A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Good News Overall, Bad News for Mainliners

Scot McKnight posts on the recent book by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell,  Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. I won't comment on the book itself since I have not read it, but I list some of their significant points along with a conclusion:

1. Young adults are less religious, but what does this mean?
 2. 12% in the 70s and 80s were unaffiliated; now 25% are. But this is the same number as with other age groups.
 3. Currently, 22% of young adults are evangelicals; that's up from 21% in the 70s but down from 25% in the 90s. 
 4. Negatively, unaffiliated has increased for young adults.
 5. Positively, the number who are affiliated with churches has remained the same.
 6. Those affiliated with Evangelicals, Black Prots, and RCC are the same as in the 70s. (Mainliners are down.)
 7. No sign of cataclysmic or big changes.
Big point: young adults have been less affiliated for a long time; when they get married and have children they return to their faith. Part of the life cycle is reflected in this.
Their conclusion:
Overall, then, the preponderance of evidence here shows emerging adults ages 18 to 25 actually remaining the same or growing more religious between 1972 and 2006-- with the notable exceptions of significantly declining regular church attendance among Catholics and mainline Protestants, a near doubling in the percent of nonreligious emerging adults, and significant growth in the percent of emerging adults identifying as religiously liberal (101).

So it would appear contrary to popular consensus that Millennials are not heading for the sanctuary exits in droves overall, but we mainline Protestants are indeed losing the younger generations.

This mainline Protestant pastor wants to know why.


Bevan said...

I suggest the foundational reason might be over-control of the church by a system not intended by God and is too safe. Men are always searching for honour and respect but if they can only be observers in the church and not participants there is no honour or respect. Women love church if it is safe and secure which requires control and predictability and all things safe including a professional trained pastor filling Christ's job description. By its nature following our Lord is not safe controlled nor professional. To deny ourselves and follow Christ we have to ask Christ if we can become a part of His life, not invite Him to become a part of our life. The tendency to treat God as an enhancement to our physical lives to make us more secure healthy and successful is to focus scripture application onto the flesh life when it was intended for applying to the spirit life. Understanding that we have to abandon our pursuit of physical safety security and respect to focus on Christ's Honour is the opposite to what the church represents now. In Jesus time the Synagogue had a problem with male over-control with Sadducees and Pharisees and the focus on their own respect and honour, so too did the dark ages church. The modern church has a problem with female over-control focussed on safety and security. For the church to expand it needs to focus on Christ and Holt Spirit control through selflessness (love in action)by denying ourselves (our need for security and honour) and following Him. If you want to check and verify this perhaps an understanding of the relationships in heaven and on earth is a good indicator: God just wants to be loved honoured and respected, The Israelites Gods wife, and the Christians Jesus bride, just want to be loved and be safe and secure. They are represented by husband and wife man and woman, God and man want respect and honour, women and church want safety and security. I guess the paradox is that we have to do the opposite to what we think in the flesh to preserve our spirit, we have to lose our life to save it, be poor in flesh rich in spirit. So if you want the church to grow, stop trying to grow it and do what Gideon did to his army. Ambition is a male problem, God had to drive it out of Moses before he could be useful.

Bevan said...

Our family have not been affiliated with a church for over 2o years. We travel a lot and have been to many services but we come to church bringing God with us, and our daily relationship and experiences with God to share and encourage other Christians. Only problem is we find no opportunities to share, its all been pre-scheduled to the minute with ritual. We often find the congregation is at church to meet God or to get a fix of emotional feel-good, they tend to ask us where we go to church, with the implication that church-going means Christian. This suggests many church goers have a relationship with the church gathering, not with God, they follow church, not God. There is a disconnect between church ritual and real daily life with Christ, a lack of relevance that is heavily controlled with universal teachings about the same two things, tithing and growing the church, i.e. money and success.
Relationship is everything in our walk with God, I see sinful acts damage and destroy relationships, while loving acts build and grow relationships. Relationship is everything to God too, Jesus said even believers who do good with God's power will be rejected if He does not know them. To know a person is to have a relationship with them and I cannot develop a proper relationship with people in a church that is obsessed with its own survival.

Dennis Sanders said...


This is probably going to be a future blog post, but I will offer a few observations. First, mainline churches have done a poor job when it comes to campus ministry with one exception: the Lutherans. When I was working for the local Presbytery, there was one church that was heavily involved in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota, but it was on the conservative end and therefore not given much attention. That church is in the process of leaving the denomination. There is another church nearby that could have a bigger presence and we will see if it does anything. I think that there has been some presence at that church in the past but not much. But most mainline denominations have not invested in campus ministry, which has to be a way to keep kids in church.

Which I think leads to number two; a lack of young adult ministries at the judicatorial level. The big downtown and suburban churches like Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis (where I work now) or Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, have thriving young adult ministries, but that is because there is staff dedicated to that sort of ministry. However, small churches don't have the resources to reach out on their own. Middle judicatories need to either create resources to help small churches do effective ministry, or work to gather churches in one area to pool their resources and do ministry together.

There is also no talk about young folk as they enter careers. Michael Kruse is better at explaining this, but there needs to be some way that the young Christians learn of the importance of vocation. We pastors have to help them see the connection between their work and their faith.

Finally, there needs to be more expansion of Americorps type programs. The Lutherans have Lutheran Volunteer Corps which again is a breeding ground for new leaders. A few Presbyterian Churches in the Twin Cities are coming together to operate something similar.

Okay one more thing. Mainline churches need to make the main thing the main thing. Too often what we offer is something that is watered down and frankly no different than what is heard at a Democratic party convention. Young people are wise enough to know that if this is what they are getting in their churches, then they don't need to come to church. They can get their politics from a plethora of places that do it better. We are called to make disciples, not Democrats.