Last week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study which revealed that a third of Millennials (18-29) say they have no religious affiliation. For all ages, the percentage of the religiously unaffiliated grew from 15% to 20% over the last five years. Those hit hardest by this loss were evangelical Protestants. Kevin Ezell, the president of the North American Mission Board, a missional branch of the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, responded to the research saying:
Southern Baptists shouldn’t need any more evidence to convince us that we must increase our efforts to penetrate lostness in North America… I believe that only a church planting movement will reverse this trend.
As I was reading President Ezell’s response, I threw the newspaper across the room. I couldn’t help but think, you are missing it. Don’t you see? Another mega church is not the answer. We do not need yet another building campaign. We do not need to be on the roll of yet another Sunday School class. Don’t you get it?! You’re losing us. Millennials need dialogue. We need help with the messiness of life. We need intentional community. We need Jesus.
Stepping off the soapbox, I’d like continue this post by sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. My prayer is that we will benefit from hearing other stories and that we’ll begin realizing that we really aren’t all that different. This interview comes from a 22 year old student. He is as generous as he is kind, and also incredibly intelligent; I am sure that I am a much better woman for knowing him.
–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?
Yes. I was a regular attendant of the Methodist Church up until my late teen years.
–Are you currently actively attending a church?
No I’m not. And, as of this time, I’m not looking for one.
–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?
In all honesty, a lot of my motivations for not attending are internally created. I’ve never had a bad experience within my own church that would cause me to leave it. I suppose my biggest reason for leaving is that I began to feel wrong there, like I didn’t truly belong. For the first time I began to realize just how much hatred and cruelty there was in the world, especially from those of the Christian faith. These Christians seemed to take special care to direct their negativity towards the people I identified with: those who don’t see the world in black and white, those whose sexuality doesn’t adhere to what is considered the social norm, those who believe that all faiths should be respected, etc. I suppose I let all that negativity influence me and, while I did not face such hatred directly, I stopped attending church because I felt there was no place for me there anymore.
–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).
As I stated earlier, I truly didn’t experience any problems from my church community when I did attend. Everyone always treated me cordially and I never had an issue. However, I should note that, although I attended church regularly growing up, I never felt I got anything substantial out of it. People around me would discuss how they could feel everyone’s prayers bolstering their strength during times of struggle and how God would fill them with a sense of peace. I had never felt any of that. I had prayed my whole life through good times and bad but had never felt like anyone was listening. For some reason, I had been deemed unworthy of these great transcendental experiences. I figured it was because I didn’t match what God or the church wanted. That hurt for a little while. However, I still pray regularly. Hope is notoriously difficult to kill.
–What is the purpose of the church?
That’s a loaded question. I’m sure each individual church would tell you something different due to their varying values and such. In my opinion, I always thought that the church was meant to be a place of belonging and acceptance, a place where you could go when no one else would have you. I’m sure some are that way, but they seem to be few and far between.
–Feel pressure to attend church?
Not at all. I feel absolutely no attraction to church in any way.
–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)
Wow! That’s kind of like asking how do I perceive humanity. There are kind, loving people and there are cruel, hateful people. I think it’s the same with Christianity and every other religion as well. They are as varied as the human race because they are all part of it.
–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?
No, it doesn’t surprise me. The world is changing and I feel like the church doesn’t want or know how to keep up. I’m sure there are many like me who left for reasons similar to mine as well as countless others who left for their own reasons. In addition, I’m sure there are many who never had a religion and feel no reason to acquire one now. Some churches’ attitudes probably don’t help draw in the crowds either.
–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?
You never know. It may continue to decrease or something may change and the church’s growth skyrockets. I guess time will tell.
–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m an atheist, though I see nothing wrong with that. I do have beliefs in place and I do believe in basic and, what I feel to be, Christian concepts such as love, respect, and acceptance. It is my own fault for letting the negativity of a few infiltrate my heart the way it has but I’m trying to let it go. Who knows, maybe someone upstairs is helping me. There will always be those who attempt to break all of us down but hopefully we can overcome it with the strength we draw from those we love. I really want people to know that no matter how alone you feel, and trust me I’ve been there, you’re not. There is always someone somewhere who gets it and who understands you and if you’re lucky you may get to call them a friend one day. Hold on to that. It got me through a lot.
As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this man’s story?
This post is the fifth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Interview with a Millennial #1, Interview with a Millennial #2