BY ADEWALE ADEIFE (President, Federal University of Akure Debate Club)
The church has faced various challenges in time past and recently with the alarming rate of millennials leaving the church, research indicates Millennials (individuals born in the 90s and 21st century) have been leaving the church in alarming numbers. One study shows 59 percent of millennials raised in church have already left.
There have been worries members of the younger generation are turning to religions such as Islam or practicing atheism. However,
recently there is a growth of the “None” movement. “Nones” are people identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation. Many believe there is a God but have lost the desire to be affiliated with a religion. As someone who was born into a Christian home to parents who were leaders in the youth ministry, it is sad to see a lot of my childhood friends and my peer group grow up and leave the church. Some were even members of the teenage or children choir and devoted church members but they grew up and found reasons to leave the church. The church that does not attract younger adults won’t keep growing. Tragically, many churches seem to repel them, despite their best efforts 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 seven things that may be pushing millennials away from the church.
1. Millennials do not feel respected:
Millennials are an easy target for derision. Millennials just like any other group, want and deserve respect. I have seen situations were young folks stopped attending the church. People often time castigate them for their dressing, values, and attitude instead of relating to them trying to see reasons why they do what they do. Christians should be welcoming and disciple younger people, not offending them. Angering people is not always a sign you are speaking difficult truths. It may just mean you are speaking half-truths with zero love or even the truth with zero love. So check the insults, and start treating everyone with respect. The way and manner you address millennials determine how they also react to you.
2. Millennials do not feel accepted:
Many churches are afraid of the word “acceptance.” They fear that accepting someone is the same as condoning their sinful behavior. But millennials know the difference. A large percentage of non-churchgoing millennials say Christians are insensitive to others. Although that is 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. Millennials should be corrected in love.
3. Millennials do not get answers to questions:
Recently I stopped asking questions during our question and answer session in my church because I just wasn’t getting answers to my questions. The Millennial generation is the highest educated generation and this is because the emphasis was placed on going to school, getting that college certificate, etc. You expect them to be very inquisitive and knowledge seekers so it becomes a problem when millennials do not get answers. Next time they ask you why kindly answer them.
4. Millennials do not 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. It becomes a problem when the church doesn’t talk about trending issues happening in society like sexual harassment of female folks, mental health, depression, and governance (politics).
5. Millennials do not feel discipled:
A misconception about millennials is that they want an easy faith. The truth is, they want to go deep into 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.
6. Millennials want engagements on controversial issues:
The church also needs to start addressing controversial issues rather than avoiding them.Issues include career, education, relationships, marriage, feminism, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals and body image. As a tech and internet generation, the millennials are most likely to develop personal views on these issues and it is the responsibility of the church as an institution that builds lives to engage these issues.
7. Millennials don’t feel the church is relevant to their lives:
Discussing with a few persons I know who are now atheists or indifferent about attending the church, a lot of them do not feel the church is relevant to them because they either do not see any difference between themselves and the so-called churchgoers or they even see themselves as better off. Imagine a Christian who gives bribes, doesn’t obey societal rules and regulations and also engages in shady deals, this makes millennials question the need for a church. Among millennials who say attending services is not important to them, they claim the 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. Millennials do not like the routine they want new things and new methods of doing the same thing. Being A Christian is not boring kindly show it to them.
Finally, church leaders must keep in mind these things when reaching out to young adults. Bringing millennials back to church may seem like a difficult task, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
For one, millennials want to be mentored, not preached at.
“Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. “Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes. We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch?
Millennials not only want to be mentored but they also want to be heard and valued for who they are in a world that says they’re not good enough.
1 Timothy 4:12,
ESV: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
“ 1 Timothy 4:12,
KJV: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”