread and drinking wine. But when I left the church, it was Communion I craved the most.

Churches may disagree on exactly how Christ is present in these sacred meals, but we agree that Christ is present. And millennials, too, long for that presence.

There are some days when the promise of Communion is the only thing that rouses me from bed on Sunday morning. I want a taste of that mystery.


Many churches practice a rite of initiation, sometimes called confirmation.

Theologian Lauren Winner, in her book “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis,” quotes a friend who said:

“What you promise when you are confirmed is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.

Union with Christ

Those who follow Jesus long for the day when their communion with him becomes complete, and Jesus promises this will happen through the church.

The apostle Paul compared this union to a marriage. Jesus describes it as a banquet.

No matter what the latest stats or studies say, Christians believe the future of the church is secure and not even “the gates of hell” will prevail against it.

As much as I may struggle to fit in sometimes, as much as I doubt, question and fight for reforms, I am a part of this church, through good times and bad, for better or worse.

The astute reader will notice that each of these points corresponds loosely with a sacrament—baptism, confession, the anointing of the sick, holy orders, communion, confirmation and marriage.

Some would say there are many others. We could speak of the sacrament of the Word or the washing of feet.

But even where they are not formally observed, these sacraments are present in some form in nearly every group of people who gather together in the name of Jesus.

They connect us to our faith through things we can eat, touch, smell and feel. And they connect us with one another.

They remind us, as writer and Episcopal priest Sara Miles put it, that “You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

This is why I haven’t given up on the church, and I suspect why it hasn't given up on me.

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 her.

Evans has written two previous posts for CNN's Belief Blog: Why millennials are leaving the church; and Not all religious convictions are written in stone.

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- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • evangelicals • Faith • Opinion • United States

soundoff (4,825 Responses)
  1. No one

    "as infants – into the large, dysfunctional and beautiful family of the church"
    Thanks for highlighting the major reason why their form of brainwashing works.
    Children and infants don't know any better, and can't even understand the concept of standing up to authority that is lying to them. Let's flip the roles, what would you say if a child was dragged kicking and screaming into a mosque?

    August 3, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • 6:25PM

      Air drop the New Testament into the local area?

      August 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  2. Bigdave

    I had a dream about Andre the giant in his prime wrestling Jesus. Andre made Jesus Submit, but it was all in good fun.

    August 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  3. bubba

    we all need to get along .........

    August 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  4. drinker75

    I have always had a problem with some blow hard standing in front of a congregation telling them what to think.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Athy

      Yeah, that was my problem too, until I learned to sleep through it.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  5. Matthew Lehman

    What a preposterous, self-refuting parade of nonsense.

    Rachel Held Evans seems intent on providing an unwitting demonstration on how to employ assumptions to prove your conclusions. She has furnished us with a list of reasons as to why religion is the irrelevant insult to human intellect that more and more Millennials are seeing it to be. All of her examples are either laughable assumptions based on dead-end reasoning (people need the church for communion. Why do people need communion? They just do) or flat out ignore the many sources of wisdom and leadership that are to be had without the need for pious spin.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  6. Andy M

    Perhaps Jesus has really never left us. Perhaps he is not "God" but rather a very enlightened teacher, a Master of the wisdom given down the ages, and is actually stepping forward, with others of his calibre, to help humanity re-create a new civilization 2,000 years later.

    Perhaps a larger "church" is in the making....a congregation that believes we can end starvation in a world of plenty...who see the spiritual flaw of millions dying in many countries every year when some countries waste huge amounts of resources and food. A church that expands spiritual to the common everyday problems of mankind, not dogma or judgement.

    I am confident all these "perhaps" senarios are relevant to modern day events. If the story presented by Share International about the miralces and signs appearing all over lately being heralds of the return of a world teacher is true, we are in for an amazing future and new insights on spirituality in this new age underway.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  7. John P. Tarver

    I like the faith of the new Pope. He is not afraid the People will kill him.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • snowboarder

      can't argue with that.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  8. MMTT123

    @JesusNotReligion I respect your eagerness to defend your beliefs.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
  9. Puzzled in Peoria

    Just last week, Ms. Held wrote "Why Millennials are Leaving the Church," an article that focused heavily on what is wrong with churches, from Millennials' viewpoint, and what Millennials want in a church. It seemed a rather selfish diatribe that the church should accommodate itself the Millennials' desires.

