Mean people suck. But that’s not why millennials dropped the church.

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An open letter to Lead Pastors.

Do you hear that sucking sound? It’s the sound of young adults walking out the back door so fast that you can feel the breeze from the pulpit way down at the front of the sanctuary.

Young adults have always been a bit shaky in their church attendance during college. But then a new trend emerged: They stopped coming back. No one worried much about it at first. But as the return rate continued to plummet, the Millennial abandonment of the church became the stuff that keeps pastors up late at night. Millennials are, after all, the ones whose attractive fresh young faces make people say, “Oh, this place is doing really well!”

A few churches are still doing really well with young adults, of course. But multiple studies, such as this one from Pew Research, show that young adults now attend church at 1/2 the rate of their parents at their age. One in three young adults now characterize themselves as  “nones” – religiously unaffiliated.  If you haven’t noticed your church greying yet: fear not, you will.

What is going on with those Millennials? 

According to the narrative, the church is full of narrow, nasty, fearful, bigots. If you are smart, hip, or have a pulse, you should drop the church like a hot rock for something more helpful to your life…like spending Sunday morning playing games on your iPhone at Starbucks, or puttering in your garden, or just pulling your covers up over your head and grabbing another hour of shuteye.

David Kinnaman, in his interesting book, “You Lost Me,” provides a stark articulation of this meme. His team conducted research with more than 1200 young adults. According to the compelling stories he recounts, young adults dropped out because they found the Church to be:

-Shallow, with easy platitudes, proof texting, and formulaic slogans.

-Overprotective and repressive: Sexual mores feel stifling to young adults.

-Exclusive. Christian claims to exclusivity are a hard sell in a pluralistic culture.

-Doubtless. The church is fearful and dare not risk allowing them to express doubts.

-Antiscience.

In other words, the church is mean. 

If you talk to folks between the age of 20 and 35 about the church you have probably heard all of the above statements. However, these don’t necessarily paint a complete picture as to why Millennials left. They tell us why they SAY they left – how they have interpreted their experience. So, although Kinnaman’s book has become the “Bible” on Millennials, there is…

Another piece of the puzzle…

It appeared in last April’s edition of Atlantic Monthly: “Listening to Young Atheists.” Alex Taunton interviewed college students who self-identify as atheists and asked them to “tell the story of your journey into atheism.” What he heard was not what he expected – which always makes my ears perk up. To his surprise, young atheists did not wax eloquent about their intellectual difficulties with Christianity – the anti-science, anti-gay, theologically rigid, “easy believe-ism” stuff we all hear about (apologies to my more progressive friends). Neither did they talk about a desire to engage in sinful, frowned upon by the church, lifestyles (apologies to my more conservative friends). Here is what young atheists told Taunton…

1. They had attended church - The number one source of college atheists is, wait for it, Christianity…as it was modeled to them.

2. The mission and message of their churches was vague - rather than too much catechesis, they received too little. They were not given an intellectual frame for their faith.

3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.

4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously.

5. Ages 14-17 were decisive - In the middle of forty years of enormous investment in youth ministry, high school is when atheist millennials embraced their unbelief!

6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional oneusually involving the loss of a trusted youth leader

Did you notice the seedbed that hatched young atheists? It was specifically a reaction AGAINST their experience of the church. Second, they didn’t become atheists in those evil, conspiratorially faith-stealing secular universities. We lost the Millennials when they were in high school – In our youth groups!

One student said, “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

Our big fail?

“Meanness” is style. And apparently a style fail is the least of our issues. According to atheist millennials, we also have a theology fail, a program fail, and a leader fail. The atheists who grew up in our churches tell us that we didn’t:

1) Model love and authenticity during their critical adolescent years.

2) Disciple them. Not downloading information, but the time-intensive task of walking with them, life on life…teaching them Christian practices in a context of friendship.

3) Catechize: Provide historic answers to the historic questions.

4) Allow them to engage their doubts. Talking through doubts is how one gets through them.

5) Integrate them thoroughly into the life of the church. We gave them a soteriology without an ecclesiology:  A personal Jesus without a Body of Christ. We professionalized student ministry and segregated kids away in youth rooms. We let parents, the older generation, and anyone in the church staff not titled, “youth pastor” off the hook.

