In an article published on Faith it, the author (obviously still a Christian) talks to the church as a whole about why Millennials (aka young people under the age of 35) are leaving the church in such drastic numbers. At no point in the article does he address faith or loss of faith, theology, or denominations. His whole shtick is that young adults today want clarity, outreach focus, genuine relationships, and mentorship. I wholeheartedly agree with him. Of course, if you scroll down to the comments section it is full of Christians saying that the church doesn't have to change, that the church has always been the same and that it shouldn't conform to "the world", which misses the point of the article completely. These young adults aren't asking for the religion to change. There isn't even mention of things like homosexuality, sex before marriage, or divorce. It is asking the church to hold to the values and tenants of the faith they adhere to. Of course, none of the things he listed would have kept me in the church once I lost my faith, but this author makes a lot of really good points. Points that the older generation really doesn't understand and they are losing an entire generation of people. In my mind, this is good. It also causes problems because people aren't being challenged in their faith and so you end up in this weird world where people believe in a god, but in a non-defined way that allows for "spirituality". I have a number of these so-called spiritual friends and it really isn't any better than organized religion, except they are usually less judgmental and aren't picketing Planned Parenthood. They are still illogical and still think you are nuts for not believing in a god.
This made me think though. The author of the article clearly states what the church needs to do in order to draw in younger people. And obviously the older people aren't getting it. So here's a list of my own. One for the older crowd.
Ten things the church should keep doing in order to lose more young people and hopefully create more agnostics and atheists:
1. Keep the leadership older. One of the churches I used to attend stated that you had to be 35 and married in order to be on the church board and it was fairly common for couples to be on the board together. Single and 24? Forget about ever being invited to a board meeting. Your voice didn't matter. Many of these dying churches seem to be run by pastors who have been doing this for forty years and refuse to step down and even if they do, the older generation complains about everything the new pastor does. There are horribly vicious stories out there of old people ruining the lives of their young pastors simply because they want to be in control. You walk into the building and it is a sea of white and gray hair, and from their dentured mouths they spew their hatred of "modern culture", young people, and leggings. Who wants to attend a church where you are being judged the minute you walk through the door?
2. Keep finances opaque. I have attended churches that have been the full spectrum of open and closed when it came to finances. One church had a monthly meeting and quite literally broke everything down to the dollar. I knew how much our electricity bill was. Another church I went to though became angry when I asked at a members meeting if some of our resources were going into an account to be used by members who may be struggling financially. The Pauline believers in the New Testament clearly believed that taking care of those within their own community was very important. I was told that it was none of my business and they did not discuss such things with members. Also, I should trust that the board and pastor had integrity and would allocate money properly. As you can imagine...I didn't stay there long. As much as the older generation thinks we should just trust these pastors and church board members, the truth is young people read and we know that these people need to be held accountable. Pastors steal money. People get paid far more or less than they should. One church I went to paid all their musicians, people hired from outside the church, but if you were a member who volunteered for the worship team...you didn't get paid. That bothers me. It bothers a lot of people. I do my research when giving to charities to make sure that my money is actually going to the cause I am donating too. Why shouldn't people get that from their church? And why would you go to a church that is obviously not allocating their funds in any good way. Waterfalls in the foyer, coffee bars in the lobby, strobe lights and a fog machine...meanwhile some of your own members are struggling to pay rent this month. Not to mention, there are children starving in your city.
3. Keep ministries and outreach insular. "So what kind of outreach does your church have?" I asked a new church that I was visiting. They had a fancy building, a room dedicated to greeting visitors, and a bookshop. "Oh we have children's church, a young adult Bible study, a women's group called Tulips..." You get the picture. None. None of these things were actually outreach. Everything was geared towards the people who were already in the church and no energy was spent on helping those outside. Sure, they probably did a fundraiser once a year around Christmas, but that seems to be the extent of it. Young people aren't idiots. They read their Bibles too. And their Bible says they should be helping "the least of these". Well-fed kids in children's church and college students struggling with group think don't really fit the bill. Why join a church that's doing nothing? Might as well spend your Sunday mornings volunteering somewhere, mentoring a kid, visiting the elderly, helping the disenfranchised learn about something you are experienced in. It's a far better use of their time and dare I say, it makes them more Christian.
4. Keep groups segregated. Gender and age are the biggest divides in the church. Instead of matching people up with similar interests, instead we divide them into to the different "life stages" and genders. Youth group, college group, 20's group, 30's group, parents of young children, mommy groups, women's ministry, men's early morning prayer. For years I was stuck in these groups and can tell you that I made absolutely zero lasting friendships. I was interested in volunteering and traveling, but instead I would end up in a Bible study with other twenty somethings who had decided to read whatever the newest Christian bestseller was. Nevermind that those groups were so stereotypically tied into gender roles and societal expectations about age. Women's group activities centered around princesses, nails, hair, and being good wives/future wives. In my twenties, most of the groups felt like a bad version of Christian mingle. They were even separated out, single twenties and married twenties, at one church. Outside the church, the world doesn't work that way. I have friends older than my parents. I am friends with people still in college. Some of my friendships are with those of the opposite sex. I like it that way. Those friendships have more depth and weight than anything built behind church walls. Other young people are noticing that too.
5. Ignore science. Young earth creationism is still a thing, but with the advent of the internet, more and more young people are beginning to abandon their literal interpretations of the Bible. Not all, of course. My brother and sister-in-law are fully indoctrinated and attempting to fully indoctrinate my nieces and nephews. However, these students are studying science in school and then going to church and being told that all of it is a conspiracy theory sent by the devil to turn them away from God. And those young people are asking themselves why they can't understand science and also believe in a god. Some of those young people are in STEM programs. Would you continue to attend church when you are being told by the church that you, this good Godly person, are actually secretly undermining god and withholding the cure for cancer?
