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Millennials and the Church

August 27th, 2013by Dan Thomas

Recently the ongoing discussion of why millennials are leaving the Church has been revived by a column in the CNN Belief Blog by Rachel Held Evans. It tells the story of those who are leaving the Church and the reasons why and adds that many are “drawn to high church traditions Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. “ It seems that the attractions are a liturgy in touch with an on-going tradition and clear, consistent teaching.

Another side of this discussion comes out of the research done by David Kinnamann in his book You Lost Me: Six Reasons Millennial Christians Are Leaving the Church. His six reasons are these:

  • Churches seem overprotective
  • Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow
  • Churches come across as antagonistic to science
  • Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental
  • They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity
  • The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt

Rachel Held Evans expresses this way:

“Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.”

These ideas are challenging and in need of much reflection as we as a church wrestle with what that mean for us. I look at what Jesus did in his ministry and see one who both challenged his society, particularly its Pharisee and Sadducee leadership and the Roman oppression, and was a loving presence to the sinners and outcasts he met as he travelled. This is the approach that I see Pope Francis taking now.

So as we preach the reign of God to those we encounter we need to bring both the gentleness and the challenge. I’ve found the videos by Rob Bell, the evangelical minister called by Time magazine one of the 100 significant leaders for today to be examples of this. ( To do this is difficult, which is why we need both types of people who respect one another’s different style doing the work of evangelizing. A loving admiration for one another in our uniqueness is an essential part of our work as parish and Church.

Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas is a retired Director of Religious Education, living in Dayton Ohio. His education includes graduation from Chaminade HS and the University of Dayton (MA in Pastoral Ministry). He is married with two adult sons and is a parishioner at St. Helen, Dayton.