Students needed a web of relationships and an affiliation bond with the larger church.

But we shuttled them off into “youth services,” creating in-effect parachurch student ministries on church campuses with trendy grow-out-of-it-when-you-graduate names. And, often, by the time they get back from college, their pastor, the student pastor, is gone as well. In a “youth service” model, Millennials have never been in the sanctuary and don’t know those leading in there either. Add in the fact that the sanctuary reflects a ministry model developed for their parent’s generation and, for many, you have strike three, and the Millennials are walking off the field and hanging up their bats.

6. Give them a mission in the world. The doctrine of creation tells us that we were made on purpose for a high and holy purpose. When they were in high school did we give them something epic to do? Something unreachably heroic that they could only see and do with eyes of faith?

Will we listen to them?

Young adult atheists are telling us that we failed to give them a robust faith in the triune God…a faith they were asking us for. And this isn’t just a problem facing “liberal” or “conservative” churches.  While the Left gave them Social Justice Jesus, the Right gave them a truncated, topical Jesus who promises, “Your Best Life Now.” A Fuller seminary friend told me that in a recent survey of graduating youth group seniors the most common thing students, across denominations, wished they had been given more of in youth group wasn’t games, skits, or worship. It was “Bible Study.”

Lead pastors, you have served your mission field of busy 35-55 year olds nervous about cultural change by giving them practical content from fewer, trusted voices on video-venues. What might missionally engaging students in there changing context look like? After all, like you once said to your senior pastor when you were working with youth, “We cannot expect today’s youth ministry to use the models we designed for a previous generation.”

When you and I started in ministry, students came to the church hungry to be entertained. Today they come expecting a sense of the transcendent. Study after study tells us that Millennials long for spiritual practices, meaningful service in the church, and a mission to the world. They seek peer groups to support their faith. They desire older Christian mentors and multi-generational relationships. They come for Scriptural knowledge and, gasp, theology. They come to learn about the God who made them, redeems them, and has a purpose for the world. They come seeking God’s plan and calling on their lives to do something of true and lasting significance.

Yes, the world changed. But while that change occurred we kept giving them a simple Gospel message with fog machines, light shows, and games in which they stuffed their faces with marshmallows.

So they left. But not when we thought. Not why we thought. And not how we thought.

A way forward?

It should be obvious that what I am pointing toward is not less youth ministry but a redirecting of it toward a more robust form. A form more tied to the greater church. The solution to all of this will involve Lead Pastors – You are the source of vision, direction, permission and covering. Nothing changes without your endorsement. Will you allow your Student Ministry leaders to change your student ministry today so that tomorrow’s students don’t bail too? You were an innovator in reaching your mission field. Will you free your student ministers to innovate to a new generation? We all want Christians for life, not just for high school. Will you unravel programs when the data demonstrates that filling youth services today leads to empty sanctuaries tomorrow? 

The truth is staring us in the face. The stakes are too high to throw away another generation with sincere but ultimately unhelpful youth ministry.

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42 thoughts on “Mean people suck. But that’s not why millennials dropped the church.

  1. to me – a baby boomer- I feel like I’m watching the 20 to 35 year olds just start their own churches-where in the age old paradigm- they set out to correct the mistakes of the prior generation -and likely will end up in some version of the same place prior generations ended up- it almost feels inevitable

    • Hi Gale,
      They are doing that. It is a problem of the age segregation we taught them. We moved them from nursery, kids rooms, youth rooms, college group and young adults. And now we are surprised that they age segregate.

      The beauty of multi-generational churches is there are two generations to tell them, “Yes, we were sure we could do better than our parents, too. The problem is that we are all made of the same stuff…so your innovation will become yesterday’s news.”

      It’s why we need a more robust view of the Church, is it not?

      • I agree with you – the multi generational church is very important-there are multiple generations in the church I attend and pretty much everyone agrees that they appreciate the diversity. Yes -we need a more robust version of the church! But I remember what it’s like to be young -how strong the pull is to feel you can correct the mistakes of prior generations. It’s probably a side effect of our sinful nature.

