You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3

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

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Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2

In continuing with Our Emptying Church, I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial today. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 23 year old woman who I think may just have one of the most beautiful smiles ever. I hope you’ll appreciate her grace and vulnerability as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

No, I wasn’t raised in a faith-based home and my family also moved a few times throughout my childhood. Both circumstances made it difficult to be involved in a church community.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

I’m still seeking a church to get involved in. I’ve been quite the church-hopper as of late, but it’s been a challenge to find a community that shares the same theologies and that have the service opportunities I’d love to share in. However, I am getting my bible study fix, so I find some community there.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

Within the last two years, I’ve been spiritually challenged to examine two complex, very personal subjects: Calvinism theology and my sexuality. On theology—after thorough study, I’ve discovered that Calvinism is just not an interpretation that I personally subscribe to. Although I don’t mind attending churches where Calvinism is taught, it’s been difficult to find a church that doesn’t in an area where the interpretation is widely accepted. On sexuality—I am homosexual, and many do not know. However, it’s been to the avail of my learning as I’ve observed from the sidelines the relationship between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community. I’m disheartened to know the damage to our witness and to non-believers caused by our very real and false prioritization of particular sins. I’m disheartened to know the hesitancy and fear of judgment (and distancing) that I often experience when sharing my sexuality with another believer. I can’t imagine that for someone outside the church. However—not a justified reason for me to not attend, only to attend more, converse more, and pray more for change.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had many excellent experiences with the Church, and I have also had many experiences that I wish had been different. The latter experiences I try only to learn from, as I know I cannot expect perfection from my flesh, so why expect more from others who are very much like me? But experiences like having an older lady, whom I didn’t know, take my hand during prayer at a morning service, or having a loaf of homemade bread left by a bible study group on my porch as a thanks for stopping by, or seeing a church open its doors to the hungry regularly, or seeing a homeless shelter and rehab center built and sustained with the congregation’s monetary donations… I have so much hope for us as an imperfect community, who, in so many ways, I believe truly wish to pursue what Christ intended.

–What is the purpose of the church?

To open the doors for the sick, which is all of us; to extend grace and the love that is the Gospel, and never close to a faint knock.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

No, not particularly. Only when I haven’t been in a while.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

At times, I catch myself perceiving Christians (including myself) in every way listed. I think it’s easy to see the name of Christ demonstrated by behaviors that define all of those titles, and more.

–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?

My first thought is no. The religious communities that do exist are so wedged apart by opposing theologies and proclaimed truths, and in such an individualistic culture, our lack of unity as a collective faith-based community only further promotes what I think is being pursued by many of the “information age” as the desirable (but false), Unitarian, individualistic truth: all paths lead in the same direction.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I can’t say. I surely hope that more decide to know the presence, ways, grace and love of Jesus, God the father, and the Spirit.

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I cannot say the negative experiences I’ve had with/perceptions I carry of the Church or Christians leave more of a lasting impression than the love, acceptance, brother and sisterhood, and genuine care I have come to know only through my relationships with other believers. To those who have always extended warm welcomes and open hearts, with no other agenda than to care because Christ did for them, thank you always!

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story?

This post is the forth 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

Fake Smiles & Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with a Millennial #1

If this is your first time tuning into the series, welcome! You may want to check out Our Emptying Church and When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church.

This week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that is eerily similar to David Kinnaman’s research. You can check out the data here. The research showed that a third of Millennials (18-29) say they have no religious affiliation.

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

A blind eye can no longer be turned to the decline of the American evangelical church. It is a reality. I am interested in finding out the motive(s) behind these statistics and I am not afraid to ask hard questions. Honest dialogue is the critical component here.

Stories are important for Millennials. It is often much more socially acceptable to ask a Millennial about his/her story instead of what job position or highest degree he/she holds. A story encompasses someone’s life in the whole rather than simply focusing on a career, which is one aspect of a story. I am a sucker for a good story. Some of my best friendships began with an invitation to get coffee and to trade life stories. I am most grateful for those friends who keep looking me into the eyes and encouraging me to grow and ask questions.

In the next few days, I’m excited to be posting multiple interviews with Millennials here on the blog. My prayer is that by reading other stories, we’ll gain a better perspective of our own and that we’ll embrace each other as brothers and sisters instead of enemies. Because I asked very personal questions about church experiences, I’ve decided to keep the interviewees fairly anonymous; I hope you’ll be as blessed from these interviews as I have been.

Today I’m happy to start off the interview series with a 23 year old woman and a dear friend of mine.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church? No.
–Are you currently actively attending a church? No.
–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I do not feel accepted in the church anymore. I feel like as soon as I walk in, there are judging eyes. I worked in the church daycare a long time ago and moved in with my fiancé. The church told me I needed to not live with him anymore and they would let me keep my job. They also said I could not get married there if I was living with him. I understand not getting married in the church, but I do not understand what the purpose of me losing my job was. My personal life had no interference with my job. I felt the church was very hypocritical. Because they said I was not living the life of a Christian? That is circumstantial, every sin is the same. They also fired a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock. The one time they could have shown the love Christ showed, they fired her, but told her she could come back once the baby was born. It disgusted me.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

Most of my experiences are listed above. I started really attending church when I was in middle school. I love the youth trips. But I feel like once highschool is over we are left to fend for ourselves. There really isn’t that much for my age group where I feel they have experienced what I have. And where I could give my testimony without judging eyes.

–What is the purpose of the church?

That’s a great question. I feel like the purpose of the church has gotten lost in money and how big the church can get. I feel like the purpose of the church is to gather with people who believe Christ died on the cross for our sins. A place to worship, learn, and pray together. A place you can find shelter and comfort in.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Yes and No. Because my generation is not the church going generation because there is too much hypocrisy in the church

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (I.e.: loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

All of the above. I feel like Christians are very closed minded and most of them usually are. I feel like Christians are scared of what is different from what they have grown up with. You cannot expect someone who was not raised in church to know Christ the way you do. You have to bring it to their level, and most Christians are not willing to get out of their comfort zones.

–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?

Doesn’t Surprise me at all.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I feel like there will be a huge decline if churches do not do something that will allow EVERYONE to feel like they are welcome. And no fake smiles… I get that A LOT when I visit places.

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

Things I would like to see in the church: More diverse cultures in the pews and more woman behind the pulpit

 

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story?