I saw a link on Facebook to this article from Sam Eaton. It’s about the fact that 59% of millennials who were brought up in church have dropped out, and his list of 12 reasons why, and some suggestions about how to fix it. Respecting the person who posted the link, I read and re-read the article. I then had a discussion about it with several people. I decided to reply, even if this is likely for an audience of one (me). The article is more-or-less reproduced below and my commentary is in italics.
- Nobody’s Listening to Us
I confess that this rubbed me wrong from the get go. Perhaps, if you think this is actually the case, you should ask yourself why nobody is listening? Is it because your ideas are not also grounded in reality? Because you point fingers and make claims and do not provide actually actionable suggestions (I know, you have a lot of solutions below, and I will address them)?
Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else.
Said another way, you want to be heard and be accepted above all else. What about seeking to listen and understand, and be receptive to an older generation’s experience, even if you ultimately disagree with the conclusions? How about assuming the best instead of arrogantly stating the worst about others?
When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think.
I am truly sorry you feel that way—if that is what you feel, then I do apologize, because I do care what you think. But that does not mean that I will take every idea you provide an immediately put it into action, or agree that it is what must be done.
Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
You should not blindly serve an institution, but you should serve the King of kings and His church, which is not any particular four-walled building but it does have rules and responsibilities that are perhaps more complex and more nuanced that you’re willing to consider.
- Create regular outlets (forums, surveys, meetings) to discover the needs of young adults both inside AND outside the church. Agreed—and maybe, if you have been involved in running a church, you’d know that a lot of an individual church’s ability to provide these kinds of services requires volunteers. So maybe you’re being called to create one or more of those outlets.
- Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference. At the risk of appearing dismissive, I think exposure to leadership and advisory boards can help educate people without experience, but full-fledged membership gives me pause. Why? For the same reason I do not let my children make all of their own decisions. It takes time to gain experience and perspective, and a lot of decision-making is based on experience and perspective.
- Hire a young adults pastor who has the desire and skill-set to connect with millennials. Agree, but it requires money to do so and, as you state below, you’re not interested in giving money unless there is full transparency. So you are creating a potential Catch-22 situation. And if you want to change an existing organization, it usually is more effective to join it where it is rather than demanding it change while you’re on the outside. Said another way, be a prophet from the inside rather than throwing stones from the outside.
- We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements
Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.
Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.
Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?
I agree with this, basically in its entirety.
- Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jambo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
- We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service. My only comment here is that the actions and service should be aligned with God’s word, and His Word, so this actually does require some degree of good, foundational theology. Because otherwise you’re making your own religion, and ultimately the church isn’t about serving you and your needs, but about serving God and His Kingdom. You are part of His Kingdom, but it’s too easy, as sinful human beings, to put ourselves in the middle and to start to become the point and we need to remember that we are not the point.
- Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority
My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.
Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…
Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.
If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).
“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt
Also agree—nothing worse than raising $35k for a missions trip that will actually impact people, while raising $35 million for a building.
- Stop creating more Bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose. This is where there is a disconnect—good, foundational theology is actually important to ensure alignment with God. And it can’t end there. We should never get spiritually “fat”, but rather the spiritual “food” we get should, as you suggest, be turned into outward energy/action. So we need Bible studies, but I also agree that we can’t leave it at that.
- Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts. Then connect people who share similar passions. Create space for them to meet and brainstorm and then sit back and watch what God brings to life. Agree, but it requires volunteers, money, etc., so don’t just state the outcome you want to see, but think through all the necessary steps to get there.
- Create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference (and, oh yeah, they’ll also meet new people). Ironically, at least in the single data point that I have from the local church we attend, there are very few millennials involved in the many service opportunities that exist. And we have printed bulletins, announcements at church, an app, a website, etc. Please don’t suggest that we need to knock on doors (but not before 11:30 when the millennials wake up) to get the word out.
- We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture
From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from “Footloose” to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the down-falls of the culture—believe it or not we are actually living in it too.
I think, with perspective, you may actually see that the word is degrading faster than ever, despite the advancements in technology. It’s not devolving because of twerking (or Elvis, or whatever), but rather those are indications that the enemy is strong and making progress in his plans to make us all stray.
Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.