        • “I could do this better” is where my sin nature goes pretty quickly. :-)

          Part of the solution is giving young people role AND voice in the larger church. Giving them visability up front helps too.

  2. Hello,
    Having lived through most of this….I often wonder why I am still a part of “church.” Why do I deal with the politics and all of the rest? I always come back to the question: “Where else would i go?” Church, as imperfect as it is, is the only real experience of God that I have. Whether it is “Baptipalian or Episcopist”, I find encouragement to keep going ….

    I was given a theology, and an eccelsiology ….although I question much of both now-I am blessed to have the framework to ask the questions……even if the answers are not always forthcoming.

    • Hi Drew,
      It brings to mind Jesus’s question to Peter in John 6, “You don’t want to bail out too, do you?” With you I have Peter’s response, “Where else would I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

      blessings.

  3. “When you and I started in ministry, students came to the church hungry to be entertained. Today they come expecting a sense of the transcendent…. Will you unravel programs when the data demonstrates that filling youth services today leads to empty sanctuaries tomorrow?”

    Good words and great thoughts brother! I look forward to working this out with you in Phoenix as God seems to be correcting years of misguided ministry.

    • Hi Brother,
      We were doing our best trying to take an unchanging message to a changing culture. We might have been a bit too accommodating. I really do think the culture is actually offering us some help at this time. Thanks be to God.

      I am honored to serve shoulder to shoulder with you for so many years, friend.

  4. We usually see fruit as a positive indicator. This post illustrates the kind of fruit that results from missing the mark. Our emphasis has been on programs that we hoped would result in good fruit. We might have managed to build some groups of people, but they have fallen short of being vibrant representations of the Body of Christ. Matt this is such a great look at a specific demographic, but I fear that upon examination we would find similar kinds of fruit across the ages. I think we have really underestimated God’s design of “Life on life” as you mentioned.

    • Surealy you are right!

      I discovered in YL years ago that we become what we count.

      We counted campers and clubs. I realized that we needed to count leaders who make disciples. The evangelical church counts ASA (so it tends to value big right now, this Sunday). In our church we count “parishes” – that causes its own set of disfunction’s…like keeping open churches with 20 people. Or in my case, 3 congregations in a building that, in its heyday didn’t need a large Episcopal Church. :-)

      The tendency to count the wrong stuff is what hurts us. But it is a pretty difficult evaluatory metric to say “we will know in 15 years if this worked.”

  5. Reblogged this on Journey to Amor and commented:
    This is why I became a Christian and ultimately decided to become a missionary:

    “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

  6. “We gave them a soteriology without an ecclesiology: A personal Jesus without a Body of Christ.”

    That, my friend, sums up the matter at hand.

    • Ahhh, yes. We probably have friends who would say our ecclesiology is still too low, but I had no idea what was lacking. It is a bit like describing 25 years of marriage to a newlywed: There are so many layers of self-awareness that just aren’t there that mostly you just say, “trust me and push through, what you get on the back side is so worth it.”

  7. What is it that influences teenagers? Check out how much time they spend in school, where they are told their faith is stupid and they are daily indoctrinated with ideas that undermine their faith. Then check out what they are listening to through various media sources and then compare that to the amount of time they spend getting input from their parents and church. 35-40 hours per week of public school, 35-40 hours or more of secular music and other media and maybe 3 hours of Godly input from parents and church. Is it any wonder that they disbelieve. The church needs to wake up and see that they cannot give their children to the world for 80 hours a week and expect to reclaim them in 3! Check out the results of the Cardus Educational Survey to see what it says about the impact of Christian education, at the elementary and secondary level. Also, check out the role of educatio in shaping kids thinking. Also look at what Hitler, Stalin and others have to say about shaping the attitude and loyalties of children. There is no mgoc potion, but we can’t continue to give our children over to secular programs like public education and expect them to hold on to their faith. Nor can we rely upon one youth pastor to be the primary shaper of our teenagers. Our youth pastors need the support ofan educational system that promotes healthy Christian living.

