August 21, 2014 by Devin
In the past year or so, I’ve begun to see a large amount of blog posts show up on my newsfeed about “Why young people are leaving the church,” and being a young person who left the church, most of these have disappointed me. They frequently say things like how the church is not being loving enough or speaking their language (“religious buzzword” has ironically become a buzzword in these articles). While I appreciate the sentiment, I feel like most of these posts are terribly misguided.
These authors are quick to criticize the production on Sunday mornings, the lack of effective language, and the adherence to tradition, but these are scapegoat reasons. Nobody stops being a Christian because the church they want to go to does not have a website. Very few of the posts I have seen on this subject are actually willing to talk about theology, which is often the real reason why people leave the church.
The assumption is that people are perfectly fine with the message at the core of what the church does but are frustrated with how it is being presented to them. The meal is fine, but the plate is all wrong. It is like looking at the church’s teachings on homosexuality, and instead of going, “People don’t like that we teach it as a sin,” they go, “People don’t like that we’re not nice enough about teaching it as a sin,” missing a real opportunity for self-reflection.
You can be as nice as you want about it, but if your beliefs cause people to hate themselves (as anti-LGBT beliefs often do), they are not going to keep going to your church.
Honestly, and this a little bit speculation on my part, I believe that these blog posts are written because people do not want to look at the uncomfortable parts of their own beliefs. Believing that young people are leaving the church because they are not finding Jesus is a lot more comfortable truth than young people leaving the church because they found Jesus and did not much care for him.
I do not want to imply that all Christians really know that Christianity is wrong and are just trying to delude themselves. What I mean that is that many Christians are uncomfortable seeing the bad parts of their beliefs. In this article, a guy talks about feeling uncomfortable saying, “Love the sin, hate the sinner” when it comes to his homosexual friends. I think his reaction is indicative of trends right now. He never actually says his beliefs are changed. He never says that he now believes homosexuality is okay. The post is not one where he examines and critiques his beliefs; it is one where he seeks to become nicer about them.
This leaves a blind spot in religious discussion where everything but theology is a reason why people are mad at the church, creating a narrative where young people only care about newer buzzwords that are not like the older buzzwords and being approachable. But if we look at actual people who have left the church, we find a different story.
Take a look at this article circling around the web right now. In it, the author describes how she grew up in purity culture and how that ultimately damaged her, causing her to leave the church. Her reasons for leaving the church do not concern how the church was presented to her. Using better language or being nicer about it would not have made the situation better. She left the church because she was damaged by the actual beliefs the church was espousing.
Or consider how nearly a third of millennials who leave the church cite the treatment of LGBT as a major factor.
Or consider how many young people are taught all their lives that Creation is the only true account and that science is wrong, but when they get older and actually look into Evolution and find that the huge amount of evidence for it, they realize that they were lied to.
While I don’t feel qualified enough to say that these are all the reasons why millennials are leaving the church, I feel I know enough to say that these reasons are certainly more legitimate than “They’re not finding community.” Churches, I’m going to tell you what so many other blog posts won’t. If you want to attract millennials, you can have as many traditions or as few websites as you want, but just don’t preach that being gay is bad, that evolution is wrong, and that a woman’s hymen is linked to how clean of a person she is.
And to people who are curious to why young millennials are leaving the church: don’t look to blog posts by youth pastors and 20-something pseudo-intellectuals. At this day and age, you can find many resources online about why people stop going to church from people who stopped going to church. Many do so because they don’t like the church, yes, but many do so because they have real troubles with the theology and beliefs presented within the church. Books like Generation Atheist are all about people who grew to give up on religion, and the reasons rarely have to do with how approachable the people in religion were being.
1. Rachel Held Evans is the exception I’ve seen, but even there, as much as I love her writing, she talks around the problem more than directly engaging it.
2. To be fair, making claims like that instantly get people mad at you, but honestly I think that Christians who are okay with homosexuality should be willing to say that regardless of the reaction they get.
3. This response, in my mind, is exactly the kind of response that would get someone to leave the church.
4. I’m not saying you can’t believe those things, but don’t expect to win any popularity contests if you do.