Friday, September 23, 2016

Sometimes The Simple Answer Is The Correct Answer

If there is anything "church experts" like to talk about these days it is the loss of Millennials from "church", where "church" means attendance and activity at religious services. Since they are the up and coming generation of adults it is causing something of a panic among church demographers because this generation is desperately needed to replace the older, faithful "tithe" payers that keep many local churches solvent.

One factor that keeps cropping up as a reason for the mass exodus of Millennials is that the church is too political. I agree that often we seem to conflate conservative politics with the Kingdom and to a lesser extent progressives do the same thing, they just don't have many people left. But is that why Millennials are not attending church? I don't think so, at least not primarily. While a lot of people think so, like this tweet:

...I actually think the answer is a lot simpler. Most Millennials are unbelievers (so are Gen Xers, Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, etc.).

Churches in America have been full unbelievers for decades. Being a church-goer was a sign of respectability. A good church going man is someone you can trust to do business with. A girl from a church going family was a respectable choice for a wife. Families that didn't go to church had something wrong with them. In other words, there was a social cost to not attending church and a social benefit for attending church. If you were an insurance salesman or a stock broker, being in church made you seem more trustworthy plus it gave you a bunch of people you could guilt into considering your services. Church for many people was not much different from the Rotary or a bowling league.

Today? That social cost/benefit is evaporating. In some places (the northeast, the coastal West, most big cities, colleges, etc) it is completely gone and the opposite is now true. Being religious makes you an outcast and probably a terrible person. Even in the Bible-belt and the MidWest the social need to be in church on Sunday is about gone. That, more than any other reason, is why they are leaving.

In 2016 being social is very different from being social in  the 1970's. Today people are social online. They think that they don't actually need to be in the same room (or state or country...) as someone else to be social. They call it "social media" after all. People who crave attention don't need to go anywhere to get it, they just need to have lots of "friends" on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Heck, even being an internet troll gets you some interaction without leaving the house. So getting up on Sunday morning, getting dressed at least in clean clothes and going somewhere to be with people that are mostly sitting mutely for an hour before scampering out to the parking lot doesn't hold much appeal. You can stay home in your pajamas and surf social media and get your socialization fix.

As an aside, it also is pretty common that the most politically active people in the church are often also the most active in the life of the body. People who are passionate and highly committed in one area of life seem to be the same way in other areas. I don't think that means we should encourage people to be more politically minded but it also means that people don't have to choose between being highly faithful and politically engaged.

So what that means is something I have been saying for a long time. You don't need to commission a study and do surveys to figure out why Millennials are leaving "the church". They were never part of the church to begin with and they no longer see any need to be obliged to show up on Sunday to sing songs and listen to messages about a God they never believed in. Aside from a chance to be social, and even that is mostly gone as an incentive, what is there in a church service that would appeal to an unbeliever? Not much so we should stop trying to tailor our gatherings to appeal to people who aren't going to come anyway unless they are acted upon by the Holy Spirit.

So if we shouldn't fret so much about the Millennials leaving, what then should we concentrate on? That is the topic for an upcoming post on what Christians are actually looking for and it isn't what many people think.

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