  8. I agree with this, but I would also add that “modeling love” and “more catechesis” — well, all of these, actually — needs to include the adults in the congregation as well. We’re going to have more impact on children and youth by making sure that ADULTS are fully integrated into the life of the church and can carry on their faith at home.

    One thing I’m worried about in this list is that the easiest thing to latch on to is “more catechesis,” to the neglect of the other parts. I say that as a youth curriculum developer. But what I’ve seen is that churches need to be aware that simply learning more stuff is not the key to building strong faith and a lasting connection with the church.

    Related to the Pew report, you might also be interested in the interview we posted with Elizabeth Drescher on Listening to the Nones. Here’s the key take-away for me:

    “For Mainline Protestants, the theme is neither hurt nor anger, but a sense of ennui. They got it. They get that they’re supposed to be good to people, share what they have, do good in the world. If I had a nickel for how they love, love, love their youth group, or what a great time they had on their mission trips, I’d be a very wealthy woman.

    “What tends to happen with Mainline Protestants is that they are deeply affirmed in early formation and then they “graduate” from church. And we let them have that model. Our church schools are parallel to other kinds of schooling. One young woman told me, “I learned everything I needed to know there, I get it. I don’t need this in order to be a good person or in order to make sense of everyday life.” I hear this when I interview parents as well: “Our children will learn good values. Check. They’ve learned this, we can move on.” ”

    – See more at: http://confirmnotconform.com/blog/listening-nones-interview-elizabeth-drescher#sthash.SVT4ru1h.dpuf

    • Hi Laura. Great point.

      Part of that may be that we in the mainline have an aversion to what Chap Clark has been calling “Red Bull moments.” This is probably a reaction to evangelical over emphasis. Be that as it may “conversion moments” + early adult mission experiences have been shown to be cementing experiences for lifelong involvement. Mormons and Young Life both have lifelong and sacrificial commitment through these.

      Btw, I love Confirm not Conform.

      Blessings, matt

    • I agree strongly! It is helpful to be challenged to keep thinking how we do instruction in the orthodoxy of Christian faith. But it seems to me that it is even more critical that we keep pushing for intergenerational relationships, shared orthopraxy, genuine discipleship. Speaking as a mainline pastor, I also suspect our corrections must be slightly different from our E-free or Pentecostal neighbors. I’m trying to absorb everything I can about encouraging missional community. Reading heavily from 3DM and Navigators, and now being coached in what they’ve learned — none of which was taught at my seminary.

  9. So, how come so many of the evangelical churches don’t know they are not supposed to be growing with mellennials. Maybe some haven’t figured out how successful businesses, projects or churches reap what they sow. Continuing to bore people into leaving with poor preaching instead of leading doesn’t work. Being dynamic in attempts to minister, lead and become revolutionary in order to do so, might win some over but don’t try, do. I mean Christ was a revolutionary why cannot churches be? The last words of a failing business are, but we have never done it that way before. Does that apply to churches? As a business man I think in terms positive, inspiration and motivation through direction not new ideas falling on deaf preacher ears.

  10. Respectfully, I kind of think you missed the point. As a member of the generation who has left the church, it is often because the church has not provided satisfying, thoughtful answers to the questions that matter to us. You mentioned that issue, but didn’t give a concrete way to fix it. Because honestly, what the church needs right now is not just more relationship; it needs a fundamental re-imagining of the way we look at God. And the way that we approach social issues and fundamental human rights. Like, you know, marriage and the LGBTQ community.

    My generation understands and embraces love and gender in a fundamentally different and more diverse way than the older generation does. We try to go to a church that refuses to change with the times, and honestly? All that we can really do is leave.

    *shrug* it makes me sad. I sincerely wish there was a church I could go back to. But at this point, there just…isn’t.

    • Hi Marie. Thanks for writing. I’m curious though- You haven’t found churches that are lgbtq friendly? There are piles of those in most cities. I actually wrote an article this month about progressive churches losing lgbtq people to more traditionally conservative churches this month: “exclusive inclusivity”. I would be most interested in your reaction to that article.

      • Hi Matt. Thanks for the thoughtful response! I would love to read the article.

