You’ve heard the reports, right?
“Millennials are leaving churches in droves!”
“Millennials raised in the church are dropping out!”
“Millennials are the lowest population of church attendees.”
Apparently, there’s this belief that our generation is leaving the church. And while this may be true—this generation of millennials is less “churched” than their elders—what if I told you that it’s not what you think?
You see, I’ve read the reports. I’ve looked at the data behind them. I’ve asked others around me. And I laugh because in reality they have it all backwards.
The truth? Millennials may be leaving the church, but they are NOT leaving Jesus.
Popular Christian leader Josh McDowell confirms this saying in an article, “Millennials love Jesus [but]… don’t give them a sappy, diluted Jesus. Give them Jesus and all his difficult sayings. Give them Jesus in all the nuance and complexity of his God-man identity.”
Why then are some of us leaving the church? Well as Josh implies, we don’t want the cherry-picked perfect version of Jesus that often comes off as dry and unrelatable in a church sermon. We want the bruised and battered Jesus who died for us and was broken for us, because that’s the Jesus we can most relate to.
Also, we are a generation desperate to be on mission for a purpose greater than ourselves. We want to be a part of something greater than man-made rules and structures many churches adhere to—often limiting the work and power of the Holy Spirit.
So, while many may be leaving “organized church” most are still involved in church-like ministry outside of organized church in the form of: non-profit work, hosting a Bible study in their home, creating outreaches with friends, and volunteering their time in the community around them as they serve and love others in the various ways God is calling them to.
Church is really doing life-on-life with others.
This allows our faith in God to become unavoidably present in the world around us, making others want to get to know our Jesus.
I think this generation has difficulty attending church for various reasons, but they still have an interest in Jesus. Even some of my non-Christian friends which I’ve invited to attend church have said, “I don’t want to go to your church, but I want to know more about your faith in Jesus.”
Additionally, more and more of today’s Christian culture are embracing the idea of creating a “home church” similar to what author and pastor Francis Chan transitioned to. This is what he discussed in one of his most popular articles:
“[There’s a] widespread move in the West of Christians still loving Jesus, but not being so thrilled with the local church. For good or ill, millions of Christians have simply stopped going to church. They have not stopped loving and serving God, but for a whole range of reasons, they are quite dissatisfied with the status quo of most church life. Many meet in home groups or house churches for their fellowship and worship now.”
Perhaps I’m biased, but I see a lot more twenty to thirty somethings doing just that. I see them penetrating the social media sphere with online Bible studies. I see them coordinating smaller group gatherings in homes or coffee shops to fellowship with one another. I see them “breaking bread” in different ways other than attending a church building on Sundays. I see them actively being a light to the world by utilizing their God-given gifts in unique ways that entices both believers and non-believers to question “Why are they so different” and “How can I have what they have?”
For those leaving church, Jesus isn’t dead in their hearts but alive in ways that makes others yearn for what they have.
There’s an energy and fervency in many to bring the gospel to the unreached places of the earth. Recently, a young couple in our church left to embark on the journey of reaching the lost tribes of Papua New Guinea with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
They will be serving for twenty years in a place without organized church, but instead will be doing “life-on-life” church with those willing to meet together in their small tribal communities.
So yes, in a sense they “left church” but are committing their talents, gifts, and energy elsewhere to build church, not just attend church. They are disciples making disciples.
And isn’t this what the church is supposed to be about? To make disciples that makes disciples, instead of making believers who sit back in their pews, dependent on leaders to make disciples?
Could it be that our generation is rising up to God’s call to make disciples of Christ by leaving the church to actually make disciples?
There’s a groaning in this generation to grow and experience Jesus in exhilarating ways. And maybe, just maybe this is why millennials are leaving the church because Jesus is calling them to go out and make disciples as they trust and follow Him.