The Next Generation: Millennials and Religion

6 Reasons Millennials Aren’t at Your Church

by Aaron Earls  (from Facts and Trends)

Why aren’t Millennials at your church? You don’t want them there.

I know it sounds harsh and is admittedly a bit hyperbolic, but that is the basic reason any group of people are not actively involved in your church body. You have created, be it intentionally or unintentionally, an environment in which they do not feel welcome.

If your church does not have anyone under the age of 35, it is because of the culture you have established. They don’t feel at home there and until they do, they won’t be there.

Obviously, I am using generalizations to speak about a large group of people. This will not apply to every Millennial everywhere. But we can still learn from the characteristics that are frequently found among young adults.

Here are six reasons Millennials may be staying away from your church.

1. You aren’t online.

Most Millennials do not remember a time before the internet. They grew up on social media and are called “digital natives.” It is not something extra to their life; it is a place they live their life.

Three out of four have created a profile on a social networking site. With it, they connect with friends (some of whom they’ve never met in person), communicate with the world, and check out your church.

If you have not established a web or social media presence, they have assumed you are not not interested in relating to them.

2. You are too inward focused.

If they see your church as spending all of its time and resources solely on bettering the lives of the people who already attend, they’ll go somewhere else.

While Millennials have a reputation of being self-absorbed – over half have posted a “selfie” online – they passionately support causes that inspire them. Over 80 percent made a financial gift to an organization in 2012.

Their biggest discouragement in giving is not knowing how the gift will be used to make a difference. They want to be part of a larger cause. If that’s not you, they’ll get involved somewhere else.

3. You aren’t trustworthy.

Well, maybe you are trustworthy, but a Millennial is going to make you prove it.

Two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” when it comes to trusting people. Only 19 percent agreed that, generally speaking, most people can be trusted. They are cynical of those they do not know, particularly people in authority.

This is why we did the piece “False Facts: Why We Love Bad Stats.” Your audience will fact check your statistics and anecdotes – almost 4-in-10 Millennials already have. You don’t want to give Millennials a reason to distrust you.

4. You aren’t diverse.

Millennials are the most diverse generation in history and they want their church to reflect that.

More than 40 percent of adult Millennials are non-white, the highest share of any generation. About half the newborns born today are non-white.

If your church has no interest in reaching people outside of one ethnic or cultural group, your church has no interest in reaching Millennials.

5. You are too institutional.

When it comes to institutions, Millennials run the other way.

Political parties? Half describe themselves as independents. Marriage? Only 26 percent of Millennial adults have walked the aisle. Religion? Almost 3-in-10 are unaffiliated. That doesn’t mean they cannot learn to see the benefits of those institutions, but unlike previous generations, they don’t trust them inherently.

If business meetings drive your church and not a heart for bigger causes, you’ll drive Millennials away.

6. You don’t offer real community.

They recognize the need to connect, but they’ve chosen to do it through affinity groups and not institutions. Using social media, they have cultivated relationships with people next door and around the world who share their viewpoints and perspectives.

They want to have the support of their friends. Seventy percent of Millennials are more excited about a decision they’ve made when their friends agree, compared with 48 percent of non-Millennials.

They will find connections and community. If your church does not provide it for them, they’ll find someplace that does.

What’s next?

The church has to decide if it wants to reach the Millennials. They are open. It is simply a matter of whether we will put in the effort to communicate the gospel in a way that resonates with them.

It can be done. In our follow-up post, we look at seven ways to draw Millennials to your church and into your community.

What’s new? Read their follow-up article with 2020 statistics.

Additional Course Readings:

Millennials Invent New Religion: No Hell, No Priests, No Punishment by Candace Chellew-Hodge, Religious Dispatches

Losing religion at college? New study flips the common wisdom by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religious News Service

Optional Resources:

NPR Interview with former Catholic Millennial (7:49)

Going, Going Gone:  Books Study Exodus from Religion from the National Catholic Reporter
By Christian Smith, Kyle Longest, Jonathan Hill and Kari Christofferson)

Religion and Spirituality in a Changing Society (CBS News)


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