Millennials have stopped attending church. The millennial generation is the least likely age-group to attend church, and this is a HUGE problem.
As I’ve shared before, millennials are the largest living generation in the U.S., they are attending church at a declining rate, and 59% of millennials who grew up in the church have dropped out. If the church continues to follow this trend, then the church will continue to decrease in size—if not disappear—as older members pass away and younger members are not added.
If I could reach through your screen, place my hands on your shoulders to get your attention, then I would tell you we have a problem. As the church, we need hear the alarm bells. We are NOT reaching millennials well, and if we don’t make changes now, then the church’s we call home may not be around in the future, because it only takes missing one generation with the gospel for your church to die.
Thankfully, we don’t have to guess why millennials have left our church or are unwilling to attend a worship service. There has been a significant amount of research done to help us understand why this is the case. Here are five research-backed reasons why millennials have stopped attending church.
1. The church is fake
In one study conducted by the Barna Group, a significant number of millennials (66%) surveyed perceived churchgoers as “hypocritical.” In other words, they have a problem with people who do not possess the life they profess.
Who would want to visit a place full of people who are two-faced? I know I wouldn’t.
Listen, if you have placed your faith in Christ, then you will be a work in progress, which is true for everyone in Christ (and the church). As the body of Christ, we need to embrace this reality humbly and create a place where everyone can feel welcome. But for most millennials, this isn’t the case, which leads me to my next point.
2. The church is exclusive
In Making Space for Millennials by Barna Resources, the authors said, “Substantial majorities of millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental – 87%.” Regardless if this represents your church or not, this is the perception you and your church inherited—judgmental.
Look, we know that we are not going to see eye-to-eye on everything. Whether it is homosexual behavior, women in leadership, gender identity, or artificial intelligence (AI), you will have disagreements with other Christians, and that’s okay. Your disagreements with other Christians is not what is pushing millennials away; it’s the “majoring in the minors” mentality that’s doing that.
Many church mission statements can be summed up like this: Love God, love people, and serve the world. But many millennials believe that we (the church) love ourselves and people just like us, which means they feel like they don’t belong.
As a church, you will bump into people in your community who think this way about you and your church, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time how you will respond to these accusations with grace and truth.
3. The church doesn’t care about their community
Even though many churches express a desire to serve their community, many millennials don’t see the church reaching beyond the four walls of their building.
In a survey conducted in partnership with the Barna Group and Compassion International, they found that 47% of young practicing Christians thought their church should be more involved in fighting extreme poverty. What is more, 45% of the respondents said they would give more to their church if it were more involved with poverty alleviation.
Does your church reach out to people in need or does it provide lip service only? If you’re only talking about helping the poor, then people in your community hear you loud and clear.
4. The church is aggressive and hyper-critical
In response to a recent Barna Group survey, 52% of the respondents perceived current-day Christianity to be aggressive and hyper-critical. What the respondents are referring to is the church’s propensity to condemn culture vehemently. For instance, I grew up with catch phrases like “modest is hottest” and a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. When I used to buy CDs, I would open up the jacket to make sure the band gave thanks to Jesus or God, and if they didn’t, then I would get rid of the album.
Instead of rejecting culture or receiving it hook, line, and sinker, millennials want to be a part of redeeming culture.
5. The church ignores the big issues
As a church leader, here is another thing you need to know about millennials: they have questions and a lot of them. Unlike older generations, they do not accept everything you have to say because you quote the Bible.
When asked to select an image that best represented present-day Christianity, a majority of millennials chose an image of a Bible with a person pointing the finger at someone. Instead of seeing a table open to everyone to talk about God and work out their faith, what millennials see is an imposing finger-pointing Christian who is ignoring our questions and telling us to toe the line.
Now, having questions is not a bad thing. The Bible and church history is full of people who struggled with doubt and wrestled with their faith in Christ.
Don’t be turned off by someone’s questions. Rather, encourage their questions and even take the lead by asking big questions yourself, like “Who made God?” and “Why should we trust the Bible?”
Reading results from studies like this can be difficult. In many ways, they shine a light on areas of our life and ministry that we are not doing well. Instead of scattering for a dark corner, I encourage you to run toward the light of the statics above, and prayerfully reflect upon the life of your church to see what changes you need to make to reach the millennials in your community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is one change you would like your church to make to reach millennials? Share your thoughts in the comments below?