        I have found lgbtq-friendly churches, sure, and it is awesome that they exist. The thing for me, though, is that I was raised Baptist, and there is so much about that tradition that I still love. Yes, I can attend one of the (far too rare) churches that actually accepts me, but I am still cut off from the community and tradition that I was raised with. And from my family, due to their traditional beliefs.

        It just kind of sucks, you know?

        Also, my comment was talking about the (American protestant) church as a whole right now, since that seems to be a) what this article is about and b) what my generation seems to have a problem with. There are individual churches, pastors, and people that we love and admire. But if you are gay, it’s pretty hard to feel anything but judgement when you think about the church as a whole.

        There are individual churches that *are* getting it right. I was just trying to point out that my generation’s problem with the church goes much deeper than this article seems to address.

        • Hi Marie,
          I am sure that I do not know the frustration of being gay and barely included…although I experience lots of “barely included” and outright opposition as a traditionalist guy in a progressive church (which means that I am considered a progressive almost every other place I go). The reason I was hoping to get you to read my Exclusive Inclusivity post is that I relay the story of a Lesbian friend who attends an evangelical church rather than a progressive one. I was very curious of your take on her experience.

          I do not want to discount your experience, I have never had the experience of “my culture doesn’t really want me and neither does my church.” That kind of invisibility must be intensely painful. Still, I am not sure that a movement “getting it right” scratches where any of us really itch – “correct” positions without love give very little life. I think most of us hunger for dialogue, acceptance, and a mentor and a community to walk with that helps us engage with Jesus even though your struggles are different than mine.

    • Marie is right. There is no church for today’s generation who understands life in different contexts. Gender and love are not thought of and understood in the way they were before.

      I don’t need a church though. I have a group of ignostics like myself who I can discuss theology and philosophy with regularly through facebook. I volunteer in my community. Church, Christianity, and religion are obsolete to me.

      • Hi DDP,
        What is an “ignostic”?

        Btw, I am always curious when I hear “obsolete.” How is “me and my friends don’t need this” different from the arrogance of your parents “you should do this because we do”?

        I have another idea to throw at you: Perhaps the problem isn’t that your church experience is “obsolete” as it isn’t nearly “obsolete” enough? If you are rejecting ideas of a church birthed in the 1950-2000, maybe the problem is specifically that your religious experience was far to tied to culture rather than disconnected from it?

        • Hello, Matt, thank you or engaging with me. :)

          An ignostic holds that all theological positions, including agnosticism and atheism, assume too much about the concept of God and other theological positions. The easiest example to understand is: if you ask, “does God exist?,” an agnostic says “I don’t, know, maybe,” an atheist says, “evidence or otherwise, no,” and an ignostic says, “l don’t know what you mean by ‘God’.” Not only is the term ‘god’ used for many various religious figure types, it is used in all kinds of language acrobatics: ‘God is Love,’ etc. Ignostics feel the term ‘god’ is nonsensical, and that using the term requires one of two things: arrogance or a provided coherent, falsifiable definition.

          lgnosticism is the most humble of positions, in my opinion. For me it is the choice to recognize how much we humans do not know about the universe; find humility in our diminutitive stature by comparison to that ‘Great Unknown'; and abstain from drawing conclusions without empirical evidence supporting them.

          l congregate with atheists, too, because it is easier to tell people I am atheist than it is to explain ignosticism. :) The believer, Christian, l once was would find me in this position very troubling, but l am much more than that person now. I still believe many of Christ’s teachings on love and his model behavior toward all people. I am not, however, convinced of his divinity any longer. ‘Divinity’ in general is one of those theological terms I now take issue with as an ignostic.

          As for Church, Christianity and religion being ‘obsolete’, perhaps my ignostic position helps explain, but to further the point – Church is just about community of like minded people, and that is obtainable through community organizations. l volunteer in my community to help advocate for literacy and the arts, for example, and experience the same rewards that l did as a church member on missions or youth travels. These options were always available before, but the internet makes them more accessible. Christianity is obsolete, because of something touched on in the article – the concept of loving your neighbor doesn’t require Christ, his teaching it, or his divinity; and the God of Christianity has been hijacked by so many ‘factions’ or ‘denominations’ to a point where it’s easier to dismiss ‘Him’ as too confusing to waste time on. “Why not just be nice to people and let ‘Him’ exist or not – what’s it matter?” ( This is where fear of hell or something comes in which is really contradictory to the love message.)