    This article explains why EVERYONE needs the church. At 62 years old, I think one of the reasons you see mostly older people in church is that Millennials have not felt enough pain yet. I have had cancer twice, have been unemployed, and have known broken relationships.

    Church and religion are not crutches, as most atheists claim. They unravel the meaning of life. It's not about me. Never has been and never will be. We choose our God: either the True God or self as god. Don't be fooled. That's the choice you make if you reject Christ: self as god. And it doesn't work very well.

    She is correct to point out in this piece that older church members are wiser, more mature, and and have learned things younger folks don't know yet.

    Church is for people who can handle the Truth.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Puzzled in Peoria

      You said, "Church is for people who can handle the Truth."
      Nonsense. It's for adults with imaginary friends.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
      • (2i)^0.5

        They're imaginary if you can't use spiritual notation.

        August 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
        • LinCA


          You said, "They're imaginary if you can't use spiritual notation."
          Yeah, I don't do spiritual notation.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Seems you have problems. I reject God but I do not call myself a God. I suggest you actually stop acting superior to those that don't want to believe as you.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jack

      The meaning of life is that an imaginary man in the sky gives people cancer (twice) to make sure they believe in him?

      August 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • bubba

        i wouldnt say imaginary, Invisible to human sight yes !!! God is awesome

        August 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
        • Athy

          If something is invisible to human sight and cannot be detected in any other way, then that something is imaginary.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • L.S.B.

      you mean wrong truth.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • One one

      "She is correct to point out in this piece that older church members are wiser, more mature, and and have learned things younger folks don't know yet."

      That applies to non-church members as well.

      August 3, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • snowboarder

      "Church is for people who can handle the Truth."

      I bet the imams say the same thing.

      August 3, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  10. Reddy Eddie

    Any routine consisting of sleeping in followed by sipping coffe while yelling at the TV, regardless of what's on, is just a tad antisocial and wasting time on a "social network" is neither socializing nor networking. Your problem is clear, you don't have any real relationships with other people and the church attempts to hand that to you on a platter.

    Our culture doesn't stress individualism, instead it stresses collective isolationism and that is what causes people to hang out with like-minded people and isolate themselves from those with differing opinions. In fact the church is an example of an isolated collective unless you happen to have people of all faiths attending and switch between readings of the Bible, Torah, Koran, Bhagavad Gita and Pāli Tipitaka among others. Sure you might have missionaries that go out and cut some other folks from their religious herd but that's really just to make your group bigger and not necessarily better.

    Confession & Healing-
    If people have real relationships they can speak openly with these true friends about anything and work through problems, pain and conflicts. Hopefully they have friends that aren't mental copies of themselves or who only exist in some online anti-reality so they will bring both differing opinions, experiences and, if need be, the occasional supportive hug.

    Ah, another root of the problem and perhaps the main one. You have confused authority with leadership which is understandable since many authority figures are labeled leaders. It is very simple really, leadership is internal and comes from within whereas authority is external and comes from without. Leadership is something you nurture within and when you lead yourself well others may recognize that and grant you authority. Unfortunately, authority can also be bought which is always wise to question it.

    On the rest you've pretty much gone off any rails I'd care to touch so I'll close with these:
    Please don't confuse individualism with selfishness or isolationism. Individualists understand that self reliance doesn't occur in a vacuum and no individualist I know starts to make a cup of coffee by planting coffee plants and finishes by pouring it from the pot they smelted into the ceramic cup they formed and fired. I also don't know any that wouldn't share a cup of coffee with someone who didn't have one because they know full well that it doesn't take much to be injured in some way and not able to make coffee the next day.

    Also don't confuse self reliance with pride because the current protectionist trend of parents being helicopters or tigers tries to build the latter not the former. Kids are protected from making mistakes that matter and would build character. They get cookie cutter experiences at social games where the score doesn't really matter or extra classes so they stand out from their peers but chances are they aren't building relationships and learning self reliance only feel good fun and a full college entrance application.

