When asked the question of millennials in the church, I believe I might have a different perspective on how millennials think,
how they have faith, and how they operate their day-to-day lives, and consequently how these things stop them from attending church.
Hopefully it assists with further insight in to this important question. – Shaun
This post was written in a conversation held in response to this article by Naomi Schaefer Riley.
You’ll often hear older generations comment that they had no Google/Wikipedia to find the answers for them. My theory (because I didn’t live it and haven’t researched it) is that the older generation became accustomed to asking questions that could not be answered easily or even at all. Because of this, they were made to rely heavily on philosophy, instinct, and faith. And when they asked the most unanswerable questions of all, their church and Sunday morning service had an answer for them.
With millennials, we have a generation raised on Google. I heard a term the other day: “data hoarding”, which relates to the easy and instant access to all the data you could possibly want and collect. Millennials are data hoarders. Prayer doesn’t give me the answers I’m looking for, but Google sure does. (Maybe the prayer network needs to pay for faster internet speeds). If I have metaphysical or theological questions I have to wait until Sunday or track down my pastor? That’s so slow! Ask anyone who knows me – when I have a question, I politely ask anyone around if they know the answer, and if they don’t – my phone is in my hand and I have the answer right away. And on top of that, I have facts. I have figures. I have peer reviewed journals. Hard, plain answers. When I Google “how did the universe begin” the peer-reviewed, numbers-driven fact is presented as the big bang theory. And then, somewhere down the list, I find 500 different religion-esque creation stories based off of what? Anecdotes. Philosophies. Faith. These are not the results a “data hoarder” is looking for because there is no data to hoard.
So, for me, when I think about going to church where I’m going to listen to philosophies, open-ended questions, questionable answers, and a severe lack of supporting data, my excitement is not there.
Another point I’ve been examining in the world around me is a simple statement: religion is fear. Predominantly, it’s the fear of what follows death. Christians, muslims, buddhists – they all promise some sort of salvation. But in order to achieve that salvation, you live out your life with an accompanying fear of not reaching that salvation if you do the wrong thing. “Follow the laws of our religion and you will achieve salvation, disobey them and achieve eternal pain or nothingness,” is what religions promise. On top of that burden, in my day-to-day working life I already have to constantly overcome fear. Fear of presenting to the board of directors, fear of taking charge of my project, fear of leading my team. This fear I MUST overcome, otherwise I can’t pay my mortgage and support my family. Whereas my church maintains that I should NOT overcome their fear, and if I should drink alcohol or co-habitate with my partner, my priesthood is forfeit. My salvation: compromised. I must be baptized to cleanse myself of sins and then I must partake of communion monthly to further absolve my sins. All for fear.
I spend my work days overcoming fear – I will not spend my weekends intentionally bringing it back.
In this data hoarding era, millennials are fully aware that every single war and social issue they’ve lived through has been brought on by religion-based fear. Gay rights and marriage? Politicians fear that allowing it will anger their God. War in Iraq? Heavy religious undertones on both sides, reminiscent of the Holy Wars. Palestinian conflicts? The major point of contention is around claim to the Holy Lands. Millennials are aware of this because Twitter and Facebook tells them so constantly. And Millennials are not pleased. Associating with these religions would be like a betrayal to the emotions they feel when they reject social injustice and war.
“REPENT. TRUST JESUS.”
That was it. Who’s he convincing? He’s freaking me out, and not because I’m scared of death and Hell but because following the advice of the sign would mean potentially associating with the likes of this fear-monger. This man believes he’s doing us a favour by trying to scare us to Jesus. It’s absurd. We don’t want the fear – we want the facts. If his sign had a footnote leading me to some peer reviewed journals proving that repenting benefits my biological life or the proof of an afterlife, I might be more inclined to listen.
Finally, and this might just be me personally, but I work very hard throughout the week. I have a long commute and a high-pressure job where the decisions I make will impact the working lives of upwards of 3000 other employees. I desperately look forward to the weekend for rest and respite. Waking up early Sunday morning to burn the whole morning and maybe half the afternoon going to church is not appealing for me when I’ve got games, shows, books, and friends within a much easier grasp.
So when I see us referencing articles with the title “How churches can get young people to go back“, I say stop right there. I’m not interested in going back to church. Google tells me that church is religion, and religion is fear, and religion is philosophy. I’m not interested in those things.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer as to what we should do.
I’m very much in favour of an establishment, such as Community of Christ, focusing more on facilitating things that will engage, uplift, and educate millennials (otherwise I wouldn’t still be here, judging by what I’ve said above). But that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
In the past, religion has helped young people in need to forge their path. It’s now up to us to find a new way to do that same thing without the unanswered philosophies and the fear that drives millennials away. I personally would love to go to a lecture about any academic subject coming from professional, exciting, and interactive orators. I want to learn something cool about the universe. But that’s probably just me 🙂
I’m hoping that people with better imaginative minds can think of things with the help of the above info. As a good observer, I’ll leave the solutions to the solutioners.