Why Millennials are really leaving religion (it’s not just politics, folks)

"So if the 'strict churches' theory doesn’t explain why many conservative denominations are experiencing losses, and the 'political alienation' theory doesn’t account for why people are exiting religion entirely rather than merely switching to a faith that’s more suitable, what does explain it?" RNS

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Darrell Post's picture

These sort of articles are often framed around pragmatism. They are leaving, so what can be done that will work to keep them. What need do they feel that the church is failing to deliver to them? 

At the risk of being over-simplistic, might I suggest the heart of the problem is simply unbelief? Young people who leave have perhaps not ever felt the weight of their sin and the offense that sin is to God resulting in a terrifying fear of judgment and the heartfelt longing for rescue. When they find that rescue in Jesus Christ, they won't be able to be kept away from the church. They will storm the doors. Eagerly.

I recall years ago a situation on a Wednesday night when the road going past the church was under construction making it very difficult to get to the driveway. As members arrived for the Wednesday night service, some turned away, others waited in the construction zone trying to find a way through, but I recall seeing a remarkable sight along side the road. A retired missionary and his wife in their late 80's had decided to park at a school next door, and they were climbing over debris and through the construction zone to move 100 yards down the road to the church entrance. They would not be turned away--for a Wednesday night service. 

It is a heart issue. Millennials, and any other groups, leave because they don't have a heart for Christ, have never grasped or appropriated what He has done for them, and so they go out into the world of unbelief to enjoy their sin for a season. Why would they stay in the church if they do not believe they need to be rescued?




David R. Brumbelow's picture

A reason we need to pray for revival in America.  May God open our eyes to the truth and our need for Christ. 

David R. Brumbelow

Ron Bean's picture

It seems to me that a lot of people ate talking about millennials but very few are talking and listening to them.

BTW, it appears that "The Bee" has noticed as well. 

Bashing Millennials

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Darrell Post's picture

Ron, you raise an interesting problem. Many feel they can only talk about them because if you try to talk to them they won't put down their smartphones long enough to hear what you are saying, and it is almost impossible to listen to them, because they would have to put down their smartphones and talk in order to be heard. 

Bert Perry's picture

OK, being serious to start, I'm thinking that Darrell is probably right that a lot of young people don't have faith, and that's compounded by the fact that we're not in the 1950s anymore and we don't have to go to church on Easter and Christmas Eve to be respectable anymore.

But that noted, it's worth noting that the smartphone comes down at places like Starbucks and Panera, along with other places where a little bit "hipper" food and such is served.  I should know, I'm the dad of a few of 'em.  Also, the smartphone comes down at work, so if you work with millenials, you'll find that coming up to them, making eye contact, and the like is still a great way of approaching people. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

... because I'm jealous that they can climb stairs without their knees hurting.

Seriously, though, I am constantly encouraged (and reproved) by the faith, pursuit of holiness, and courage demonstrated by the millennials in my church, especially considering that they live and work in an area in which conservative Christians are almost an anomaly. I'm thankful for godly young men and women whom my children can observe and talk to.

That being said, I still can't stand 'em, though. What with their working joints, high metabolism, and ability to drink caffeine after 2 in the afternoon without being up all night, I feel like they're mocking me. 

Ron Bean's picture

Well Darrell, unless you were joking, and I hope you were, your presuppositional "feeling" is part of the problem. The millennials I talk with and attend church with have taught me much and sharpened my iron. I do hate them for the same reasons John lists. They assure me that they love me and promise to push my wheelchair at church when that time comes.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

He's right, it's a heart issue. And the solution isn't bigger and better church programs or cultural relevance. The answer is making disciples by preaching the gospel. 

Darrell Post's picture

...Of course I was joking. Sort of--lol. Its the problem with stereotyping and labeling. I know many millennials who serve and love Christ and don't live for the smartphone and paying $5 for a cup of coffee that isn't worth $1.29. That said, I could share several anecdotes about millennials who were so locked into the smartphones one would think they were NASA engineers trying to land a probe on Mars.

I agree though on the knees and joints.



TylerR's picture


I'm thinking out loud here, so don't everybody shoot me.

I've worked in the secular workforce my whole life. I'm a bi-vocational pastor. I'm not convinced there is a particular way Christians ought to "talk to" millennials, as though they're an exotic tribe that's just emerged from the jungle. I talk to everybody the same. I always have. Of course, you have to alter your approach a bit depending on who you're talking to. But, generally, I act the same towards everybody.

I don't focus on "reaching" a particular sub-set of people. I've never found that particularly helpful, or a very good way to frame evangelism.

If you preach the Gospel, teach the Bible, and try your best to lead your congregation to be Christ-like influences at work and at home, then God will bring fruit. It may be millennials. It may be retirees; my wife and I are doing a bible study with a 65 year old lady who is a brand-new Christian - we'll likely baptize her in the next few months. But, whoever it is, praise God. He controls salvation. He has His elect people. He'll bring them in, as long as we're faithful to preach the Gospel, teach the Bible, and lead our folks to be priests and evangelists for the Lord.

So, why are millennials leaving the church?

  • I don't know if the article is referring to the local church or the universal church
  • I don't know if the author assumes a Baptist ecclesiology; that is, members are presumed regenerate after visible fruit and a credible profession of faith

So, who knows? From a Reformed-ish, Baptist perspective, those adults who abandon God and walk away from a local church were likely never regenerate in the first place. If they are actually regenerate, they'll return at some point. This relentless presumption that adults are Christians because they "grew up in the church" is terrible. Ecclesiology matters, even if it's not always fun to talk about.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I can remember when I was "that generation". We were written off because we challenged authority and questioned our elders. Our constant "whys?" meant we were labeled as rebellious. We watched too much TV,  listened to pop music when no one was around, and snuck off to watch movies. History seems to be repeating itself. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Darrell Post's picture

...true. And my generation, when teenagers and young adults, had its host of problems too. In fact many Gen-Xers (or whatever I am supposed to be called) walked away from the church too. Which brings full circle the point I made at the top of the thread. It isn't really a millennial problem, or any generational problem, its an unbelief/people-desperately-need-the-gospel problem.