the shape of leadership

Five Reasons Millennials Are Leaving the Church

What you should know about reaching — and keeping — young adults

Influence Magazine on November 8, 2018

The church that does not attract younger adults won’t keep growing. Tragically, many churches seem to repel them, despite their best efforts. According to Barna Group, 6 in 10 millennials who grew up in church have dropped out at some point.

What’s going on? It’s a complex issue, but this trend should prompt churches to do some serious introspection. Here are five things that may be pushing millennials away from church. (Barna defines millennials as those born from 1984 to 2001.)

1. They don’t feel respected. It seems millennials are an easy target for derision. Making fun of their supposed low work ethic, their perceived entitlements or their different tastes can get a laugh. But millennials, just like any other group, want and deserve respect.

Christians should be welcoming and discipling younger people, not offending them. Angering people is not always a sign you’re speaking difficult truths. It may just mean you are speaking half-truths with zero love. So check the insults, and start treating everyone with respect.

2. They don’t feel accepted. Many churches are afraid of the word “acceptance.” They fear is that accepting someone is the same as condoning their sinful behavior. But millennials know the difference.

In the same Barna report, 70 percent of non-churchgoing millennials say Christians are insensitive to others. Although that’s a blanket statement, it’s a good reminder to make sure your church welcomes everyone, just as they are, and shares the love of Christ with them.

Being relevant begins with translating timeless, biblical principles in timely, practical ways.

3. They don’t feel understood. Millennials are deeply concerned about things older generations may not have given much thought to, such as environmental and social justice issues. Failing to hear their perspectives makes it harder to build relationships.

You don’t need to turn your church into a social justice institution. But you can approach these topics in a caring, biblical way to show younger people you’re listening to their concerns.

4. They don’t feel discipled. A misconception about millennials is that they want an easy faith. The truth is, they want to go deep in their spirituality. Don’t water down the message, but don’t give canned responses either.

Younger people want direction, not condemnation. Don’t talk down to them. Give them space to ask questions, and take the time to provide thoughtful and honest answers. If you want to speak into their lives, show them you care.

5. They don’t feel church is relevant to their lives. According to Barna, among millennials who say attending services is not important to them, 35 percent claim church is not personally relevant. They see no connection between Sunday morning and Monday through Friday. So, prove them wrong!

Being relevant begins with translating timeless, biblical principles in timely, practical ways. But it also involves creativity. Show the millennials in your congregation that coming to church, and living for Jesus, is never boring. Present the gospel with Spirit-infused life and energy.

These are just a few of the things church leaders must keep in mind when reaching out to young adults. Bringing millennials back to church may seem like a difficult task, but it’s certainly worth the effort.

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