My parents were part of that pattern where people left the Church for a chunk of their late teens/early twenties and then came back, usually when they wanted the kids to go to Church (link). They may well have been one of the last to leave and return. We should stop accepting this pattern.*
For starters, not all of my peers’ parents came back to Church, leading to higher than previously recorded numbers of the unchurched among Millennials. Second, of those of us who went to Church, we haven’t all settled down into a life with kids (also in record numbers) and those who have are marrying outside of their religious tradition in, yes, record numbers.
Aside from all of that, Millennials are less likely to trust institutional leadership. We grew up in households headed by people jaded by the Nixon/Watergate scandals. Marketers have been selling to us from the womb. We assume you are working an angle. (Because, let’s be honest, most people are. It’s human nature.)**
I am not the expert on Millennials; in fact, I often tell people that I’m probably a bad Millennial. Here’s some research that can tell you more. (link)
- The Church, which says that it wants us, that it needs my age-peers and I, is not any easier to figure out. (I promise.) Instead of unconditional love there is at best a mixed message.
- God loves us, but what in the world is up with the clothes and the music and the tattoos. (I don’t have or want tattoos, but have and will defend them.) Also on this list: crazy hours, movies, lack of manners, texting at the dinner table.
- The Church needs to do a better job of recognizing and supporting young leaders but email and cell phones are evil. (Actually email and cell phones–also Facebook, Twitter and more–are standard business, school, and relational tools. That doesn’t mean they are ideal for every situation, but neither was the telegraph.)
We are so glad you are here, what are you majoring in? (When this is the only question you ask after I’ve been coming to church for over a year, no you don’t have a college ministry.)
You don’t have to take my word on it. Other people have weighed in. I don’t feel a need to offer you a link here, just search Millennials and Church. (I’ll wait.)
The Church I grow old in isn’t going to look like the Church you or I grew up in. Those versions of the Church were part of their time and place. We need to become a Church of our time, and even a Church with our faces pressed against the future. We need to rediscover our role as Jesus’s voice and hands and feet and arms and everything not to me and my fellow Millennials, but to those people ten and twenty years younger than I am.
*I said this to the House of Bishops and Deputies listserv:
As a twenty-something Episcopal Preist, I am terrified by the thought that we are going to continue to accept the idea that it is okay for people to be away from the Church. If we take ourselves seriously as the incarnate Body of Christ, with a vow to do all that we can to support our brothers and sisters in their lives in Christ (BCP pg 303), what are we thinking?
It is not okay for the children of God to leave, even for a time. For some people it may be necessary, but the Church should regard it as a tragedy.
In the case of young adults, my age-peers, isn’t the better question, the more essential question, how can we better support young adults who need space to stretch and grow while going through a series of transitions?
And isn’t part of the answer what other denomination has a better tradition of faithful inquiry and questioning than we do?
When “you” give “us” permission to leave, “you” also give yourselves permission to let us go without effort.
**Remember? (link) I’m one of them.