The Y Generation

Why are millennials leaving the church?

By Jim Allen

Rachel Held Evans wrote in an article about the millennial (Y*) generation, "We're not leaving the church because we don't find the cool factor there; we're leaving the church because we don't find Jesus there. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus." [1] Rachel's reasons for why the Y generation is leaving the church (based on surveys and interviews) are many and challenge evangelical leadership to think about what they are doing to drive them away.

Of course and of no surprise, not all millennials are leaving because they can't find Jesus. Some are leaving because their evangelical parents, apparently, couldn't find Jesus either. One person responding to Rachel's article said, in a roundabout way, that he viewed Christians to be lacking in compassion and love. He saw the Bible as archaic, hateful, and fearful. This person continued by saying he would have preferred a god who accepts everyone just the way they are without need for change. He wants everyone to just get along. He concluded by saying, "We millennials can no longer tolerate the backward nature of the generations that have come before us in this matter."

Of course, this strongly worded rebuke by a former evangelical is a view widely promoted by atheists. Surprisingly, some atheists were once practicing evangelicals who professed faith in Christ but then rejected Christianity when some part of it didn't fit neatly into their life style. While the outright rejection of God is the severest form of rebellion, we should not be surprised to see this shift in the church (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Drew Dyck from Christianity Today wrote, "Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity. A faithful response requires that we examine the exodus and ask ourselves some honest questions about why."

The late Michael Spencer, a Christian blogger, predicted in his blog column that within ten years the evangelical church we have known most of our lives will collapse, in part from the number of young people fleeing the church. [2] Is he right? And if so, what impact will that have on those in the church?

Jack Handley responded to Michael Spencer's prediction and put the blame squarely on a well-known twentieth-century evangelist. Handley said, "[Charles Grandison] Finney clearly left his mark on the Christian Church here in America. But I believe that this mark … has been detrimental. One of Finney's tactics was to engage people emotionally…to evoke a response. Therefore most of his respondents were only emotionally engaged with nothing of intellectual substance to sustain them. When the emotion wore off they fell right back into their old way of life…And so we have now many Christians that can tell you how they feel, or what they have experienced, but cannot really explain what they believe or why they believe it." [3]

While it is true many in the church uphold Finney for winning tens of thousands during his generation, others are not so sure his approach was biblical, and wonder if he is, perhaps, partially responsible for the church's current dilemma. Many evangelical leaders have used his soul winning method unaware of its shortcomings. In my opinion and that of others, the evangelical church has been filling up with tares for some time now. Whenever the church promotes "method over message" and "deeds over creeds," as did Finley, the evangelical harvest produces tares for wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). The method [4] of which Jack Handley cites is the altar call followed by the salvation prayer. The deed [5] of which Handley speaks is legalism (faith plus perfect behavior).

What can the church do about the unbridled flight of young people from this time-honored institution? I am not so sure anything can be done about it; and, in some instances people should leave a church when apostasy slithers into the pulpit. Among the seven churches in Revelation, Jesus removed five of the seven lampstands, symbolic of removing himself (light) from their presence (Revelations 2:1-3:22). Smyrna and Philadelphia were faithful churches and examples for us to follow today.

The five unfaithful churches in Revelation were dead, as many are today. Interestingly, one essential requirement for the New World Order to launch its false religious system will be the gathering of dead religions under one banner of faith. While our American way of life is on trial and our religious freedoms in peril, the two remaining types of evangelical churches, if they find a way to continue and the Lord tarries, will not be allowed to keep their tenants of faith.

Could Michael Spencer be correct about his ten year prediction?

While Rachel Held Evans and her millennial friends continue their exit from local churches, no one is exiting the invisible church whose spiritual body is the Bride of Christ. This is the church that counts for eternity and, sufficient to say, the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Got Questions explains this church is the ‘invisible church'- invisible in the sense of having no street address, GPS coordinates, Website address, Facebook page, or physical building. In this church God sees who is truly saved. What is more, the Bible never describes the church as invisible but as a shining city set on a hill to be seen by all (Matthew 5:14; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 15:9; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). [6]

What Rachel and her millennial contemporaries apparently fail to realize is Jesus is not found in a church per se but in the written Word of God (Romans 10:17). All the music, preaching, fellowship and community initiatives, although wonderful, can never replace personal Bible study (2 Timothy 2:15) and devoted prayer. The millennials, should they change their mind, will find Jesus intricately woven between the truth-laden-verses of the Bible (John 15:7; 1 Peter 1:23).

*Generation Y is generally held by sociologists to be those born in America between 1975 and 95. They are the technical savvy generation aware of environmental issues with a more than casual interest in liberal politics and cultural tolerance.

1. CNN Belief Blog – Rachel Held Evans – July 2013
2, 3. Internet Monk – Michael Spencer – The Coming Evangelical Collapse – January 2009
4, 5. David H. Linden – Charles Finney's Doctrine of Justification
6. Got Questions – Universal/Local Church

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Published 7-31-13