As Churches Die – Millennials Seek Deeper Faith
There’s a lot of talk about why younger generations are leaving the church. Some have grown up in the church and are simply walking away. Others have a hit-or-miss relationship with the church and have found little use for continued attendance. Either way, the reality that younger generations are leaving cannot be ignored or swept under the rug.
I’m not as young as I used to be, but I haven’t reached middle age yet. I grew up a pastor’s kid and thought everyone should be so lucky to spend most of their time in church. In fact, when I found out someone didn’t go to church at all, it struck me odd. I went to church 4 times a week. Went to camp. Sang the songs. Got the t-shirts and bracelets and made the promises and pledges. I was all in.
Now, a little older, I am starting to see why men and women my age and younger are walking away.
Let’s be clear. I have not walked away from the church. I have taken a step back and begun to reconsider many things I took as truth when I was younger. After studying theology for 20 years I have started over with a clean slate. I’ve thrown out much of what I once considered absolute truth and approached Scripture and theology with an open heart and mind. Why is that important? Because growing up in the denomination I came from that was not necessarily encouraged. It was more of a “take what you’re given and like it” approach.
What I have come to discover is that many people my age are having the same experience. They are looking around and saying “something isn’t right” about their church and Christian experience and choosing to begin a new journey. They want to know what the Bible really teaches, not what it says according to the pastor’s agenda. The attitude is “whatever the Bible really says, that’s what I will believe.” It’s a great thing.
In fact, a recent article underscores some of these thoughts and trends.
The article highlights several of the recurring trends among young evangelicals that, to me, are an encouraging sign. Among these signs are the following:
- Emphasizing the big story of the Bible. Millennial leaders understand the need for Christians to be grounded in the grand narrative of Scripture, and the resources they use range from chronological Bible reading plans to theologically robust kids’ Bibles.
- Utilizing a catechism-like resource with their kids. In the previous point I mentioned theologically rich children’s Bibles, but it doesn’t just stop there. Millennial parents are using other resources and even smartphone apps to teach theological concepts and lessons to their children at home. While they aren’t typically formal catechisms, they emphasize building a foundation of correct answers to Biblical questions.
- Study groups working through systematic theology.I know of several churches that have weekly study groups who cover basic systematic theology. This is not just donuts and devotions. These groups intensely study Scripture and theology and in many cases have seen an increase in theological education and evangelistic fervor.
- Church membership classes. As I’ve stated several times on the blog and in the podcast, the two main things you should communicate in church membership classes are information and expectations. And both of those must be firmly built on a biblical foundation of good theology.
These encouraging trends communicate the concern many church leaders have voiced regarding biblical illiteracy among their people. It’s a well known truth that many Christians are theologically shallow and churches are partially to blame. But younger generations are not settling for shallow Christianity and see their responsibility to study theology and be equipped. Churches are, rightfully, responding to this theological hunger by creating study groups specifically to study theology. Thank goodness.
It pains me to think I spent most of my life not even knowing the catechisms existed. That they were created to teach theology to kids and equip adults make this reality even sadder. But I, like many others, are correcting this error by diving headlong into the catechisms and discovering the rich theology that can be clearly, easily communicated and learned through them.
Here’s the bottom line: the younger generations are less interested in religious agendas and denominational traditions than they are in teaching their kids and knowing what the Bible really says. We will see many mainline denominations shrink in the next decade as millennials and their families gravitate towards churches that place a premium on expository teaching and theological education. That’s a good thing.
If we can show people how theology is connected to everyday decisions we will develop theologically grounded Christians that can easily apply their religious convictions to their everyday life. That is a possibility that every church and church leader should embrace and seek to effect.
I, like many, grew up believing I had all the answers, that my theology and my church were always right. I’m wiser now. I’m no longer willing to accept what is thrown at me from the pulpit simply because someone says it. I’m willing to confront biblical and doctrinal errors because more than anything, I care about communicating what the Bible says accurately and clearly. Eternity depends on it.