    Finally, none of the benefits you mention stem inherently from any church or Christianity. How people find comfort and fulfillment is as unique as the individual. I posit that while ritual may bring comfort it isn't fulfilling since it lacks uniqueness that a person can make her own and it merely allows people to bond through common action. Is it really different from having season Packer tickets and braving the elements to cheer the team with the same community of season ticket holders every weekend? It doesn't matter much which book you follow, be it the Bible or Daodejing, or even if you choose no book at all because either you create and nurture the leader inside or you find one who you grant authority and choose to follow.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Without a profession of hate for Republicans, why would CNN have her up for two blogs?

      August 3, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Tarver you shouldn't be talking since you are one of them conservative extremists without an education.

        August 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          I am BSEE, MSEE, a professional engineer and a senior electric systems engineer. What education do you have troll? Are you a fool who goes about insulting his betters?

          August 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver I am quite sure you do not have any of those degrees and if you do then I can see why you have no education on the theories of evolution and probably why you deny the existence of those theories.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          I also have 63 Ph.D.'s from Apollo college. That is to compensate for my small body parts.

          August 3, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Even the pretend me is more educated than you fool.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Oh please. Tarver you have no education period. All you've been doing is spouting random stuff just so you can try to think that Science proves of the existence of God, when it doesn't. 98% of the scientists in the world would reject your type of thinking in an instance.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
        • LinCA

          @John P. Tarver

          You said, "I am BSEE, MSEE, a professional engineer and a senior electric systems engineer."
          Don't forget to add that you are currently unemployed.

          It looks like you claim to work at Tarver Engineering (www.facebook.com/john.p.tarver), yet a google search for that company comes up empty.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          Science probably does sound like random nonsense to you and you are an example of how atheists attempt to stifle science in education. Try some science from after the 19th century.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver how foolish are you? Most of the information on science (like the weather, plate tectonics, etc. etc.) have been around since the 20th century you fool. Get an actual education you failure.

          August 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
        • global conversation

          God knew about plate techtonics long ago... he's the ancient of days... the creator

          August 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
        • Reddy Eddie

          So do any of you have any comments for my post or is this just you kids way of proving whose dingus is bigger? Go rub one out in the corner, both of you.

          August 3, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • some name

      "In fact the church is an example of an isolated collective unless you happen to have people of all faiths attending and switch between readings of the Bible, Torah, Koran, Bhagavad Gita and Pāli Tipitaka among others."

      No, the church is supposed to provide guidance towards the only path to God for the person finding him. That church can be anyone in the past, present or future that helps others get to God and do his will, and get forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ of Nazareth's sacrifice. If the "church" is telling people how to reject God's will, that isn't a church, it's people in a club doing what ever they want to do, like atheists do/did when they copied the "church" format and terms recently, thinking that's what people want. The atheists thought everyone wanted what they want: nothing. What people want, is to find God and love God, to do what he wants them to do... to know their creator, God.

      The truth is, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth to die for others sins. Jesus died for those that would believe him, repent, and do the will of God. That is what it's all about, that's what matters.

      August 4, 2013 at 5:31 am |
      • Reddy Eddie

        So you admit that you believe there is only one "path to God" and having only one path the collective isolates itself from the opinions and experiences of people who feel there is another way. It seems highly exclusionary to say that other faiths who believe in the same "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" and who also "do the will" of the very same "God" are doing it wrong and shall not be saved.

        Truth is subjective so let's be honest, throughout history these minor differences in belief has led many times to the point where in order to right this wrong of improper worship committed against "God" that blood must be shed on a massive scale and most of it is over a chunk of dirt that some feel sacred because it was "promised".

        August 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
        • Terms of Service

          Those under the law have the law given them. They also have prophets telling them about the messiah, that sins would end when the messiah is cut off. It's in their scriptures, hard for them to deny it given they were told when and that they'd reject him. The ones following the messiah and believing him, are not rejecting him, they get forgiveness of sins as promised by God. The follow on religion Islam claims both the law and prophets are lies, so clearly they aren't believing God if they reject what he's said. All other religions inclusive of atheism that has the god called 'nothing', they aren't believing God either, or even caring who he is.

