How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community: Series Intro

What looks like the death of religion in America, may in fact be the birth pangs of one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

Millennials are abandoning hierarchical spectator churches

For nearly 400 years American churches have counted on Easter Sunday as the day of their largest attendance.  But if you’re watching carefully, attendance at traditional churches is getting smaller and smaller every year, especially among young adult “Millennials” (or “Mosiacs,” or “Generation Y.”)

Yet if you walk into some of the most thriving churches in Hollywood, such as Reality, Ecclesia, or Basileia, you are immediately struck by overwhelming swarms of Millennials.  What gives?

Are Millennails leaving the church, or coming back to it?  Or is the answer MUCH more complicated?

While swarming redefined faith communities committed to justice and relational connection (Baptism at Basileia Hollywood)

In honor of Easter we’re running a week of special posts on why so many Millennials are leaving the church, why they are coming back to something far different than the church they left, and how they are changing American religion in the process.

Millennial writers and spiritual formation leaders and a few of us more “seasoned” folks will weigh in on various aspects of the topic. Lord willing, it will contribute to a greater understanding of where the Holy Spirit is taking the church in the coming decades.

You Lost Me

We kick off the conversation with two posts by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and a beloved former student and friend. David is an ongoing THW contributor and one of the most thoughtful “public intellectuals” on the subject of Millennial Faith (he calls them “Mosaics”).

I wept my way through his two latest books, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (with Gabe Lyons) and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith as he traced the reasons why young adults raised in evangelicalism are giving up on church, but not faith.

Along the way, I hope you come to the same conclusion that Sue and I have: what looks like the death of religion in America, may in fact be the birth pangs of one of the greatest spiritual awakenings in history.


Next: Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church, by David Kinnaman


28 Replies to “How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community: Series Intro”

  1. Let me introduce myself. As a 65 year old ordained Wesleyan minister who was raised in the Calvinist tradition, my fifteen year vision fits smack in the center of this Millenial need. There hasn’t been time for me to read the entire series, but I find nothing surprising or shocking thus far.

    What I do see is supportive data for a community centered ministry which does NOT default to religion or church as usual. There are individuals out here who see a spiritual design for the current search. We just can’t quite figure out how to break through the justified wall of resistance to communicate our passion for a place they can freely experience their personal relationship in a collective endeavor.

    Are you hearing from others like myself? I’d like to connect with them, but I don’t want to evangelize what does not need evangelizing and I fear many in my position think they are “onto something” but are only reinventing the wheel.

    Personally, I am ready to separate from my “church” to develop a whole new approach to collective faith processed internally, experienced externally. Moving from A to B is the challenge.

    Thanks for you r efforts in this regard. It’s coming. We just have to find the key to open the door.


  2. There are so many reasons they leave but in my experience it boils down to:
    1 – They see a disconnect between the biblical mission of the church and the actual activity of the church. In other words, they don’t see how the church is really advancing the kingdom of God.
    2 – There are generational/cultural gaps that were worsened by the popular use of youth groups. The church has become segregated by age and the groups that need each other most have no connection.
    3 – Traditional church is more institutional than it is missional.
    4 – If an outsider were to try to list the priorities of the church they would say we are about worship and Bible study but little else. A typical church has 3-4 times for studying the Bible in a given week but ZERO ways to serve the poor, take care of widows and orphans, and other equally biblically viable ministries and missions.
    5 – We have balance issues. 95% of the activity of the church is geared toward less than 1% of the week, that special hour of corporate worship on Sunday. They want a faith and teaching that translates into the other 99% of their life.
    6 – The church “experience” doesn’t seem to reflect real life or the early church at all.
    7 – Older Christians think they want things to be less biblical but in my experience it is actually the opposite. For example we encourage them to read Acts to find out what church is supposed to look like and they wonder why the church isn’t more like that.

    There are many more but that is what my experience and observations have taught me.

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