People are becoming unchurched more than ever before.
A new study, conducted by San Diego State University professor Jean M. Twenge, shows that the number of Americans who pray or profess a belief in God hit “an all-time low” in 2014. The study analyzed the data collected from nearly 60,000 participants to the General Social Survey, a survey administered to American adults between 1972 and 2014. FIVE times as many adults stated that they never prayed and TWICE as many professed no theistic belief when compared with adults in the early 1980s. Society is becoming unchurched. It’s time that the church begins to look within for an explanation of why.
It should come as no surprise that this correlates with the fact that the largest growing generation, millennials, are also the most secular in recent memory and American history. Who can blame us? We’ve been presented with an antiquated church in an ever-evolving world. The eldest members of my generation remember life distinctly before and after the internet and subsequent advances in technology. We are a generation that watched access to music literally go from cassette tapes to a complete library of millions of songs in the palm of your hand. We watched the evolution of cell phones as a luxury of the rich to a basic and essential need for all. That is to say, we’ve watched the world and its societies evolve at a mind-bending pace with awe and knowledge that we are capable of changing everything we put our minds to do.
Yet we, as millennials, have been asked to believe in and accept a God concept and church that oft refuses to acknowledge the changing world around it. We, as the church, set atop our perch and crow that “God never changes” as an excuse to cleave to debunked religiosity and theology. We’re calling ourselves progressive when we choose to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” an unbiblical and non-Christ-like concept in and of itself. We portray that we worship the same God but we squabble of theological interpretation and create whole new denominations of the Christian faith over it. We worship the same God but our churches and congregations remain deeply split along color lines. We love the same God yet White Christians remain painfully silent when their brothers and sisters in Christ are painfully crushed under the weight of systemic oppression and injustice.
We were expected to fall in line with the expectations of generations past.
Instead, it was expected that a generation who has witnessed some of the greatest transformations and marvels in the history of civilization to simply fall in step with this church and our God. Millennials who refuse to do so are called selfish and entitled. As someone who is both millennial and a person of faith who is close to becoming totally unchurched, I would challenge that it’s time for the church to be like the God it claims to worship: transformative and meeting people where they are. How can we say that God never changes when the birth, life, and death of Christ transformed the entire way we approach a relationship with God? Point blank, God provisions the things that are needed to guide people at the present stage in their life.
We need to become a church that emulates the way Jesus loved. Jesus drew people to Him by listening to them because their thoughts and feelings mattered, touching their lives because he sincerely cared, breaking bread with them because his title nor communal stature undercut his humility, and treating them with dignity because he viewed them as equals. Maybe, just maybe, if we tried to be like our Christ, we could draw others to the fold again.