Last week, Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece for the CNN belief blog that touched a nerve. It’s received 185,000 shares on Facebook and more than 2,600 on Twitter. This post has been a main talking point among Christians I know for days now. Entitled “Why millennials are leaving the church“, it’s Evans’s take on the oft-discussed issue of why people aged (roughly) between 18 and 30 are quitting church or reassessing what they want out of a Sunday service, young people’s ministries, and church community. Just one take on the problem of the “missing generation”, it’s prompted a flurry of responses.
While Evans’s post discusses the reasons why Millennials – also known as Generation Y – have become disillusioned with the evangelical Church in the US, I’ve seen many friends from the UK discussing the experiences of people they know in the same way – and putting forward ideas of how things could change.
There are some similarities with Christian culture in the US – the tensions between the Church and those who identify as LBGT, the perceived obsession with sex, the tendency for our generation to want to live life ‘untethered’, as a ‘traveller’ – resulting in ‘spiritual homelessness’, and the perception that the Church is hostile towards those who have questions and doubts.
But there are also many differences; which makes me wonder whether the Church in the UK is haemorrhaging Millennials for different reasons. Less prominent in the debate here are the ‘culture wars’, the conflict between science and faith, and the Church pushing an agenda that aligns itself with a particular political party.
In fact, most Millennials – or at least the ones I know – haven’t so much left the Church as never had anything to do with it in the first place. It has never been a part of their lives; the times they have engaged with church seem boring and like something that belongs to another time, another generation. They don’t need church, and they don’t see the point of it. Tearfund’s well-known Churchgoing in the UK report from 2007 told us that two thirds ofUK adults have no connection with church whatsoever; whether that’s because they’ve never been to church at all, or are “de-churched”. As I was talking about this to an American friend on Twitter this week, she told me that growing up in a fundamentalist church, members had been “warned” that without action, the US would become as “Godless” as the UK.
Held Evans’s post discussed how she has observed a trend of Millennials leaving evangelical churches and instead turning to high church traditions. She described liturgy as compelling because it has no desire to be cool. It’s “refreshingly authentic”. But in these difficult times for my generation, the word ‘authentic’ is now bandied about so much that I wonder if it’s losing meaning. Could it be possible that ‘authenticity’, often used to describe ‘being real’, creating close community based on love and friendship, welcoming those who have questions, and focusing on ‘doing life together’, is just another buzzword – a catch-all term for everything that’s slightly offbeat yet keen on being relational?
It’s important that we don’t replace one gimmick with another. Earlier this week, when I shared a post from aUSchurch leader on how his church was providing an authentic environment for Millennials, one friend commented to say how “terrifying” it sounded to her. One thing I know about my generation is that we’re cynical enough to spot a gimmick when we see one – and we understand that church, like everything else, is not one size fits all.
We want depth, we want space to be ourselves, but our needs are also linked to our stage of life, our background, where we are on our journey of faith, our preferred ways of expressing ourselves and learning. So perhaps solving the problem of the missing generation won’t mean a directive on what churches must do. Does it, instead, mean listening to us first?
Image by Creation Swap