          And that brings me to religion being obsolete thanks to science. The Dalai Lama says: If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. By ‘religion’, I mean ‘dogma’. Science is the dogma of real life. Religion is the dogma of fantasy. Spirituality and religion are not the same. Spirituality can adapt and adjust with life’s many changes, religion doesn’t, at least not well, and sometimes can’t, because it is too closely tied to social structure and, as you mentoned, culture. Religion must wait for a culture to change and only then it adjusts. Today, due to technology, culture changes much quicker and I don’t think religion can keep up.

          • Hi DDP,

            You have a very interesting position. I was actually thinking to myself, “Wow, that seems difficult to have to explain to people,” and then you said it yourself. :-)

            I agree with you that it is a position of humility to say, “I don’t know.” However, it is not to say, “Their thing is obsolete because it doesn’t work for me.” …And I say that as one who blogs quite critically of modern evangelicalism (When did evangelicals get popes, Why the Big Box Church Works for those Over 35, Mormon bishop to the Megachurch, “Thank you!”, Cool Church, and last week’s “Celebrity Jeopardy, pastor’s edition”.)

            I find it interesting that the Dalai Lama made statements about Buddhism having to change to correspond with new discoveries. A Buddhist friend once told me that the attraction was that, unlike evangelicalism, Buddhism does not change.

            I do want to nudge gently at something you said about a life based on the empirical. I have found (along with my several astro-physicist friends) that a life based SOLELY on empirical evidence ends up a pretty hollow one (love isn’t very empirical for example…nor is helping others) …but more than that, that much evidence does actually point back to a Creator. Although the disciplines in the sciences have a lot of variation on this: An astronomer friend pointed out that most astronomers are people of faith while most biologists are not. (You are probably picking up that I am a member of a denomination with lots of scientists as congregants and clergy.)

            I also disagree that “science is the dogma of real life.” Science is really helpful. It is also really limited. And I say that as a big fan of the sciences…In college, I left an applied science track to enter the ministry. Whereas it sounds as if you grew up in the church, I grew up unchurched. However, I spent jr and senior high school as my school’s vocal atheist. I became a follower of Jesus from an arc that started with me, an atheist celebrating the elegance of natural selection in a high school biology classroom.

            Unfortunately, next up on the curriculum was dissecting a sheep’s eye. It was hard to look at something as simple a sheep’s eye and not be struck by the limitations of beneficial mutation. I realized that, as an atheist, I was making at least 7 leaps of faith (non-matter led to matter, non-living material led to material, simple organisms led to more complex ones, etc) while the Christian girl I was sitting next to was making only one. That only led me to what was, for me, the inescapable conclusion that there must be intelligence behind all that we observe.

            While my biology teacher and the girl next to me’s Bible both said that the entire cosmos came about as the result of a giant burst of light, one narrative, in violation of its own highest laws (like the 2nd law of thermodynamics) says that the complexity we see is the result of blind time and chance and the other that it is the result of a purposeful being making us for a good and holy purpose. I sat in that class and saw clearly two narratives: One in which you and I and everyone else was made on purpose and for a purpose. The other in which we are cosmic accidents. You and I might be unique, but only accidentally so. I chose the purposeful narrative as it squared with my experience of human drive. Without creation, there is really no guiding motive to humane to my fellows. No reason to search for meaning. No reason for the outrage at injustice…including the ones perpetrated by the religious.

            Getting to Jesus for me was a 3 year process of looking at every religious option but Christianity. I had some serious bias’ against the Christians I knew and their narrowness. In the end, though, I kept tripping over Jesus.

            Like you, I would like very much to avoid the church and keep Jesus. I just cannot. I find I need the church, particularly in its frustrations. It is dealing with those frustrating people that are actually making me better. But it IS infinitely frustrating and I confess that it would be much easier to drop the church and give more time to the neighborhood garden and mentoring fatherless young men.

