By Daniel Bruce and Brianna Gwin
The words that typically come to mind when the word “millennials” is mentioned usually deal with entitlement, laziness, fearlessness, self-centeredness, etc. No one has to explain what is meant when using the term, and most of the time the word brings a negative connotation. One word that has never been used to describe the millennial generation is Christian. If you look back into the late 1800’s and early 1900’s you see the Christian movement at an all time high. Then you get to the late 1900’s and early 2000’s and there is less of a presence as ever before. Why did this trend begin and what is to blame for the lack of church participation by millennials today?
One word that comes to mind to describe millennials’ lack of church participation is teaching. Parents have raised millennials to have a sense of entitlement that comes along with the “do-it-yourself” attitude. They are taught to be who they want to be regardless of what anyone else says or thinks. They have been brought up not to depend on anyone other than themselves. This contradicts with what they assume is the Christian faith because they would have to admit there is a higher power that can control their life. They tend to justify that since they cannot do everything they want the way they want to do it, that there is not a need to attend church. The church typically has a reputation that you have to think, act, and live a certain way to be able to attend and be a Christian, which turns the younger generation away. The generation now has a “my way or the highway” type attitude that typically does not align with church views and makes them feel unwelcome in a place where they perceive there is such little freedom.
Another reason that church participation has decreased over time is because of technology. For hundreds of years, the church and family acted as the main institutions that formed people’s beliefs. However, with Google, social media, and smartphones constantly in reach, millennials have grown up with more influences than any generation before them. While it is good that these influences have provided millennials with more opportunities to develop their own beliefs and opinions, they tend to run when the Bible appears to contradict one of those beliefs, such as what they may think about science. Millennials often rely on what they can see, which makes it hard for them to trust in what God says in His word. Technology has done many good things for churches, like allowing them to have live services that you can watch from the comfort of your bed in your pajamas. On the day that everyone typically has off every week, many millennials would rather watch from the comfort of their own homes than get up to attend a service. They do not realize that the experience behind the screen may be less influential than being there in person.
As I think back on my involvement in the church throughout college and wonder what may have kept some people from coming back, one word comes to mind: hypocrisy. Perhaps the biggest reason for lack of church participation is when someone walks into church and sees someone professing their faith on a Sunday morning, but living the exact opposite lifestyle when they leave. Why would anyone, especially millennials, want to believe and follow the Bible when the people who claim to be Christians at church do the exact opposite in life? I asked one of my friends from college why she didn’t come back to church and her response was, “Why would I involve myself with people who claim to love the Lord and act in a way that is completely contradicting to what they claim they believe? I have much more respect for my friends who do not go to church and own their mistakes instead of being in church on Sunday pretending like they never make any.” This really opened my eyes to see that not only do a lot of people feel that Christians are hypocritical, but that most people do not feel welcomed. The church has gained the reputation that if you aren’t perfect you aren’t welcome and there is a chance that you will be publicly shamed for your sins. Millennials do not want to be a part of a place where they feel like they are forced to act like someone they are not. They feel like the struggles they may have will somehow make them less of a Christian than those perfection-professing members of the church.
In order for the church to engage millennials in their congregations and ultimately not die out, they are going to have to become much more innovative. God’s word will never change, but that does not mean we can’t change the way we present it. Millennials want to be involved and would probably benefit from having active roles in the church instead of constantly being preached at. Technology has provided churches with an ever-increasing platform to present their message, but it should not replace interpersonal connections that are necessary for biblical fellowship. The church will have to find a way to balance these two to show millennials the amazing love of Jesus Christ. The first step towards doing this is to rid the church of the judgmental stigma that has surrounded it for years. In order to bring more millennials into the body of Christ, they will need to feel loved and accepted. Only this acceptance, not judgment, will lead them to true conviction and belief in Jesus Christ. I truly believe that if the church can bring in the millennial generation, amazing things will be done for the Kingdom of God. The church will erupt with a passion for showing the world the truth of Christ’s amazing love and ignite a movement like Christianity has never seen before.
About the Authors: This article was cowritten by Daniel Bruce and Brianna Gwin. Brianna is an intern at the Reid Law Firm. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Auburn University. She may be reached at Brianna.firstname.lastname@example.org. Daniel is an intern at the Reid Law Firm and a student at Auburn University majoring in Political Science and Economics. Daniel may be reached at Daniel.email@example.com.
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