          We all die physically anyway, the main point is forgiveness of sins, to be saved... and that is through Jesus Christ of Nazareth's sacrifice, and acceptence of such.

          August 4, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
  11. Bootyfunk

    no one needs the church. there is nothing positive in the church that can't be done without it. religion teaches people to turn of their cognitive thinking and obey.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      I have a friend who never found Jesus until he studied Buddhism. All these pastors could not show him what he needed.

      August 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
      • G to the T

        Please John, the grown ups are trying to have a converstation...

        August 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
  12. scootfl78

    Churches need to stop with the "you're going to hell" or "she's going there" or "they're going there" rhetoric because NOBODY KNOWS WHO IS GOING WHERE. I was born in 1978, so I'm not a millennial, but here's a newsflash to all the hateful mega and non-mega churches out there – the younger generations aren't all about hating someone else because they're different or because they look different. Sure we have some oddballs in our group, but apparently much less than older generations have had. If religion didn't spur so much hatred and bigotry, you would get younger people back in the pews. Stick to the positive stuff and stop with the judgmental stuff. That sort of teaching should have died out hundreds of years ago.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
  13. John P. Tarver

    Trolls so jealous they post as me, wonderful.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Santiago Rodriguez

    As a young church leader in my 30s, I thank you for your last 2 blogs. I sincerely appreciate your input and the way you express what matters in the hearts of those in their 20s. In all honesty, I think is closer to the heart of God than some of the comfortable Christianity we have here in the west. I do believe church should be about Jesus, then social justice and community. It should preach holiness that is beyond our preferences, but also how we treat those in need, here and around the world. I hope your words encourage many not to give up on church but to realize they can be an answer to the dilemmas we face. God bless you!

    August 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jack

      "I do believe church should be about Jesus, then social justice and community." So you should only be tax exempt for the amount of community service done, which is very little in many churches. All that Jesus worshiping does the rest of us taxpayers no good. TAX THE CHURCHES!

      August 3, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  15. rdeleys

    This article is absurd. What this person is really looking for is a social organization to join where she feels welcome. With religion the price of admission is a lot of supernatural nonsense. A better, healthier alternative is secular humanism where free thought replaces the silly creed.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jack


      August 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Harry Cline


      Where is this secular humanism you speak of to be found ? I for one do not defend churches. (go the h-ll out over 40 years ago) However we where told by no less then the charitable Buddhist Steve Jobs that this was the generation that was going to reinvent the wheel.

      Take the rose colored glass of 'idealism' off. And seriously look around at the world. Be objective about it then come back and tell us what you discover.

      And try not to equate consumerism via over inflated technology made in sweat shops and sold back to us at a price as if it where made by us. Nor advancements in science that are fewer today then ever before because the new discovery is milk that meal ticket as long as you can. i.e. grant money.

      Or the real dozy change your hypothesis every ten years as supposedly new information is available. (or a new revenue source is)

      August 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  16. adibese

    Dear millennials... do not go back to church. Do not be scared and intimidated by fanciful stories of Angels and Devils. Read the bible with an open mind, look at the hundreds of contradictions. Read how jealous and evil god is. Research the fact that Jesus never existed. Look at how feral children have never known about god, and live as animals Come to the knowledge that religion has always been a controlling lie created by those in power to unite the poor and weak.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  17. Squincher

    That's fine, if you find solace and comfort in religion and faith helps you get thru your day.
    I won't rip someone on their beliefs, especially if it helps them.
    But honestly, if you're going to go to Church, and that's fine, go someplace else other than the Catholic Church.
    Sorry, but as an Ex-Catholic, the Church will never change from within. It is and will always be stuck in it's 17th century ways.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  18. Dave

    As a Christian, I also have struggled with pessimistic views I held about church. Ultimately, the relationship with the church is only identified for me through the cross. Jesus demonstrated God's righteousness and profound mercy for sin in that he died to carry the punishment God must rightfully render for all sin, while yielding to sinners, the righteousness and eternal life that was only rightfully belonging to Jesus. This profoundly impacts our nature in the church, because, those who do not understand this sacrificial impact of love, miss entirely what is meant to be a Christian at all. For many, they may not be. I know that I was not.

    August 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
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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.