- Put the end times rhetoric to rest and focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community. Balance—yes, we need to ensure that we are helping those around us, and I would go so far as to say that we maybe should not assume we need to go to Asia or Africa to do so, but rather we can reach out locally in Fargo or Des Moines or Bend or Jacksonville. But let’s not throw out the importance of reminding each other why helping today matters—it’s not about today, but it is about eternity.
- Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. (If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Workingby Craig Groeschel) I confess to having a bit of frustration at this suggestion, because a lot of what you’re saying is “listen to us, listen to us, listen to us” which implies that all we’re doing is talking, yet now you’re saying “teach us”. Which is it? I think it’s that you want to be heard, which is understandable, but also that you want to learn. But in order to learn please consider having the right heart posture so that you can learn—maybe all kinds of good advice is being dismissed because of how its packaged or because you don’t like the entirety of the message. As I stated above, some of what you say is good in these 12 points, but I don’t agree with all of it.
- The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect
There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic “Mean Girls”.
In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”
Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”
The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.
Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.
I kind of agree with you, but who makes up the church? The people from the world. Everybody is in a different place of progressive sanctification, and when you throw a bunch of sinners together, sparks will fly.
- Create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service. I’m not sure exactly what this means. How about acknowledging instead that you are in a community (unless you’re living in the woods by yourself) and take advantage of that community to share the good news of Jesus, and how it has transformed you? It might be hard, it might be ugly, but you’re not where you are by mistake.
- Create and train a team of CONNECT people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events. Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population. Reasonable, but I think most churches have something like already. And when people sneak in late, then immediately leave at the end of a service, what is your suggestion?
- Stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected. For some people, especially those that are shy or struggle with anxiety, putting yourself out there even just once might be an overwhelming task. We have to find ways to bridge that gap. Again, I agree, but what are those ways?
- Distrust & Misallocation of Resources
Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.
We want pain-staking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.
I’m not sure this is really what you want. I’m not opposed to transparency, but posting it on the homepage, IMO, won’t provide much more than an opportunity for everybody to try to micromanage every last dollar given? There is a cost with trying to manage that, which would quickly burden an existing staff (I assume you’re well aware of how lean virtually every church is, and how hard it is to keep up with the ongoing operations, let alone opening up to input from 10 or 100 or 1,000 additional people.)
Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?
First, if you’re giving thousands of dollars, I can virtually guarantee that you will have any access you want to the leadership team at a church. I hear you about the mortgage—that is a hard one. Did you know that churches that lose their rented space and need to move more than a mile away typically lose significant numbers of attendees? The commitment that you want needs to go both ways, and the church is typically on the losing end. Second, the reality is that if you give thousands of dollars, you will get more access than if you give ones of dollars. And you can complain about that, but given limited resources (time and money and people) it is not reasonable to expect a limited church staff to be able to listen to every single people.
- Go out of your way to make all financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence. Agreed in principle—and likely available if you ask at your church.
- Create an environment of frugality. Not sure what church you attend, but apart from some major “mega churches” and idiots asking for jets to fly them around, the vast majority of churches are living paycheck to paycheck, with individuals sometimes giving up parts of paychecks to keep the lights on.
- Move to zero-based budgeting where departments aren’t allocated certain dollar amounts but are asked to justify each purchase. This is all I’ve seen and I’m sorry that you haven’t witnessed this.
- Challenge church staff to think about the opportunity cost. Could these dollars be used to better serve the kingdom? Again, this is all I’ve seen.
- We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At
Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. (See: millennial church attendance.) We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.
For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.
Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.
We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?
First, because God tells us to be in community (“do not neglect meeting together”—Hebrews—the importance of good theology). Second, mentoring is not the purpose of Sunday mornings, but I do agree that mentoring should be part of what the church does. In fact, mentoring, if you call it what it really is (discipleship) is the Great Commission and collectively we fail miserably at it. But in addition to providing discipleship, making disciples requires people to submit to being discipled.
- Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them. Not a terrible idea, but my experience with mentoring is that assigning people doesn’t typically work. What needs to happen is relationships needs to be created, and that is usually done best through some sort of affinity program—whether it’s serving situations, or cooking clubs, or sports teams, or something else—so that there is a common interest other than “I want to be mentored” and “I want to mentor”.
- Ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church. I think you’ll find that a lot of the Gen X and older folks DO want get involved with millennials, but many of us already have children and do not want to have additional children in adult bodies. I’m sorry if that is offensive to you, but that is often how it feels. For example, you are not deserving of a promotion because you’ve been at work for six months and have identified 13 areas of inefficiency (that, when investigated with a degree of criticality, may or may not be implementable, may or may not cost more than the cost of leaving them as-is, etc.). However, if you are sincere, then I believe you will find sincere people willing to pour into your generation—but again, you need to show them that you’re willing to learn.
- We Want to Feel Valued
Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”
Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.
Uh, you’re not. But neither am I. That’s the point of Christianity—none of us are good enough, but Jesus is. So let’s start there, and let that wash over us, and then realize that because of Him, we should feel obligated to reach out to the “least” around us.
We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.
This is narcissism dressed up as a cry for some sort of affirmation, and I can’t go there. If you find some humility, then we can chat, we can address all of the topics, but without a bit of humility, there’s not a conversation to be had because it will simply frustrate you and be a waste of time to me.
We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.
You need to know that Jesus believes in you, enough to have died for you, despite the fact that you are (like I am) not good enough.
- Return to point #1: listening.
- Go out of your way to thank the people who are giving so much of their life to the church. Hey—likewise! All the people that you have been trashing also give a lot of their time and money to the church, but all you’ve done is say how they’ve failed to make it about you.
- We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)
People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.
We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.
No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.
- Create real and relevant space for young adults to learn, grow and be vulnerable. Agree, but see above re: resources.
- Create an opportunity for young adults to find and connect with mentors. Agreed, but see above re: discipleship.
- Create a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need. Agree, but see above re: resources.
- Intentionally train young adults in how to live a godly life instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. Agree, but it would be helpful if you took the advice that is being given to you.
- The Public Perception
It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.
We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ.
- Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are. (See: Service Day from #3) Agreed—or come to my church and participate in what Jesus is already doing in this area 🙂
- Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
- Make your presence known and felt at city events.
Now that I’ve agreed to all of these conclusions, how do you suggest we get there? What are your big ideas and dreams of how to actually make these things happen? How do you get shy, timid adults to connect with their neighbors? How do you make the church’s presence known at city events that doesn’t come across like “you’re going to hell unless you listen to these Bible quotes and say this prayer”?
- Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)
Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).
Right back at you—we’re fatigued from seeing the abilities and intent paraded in front of us and then being told “that’s too early for me to participate” or “yeah, maybe tomorrow because I’m just not feeling it today” or “I quit because I’ve been here for a few months and haven’t gotten a raise”. I see a lot of lip service from millennials, but when the rubber meets the road many of your generation scatter. When millennials feel “stress” they quit. When little things do not meet expectations, they quit.
- Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach millennials.
- If you want the respect of our generation, under-promise and over-deliver. Good advice for everybody 🙂
- You’re Failing to Adapt
Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.
“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells
- Look at the data and take a risk for goodness sake. We can’t keep trying the same things and just wish that millennials magically wander through the door.
- Admit that you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the millennials you already have beforethey ask themselves, what I am still doing here. See above—this is happening in many places, but, and maybe this is the crux of the issue, millennials are usually not willing to commit unless they’re in their dream job, at a perfect company, surrounded by people that only see their good sides and none of their faults. And even then there is a capriciousness that can quickly turn a dream job into a nightmare for millennials because of a misunderstood text or unintentional snub in the lunchroom.
You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.
It sounds like you’re saying that the church has created this problem, and you’re demanding “they” fix it, and cater to “us”. Here’s some mentor advice—that is not a good way to communicate your frustration. It would be better to say “we want to be part of this, because we see the good that Jesus has laid out for us, as the church, and we need to be in this together. However, we are ignorant and not sure what to do, and sometimes it appears that you don’t, either, but we want to come alongside and help. Can we do the heavy lifting, even though it isn’t glamorous, because we’re younger and stronger and have more to learn? If we can prove our commitment, would you commitment to listening to our concerns and ideas, even if you don’t implement them right away? Could you more clearly set expectations, because we might have unrealistic expectations about how fast things can happen, how much things cost, and what kind of effort is involved in change?” If you do that, I guarantee you will find plenty of people who want to work with you.
You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.
Ad hominem attacks and name-calling are not helpful.
Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.
The truth is, church, it’s your move.
Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.
If you’re still reading, hopefully you’ll see I’m not writing you off, but I’m engaging directly, which is, I hope, what you’re asking. Let’s do this, but realize that it requires you to move and change, too.