In recent years, much has been made of your disenchantment of and mass exodus from the Christian church. Many of you have been labeled "none's" (those who mark "none" when asked about religious affiliation), while a growing number of you are now being called "done's" (those who were once involved in the life of the church but are now done with it and have no plans to return). Sermons have been preached, classes have been taught, books and blog posts have been written, all lamenting your departure from Christianity specifically and organized religion generally. The issues are many but they're almost always about what the church isn't.
The church isn't authentic enough.
The church isn't relevant enough.
The church isn't liturgical enough.
On and on and on. But I'm not buying it. I don't think you're leaving and staying away primarily because the church isn't a bunch of stuff you wish she was. No, I think that you are far too proactive and forward-thinking to care much about what something isn't. I think you're choosing to stay away not because the church is so disappointing but rather, because the other options of your life are that much more enticing, exciting, and fulfilling. And no, in my opinion, the two are not one and the same.
It's true that the church should certainly pursue deeper authenticity. But I think you're finding authenticity in more intimate settings. You and a few close friends over cups of coffee at your favorite cafe or a few pints at your favorite pub. No pretense, no frills, just good drink, good company, and good conversation about the really hard, really honest stuff of life.
It's true that the church should certainly desire to be relevant. But I think you're tapping into relevance all the time in all sorts of places, both strange and familiar. Culture, media, the arts, in pubs, museums, at the movies, on podcasts - they're all keeping you thinking, guessing, and wondering about what is and what might be to come.
It's true that the church should certainly work toward rediscovering the beauty of our ancient liturgies. But originally the word liturgy meant a public work or the work of the people and the truth is, you're discovering the publicly shared work of brilliant, creative, innovative people all around you all the time. Their work is inspiring you, motivating and challenging you to offer your own unique work to the world.
So with all of that being said, the question remains. Why are Millennials leaving the church?
I'm sure the reasons are vast as each individual's story has its own set of particular circumstances and motivations. But I do believe that on the whole, the church today has tried so hard to be more authentic, more relevant, and even more liturgical in some cases, that we have forgotten to be the one thing I believe the church ought to be more than anything else.
By prophetic I do not mean that the church should be in the business of foretelling the future. We have plenty of wannabes and phonies who do that work at the expense of, monetary and otherwise, people who are desperate to make some sense of their lives. By prophetic I mean something else completely. The theologian Walter Brueggemann describes the prophetic this way:
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture.
I believe that the church ought to be about the work of speaking the loving, honest, mind-blowing word of hope that only God offers in the face of the dominant culture - a culture that lies to us by telling us that we can find hope elsewhere or that we can manufacture hope on our own.
Millennials, I believe you are leaving the church because we are failing to speak this prophetic word of hope into your beautifully authentic, relevant, work-of-the-people-inspired lives. I believe you are leaving the church because you want some help making sense of what all this authenticity, all this relevance, all this creative, innovative, transformative work you're doing is supposed to actually lead you to, how it's supposed to actually change you and your world. I believe you are leaving because you're looking for heaven-on-earth but the church, for far too long, has just looked like the rest of earth.
Here's my invitation. Come back. Jump in. Get your hands dirty with us. And let's dig into this prophetic work together, helping usher authenticity into transformation, relevance into truth, liturgy into transcendent, heaven-on-earth beauty.