6. Blame young people for the coming apocalypse. Everyone likes to shit on the younger generation. It's a national pastime. Kids these days are just fucking it up for everybody. In the church, they take it a step further by suggesting that the apocalypse is coming faster and you can tell because...yoga pants and Harry Potter? Obviously, this younger generation has fallen so far from god that they are the reason things have gotten so bad. Of course, in their minds the apocalypse is inevitable, but it doesn't matter. Each generation is ushering in the end times with whatever new thing the older generation disproves of. And young people are tired of it. They are tired of being told about the end times that never comes. They are tired of being told that it's because of the way they dress, the craft beers they drink, the music they listen to, or the fact that they read other things besides the Bible. Keep telling them they are the reason the world will end...and watch them walk out the door and not come back.
7. Don't be a part of your community. I live in the Bible belt. There are quite literally 27 churches within 1 square mile of where I am sitting right now. There are four within walking distance of my apartment complex. Yet, I have never seen any kind of community event at any of those churches nor have they ever come to my neighborhood. And I don't mean to prothelitize. No community service, no active involvement, no neighborhood clean ups, nothing. If those churches shuttered their doors tomorrow, I don't think anyone from the community would notice or care. If you can shut the doors of your church and the only people it impacts are those who regularly attended, that's a problem. But don't you change church. Not one bit. Those Millennials will just have to deal with your lack of involvement or get out.
8. Don't listen. A thirty-year-old is a grown adult. Some have a spouse and children by then. Many are just starting their careers, buying homes, starting to travel. Others are single, but have begun saving for retirement. Some are immature and are just beginning to find their footing in the world of adulthood, after partying it up in their twenties. But all of them are adults, with voices, ideas, and opinions. And most are ignored by those running things in the church. I was twenty-eight when I traveled on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic. Before the trip, I told my group leaders that I spoke conversational Spanish and could help out sometimes with translating. I was never taken up on this offer. During the trip, during daily debriefings, I told my group numerous conversations I had with the locals (in Spanish) about daily life, food, marriage, and books. It wasn't until the last day of our trip, when our waitress spoke not a lick of English and I ended up ordering everyone's food for them, that someone said, "I didn't realize you spoke Spanish." That someone was an older gentleman and also the leader of our group. I was flabbergasted. This was the ultimate in feeling like you don't have a voice. Why had no one listened to me? Then I thought back over my decade of being an adult in the church and I realized that no one had ever really listened to me. And they weren't listening to my friends either. And I never dealt with that level of disrespect outside of the church. It was eye opening. I'm not the only one who has noticed either.
9. Continue to be a source of hypocrisy. I used to be so offended at being called a hypocrite, because I was super Christian. Pious to the core. Yet, I wasn't blind to the fact that we had religious leaders doing the very opposite of what they preached. As time went on I also began to suspect that due to the nature of non-denominational churches and a reluctance to speak against churches, there were probably a ton of cases that were just swept under the rug. As the writer of the article states, young people want genuine connection and genuine people. No, it isn't enough to say things like "everyone is a sinner" and "I'm not perfect. Only perfect in Christ". The problem isn't that anyone expects Christians to be perfect, but if your faith says that you are supposed to love your neighbor as yourself and then you preach from the pulpit about how much you hate homosexuals, or worse get caught in a homosexual relationship after preaching against it, people notice. My mother almost aborted me when she first discovered she was pregnant. Honestly, I would on an intellectual level, have understood if she had gone through with it. I'm glad I am here, but I certainly wouldn't have blamed her. Despite being in that desperate situation though, my mother is now so anti-abortion as to believe any woman who has had an abortion deserves to be jailed and executed for first-degree murder. That's a hypocrite and it is disgusting. There is no compassion or understanding, just a twisted sense of righteousness and pure hatred.
10. Don't give them a place to doubt or question. In the church I grew up in, studying Biblical archaeology and understanding apologetics were seen as extremely important parts of your Christian walk. But these were things to boost your knowledge of the Bible. Doubting it was a big no no. Questioning why God condoned slavery or whether David was really a Godly man were not tolerated. Questioning certain tenants of doctrine were also condemned, like wondering if there really was a hell. Those who strayed were preached about from the pulpit and prayed for in gossip prayer circles. Now, I was the kind of person who just kept going to church amidst my doubts because I had been reassured through years of indoctrination that if you felt far from God and just stuck it out, eventually you would have some divine revelation and all would be right with the world. Most young people I know left though. One of the more freeing experiences I had was in an apologetics class taught by a philosophy PhD student at MIT who admitted that on a good day he believed in a god about 90% and on a bad day, about 10%. I was twenty-five and this was the first person who admitted out loud in a church that not only did they have doubts, but they had them all the time, to the point where they could never say they believed 100%. This was the first Christian I met who I felt was being intellectually honest about it, in a way that none of the fervent believers of the past ever had. He is an anomaly.
I know what you are thinking. Why give these pointers? Why tell the church what they are doing wrong? Because it doesn't matter. They aren't listening. The minority of churches out there who are getting it right just aren't popular or big enough to rejuvenate the faith of an entire generation. All the flashing lights in the world won't replace genuine relationships and honesty. Most Christians want an easy religion, not one that actually requires them to go outside the safe comforts of their church walls and homes and actually do the things their religion asks of them. The baby boomers and Gen X'ers have no interest in changing the church. At this point they are just hoping that once the Millennials have settled down a bit, built families, get older, they will come running back to the church. I hope that never happens. I hope, just like in many European countries, our churches begin to shutter their doors and the beautiful cathedrals become nothing more than museums.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.