            DDP, I do enjoy hearing of your story. I do have the sense that although rejecting evangelicalism may be a very healthy thing for you emotionally at this moment in your journey, and that the same emotional needs can be met more easily somewhere else, that those are not the same things as rejecting your creator and redeemer. One must leave a burning building. However, if one jumps out the third story window, the damage is far worse than simply walking out the door. :-)

            Surely it was easier for me to come to faith in Christ as an atheist (convinced as I was that religion was the invention of those who wanted to control others) than for someone who grows up in the church in America to come to faith with the simplistic, emotional non-answers and “just say ‘no'” you were given. I agree with Alex Taunton, the leading cause of atheism in America is American Christianity.

            I trust you will take it in the spirit it is meant when I wish you blessings on your journey. :-)

  11. And to the people like me whose parents did not involve themselves in the church? I was expected to bring my parents to church because I was the first kid in my family who decided to get involved in the church. That is a bit much to ask of a 12 year-old if you ask me. My parents weren’t involved in God in the first place, so was I doomed to be a faithless Millennial as well? I have a faith in God but I am in college and pay for all of my own things… rent, insurance, school, transportation. My parents don’t have the funds to pay for my college much less a nonsecular education my entire life. I am one of seven children and my parents were young when I was born. I guess since my parents never had the money to send me to a “Christian” school I was also doomed?

    • Hi Scott,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I’m not sure, though, what you read that led you to the conclusion that I am criticizing non-church attending parents, lack of wealth or public school education. I can assure you that isn’t what I meant, and, in fact, your story seems to mirror mine, minus five of the siblings.

      My article was addressed to pastors and youth pastors and expresses my disagreement with the popular argument (articulated in David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me) that young adults are disengaging from the church because Christians are “mean” and “narrow.” I am arguing for Alex Taunton’s conclusion that young atheists (the ultimate disengaged millennial) resulted from a relational fail (loss of key relationships at the church)…and made worse by youth ministry using methods that, in many cases, fail to engage young people in deeper discipleship, and multi-generational worship, service and relationships.

      The model I am advocating would particularly serve people who, like myself in college, have families that are not engaged in the church.

      I actually cannot recall anything in that article about parents or Christian schools. What was it you heard that made you think I was being critical of those things?

  12. I heard all the best answers Christianity had to the hard questions – over and over and over. They weren’t enough. All they did was give me a way to rationalize my faith to myself until I gained the courage to begin the slow process of leaving it.

    I was ostensibly encouraged to ask questions, but we all knew that the only real choice I had was to be convinced by Christian apologetics. We all knew that asking questions was only acceptable as long as I still ended up choosing Christianity. It wasn’t a real choice. And if it had been, I would have left much, much sooner. If I had been allowed to trust my own rational and moral judgment, the evangelical God would never have stood a chance at keeping me as a follower.

    “Meanness,” by the way, is not just style, and it is not the least of your issues. Not to those of us who are willing to call it what it really is: hate.

    • Hi Bri,
      It sounds as if you had a pretty toxic church experience. A question with only one acceptable “answer” isn’t a question at all. Just indoctrination. I apologize for our tribe.

  13. I chose not to read the previous responses because the article itself overwhelmed me. I am a retired Lutheran pastor, who has struggled with this a long time.

    The evidence is clear to me. As a pastor with 42 years of experience, I never felt comfortable with what we were doing for our youth, but I didn’t know how to change things. The insight here helped me to understand why two of my three sons are having difficulty with “church.” Thank you.

    • Thank you for posting, Paul. We meant well, but the youth ministry we were doing is proving to have been an unhelpful acquiescence to a narcissistic culture. I have found that when we reach kids to love to do the things Christians have spent 2000 years living doing, and when we do that in formats that are both age appropriate and multi-generational we have faired much better.

      Blessings in your current ministry (since I don’t know very many retired pastors who stop pastoring, they just stop checking in with the admin in the office).

  14. What these kids desire is that the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church truly believes and act as if she is the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. No compromises, authentic and filled with the Holy Spirit!

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