An Open Letter to Millennials who left the church… Part 1

Graduating high school and moving away for college was an incredibly difficult time for the church and me. I grew up going to church. I knew church and I was going to bible college to be educated on becoming a preacher. I loved the church, but as a 19-year-old kid who moved states away into an entirely different culture, finding a church was difficult. During my first semester at college I probably visited 10-15 different churches. Each week I would desperately hope to find a church that I could call home, but by the end of every service I would think, “I’m not sure this is the church for me.”

It would take weeks and weeks of searching and searching to finally find a church where I at least liked enough to go every week. I’m not sure I could ever say that church became my church home. It felt like at 19 the church didn’t know what to do with me and more importantly I didn’t know what to do with the church. I loved Jesus and I even loved church in principle. I just couldn’t find one to join.

For many millennials this is where the story begins to take two separate directions. At this point after struggling to find a church and feeling like the church doesn’t have a place for them, they leave. They stop going to church completely. They will give their reasons as to why they don’t go to church and some might even be valid. If we could really have an honest conversation though, it’s most likely because the church didn’t know what to do with them and they didn’t know where to fit in with the church.

I fall right at the tail end of being a millennial (Born mid 1980’s), and I want to write an open letter to any millennial who has left the church or is struggling to stay in the church. As I write this letter, I envision myself talking to 19 year old me hoping he will listen.

  1. I get why you left.

I completely get it. I don’t say that in a patronizing or condescending tone at all. I 100% understand why you left. Church can be a truly frustrating place at times. For many of you church is the last place on earth you want to go to on a Sunday, and it makes sense.

  • Sometimes it feels like the church cares more about politics than people.
  • The church talks about love, and yet many people’s experience has been anything but loving.
  • You felt more accepted at your sorority than you ever felt at church.
  • If you aren’t married with kids, then the church doesn’t cater to you.
  • If you wanted to feel judged, you went to church, but if you wanted to feel accepted you went anywhere else.
  • The church is relevant for your parents, but it doesn’t apply to your life.

When I look at all these reasons and the countless more reasons I have heard, I understand who you left.

  1. It’s not all your fault.

Here’s the secret. The church has always struggled knowing what to do with the college and young adult age, but those struggles have just gotten worse as culture has changed. You are more transient than any generation in history, you have access to the highest quality entertainment 24/7, and you don’t just have a local perspective. You have grown up with a global perspective. At the tip of your fingers, you can see the problems of the entire world, and you can see other people creating solutions for those problems.

The church hasn’t figured out a solution for all of these problems yet. The church doesn’t know what to do with your transient nature. They try to do Bible studies the same way they did them fifty years ago, but you are more transient than people were fifty years ago. So you just don’t even show up half the time. We then blame you for not being reliable instead of evaluating our own methods in light of your transient nature.

The church hasn’t figured out yet how to mobilize effectively the passion which burns inside of you to change the world. The church wants to mobilize you, but it just hasn’t figured it out yet. Because of this you have moved on to organizations you can partner with to change the world. It’s not your fault the church is slow to change. It’s not your fault the church hasn’t figured out how to effectively minister to this new generation of people in the church.

The church has made its fair share of mistakes in this relationship.

  1. It is partially your fault.

It might not be your fault entirely, but it is partially your fault. You left. You stopped coming. You stopped sharing your opinion except by giving your complaints through social media, and a complaint against something isn’t a solution for something.

  • You tell us to stop being so political, but that’s not a solution. How do we have healthy political conversations?
  • You tell us you want to change the world and the church isn’t doing a good job of it, but that’s not a solution. That’s just a complaint.
  • You feel like the church is full of hypocrites and you don’t want to be around them. Well the church was founded on hypocrites (read the story of Peter) and that makes God’s grace all the more beautiful.

When you left you removed your voice from the discussion. The church wants to hear from millennials but when we look up to find them they are nowhere to be found. The church has struggled to change some of its methods, but you didn’t stick around to help us through the mess. It felt like a relationship that had a couple bad arguments, and you decided to bolt at the first sign of trouble. Now the church is left to pick up the pieces and try to figure out how to win you back.

There are two sides to every relationship and while the church might have been to partially blame, you are also partially at fault. Let’s both own up to our mistakes and start over fresh.

  1. I’m sorry we don’t listen better.

As you read the previous section, I know what went through your mind because it’s what would go through my mind. “I tried sharing my opinion, but nobody would listen to me. I tried telling you how we feel, but nobody really cared to listen. Every time I shared, I was dismissed as being young and told I would eventually come around.” Well you got tired of not being listened to when you shared and you left.

I’m sorry the church didn’t listen better. I’m sorry the church dismisses you as whiney and lazy just because they don’t understand you. I’m sorry the church didn’t show more compassion to you. I’m sorry that when you did share it fell on deaf ears so often. You deserved better.   The church, which should be the epicenter of love, doesn’t always know how to show love to you. So I’m sorry.

So what’s next?

I’m sorry this relationship hasn’t worked out better. Up to this point it has been pretty rocky at best.  Let’s work on making it better.  On the next blog, instead of just rehashing our problems let’s talk about a solution to the dysfunction that has characterized our relationship. Fee

Check out part 2 here.
Open Letters to Millennials part 2 

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