“Millennials Are Leaving the Church”—I see it in headlines, I read it in blogs. And I’m sure there’s some truth to that statement. There are those in every generation who do leave the church in the later high school and college years. That’s a time when many are making their faith their own, if they grew up in a Christian home. Many question things about Christianity during those years, which is a wonderfully healthy thing to do. So I know it is true: You can go anywhere in the U.S. and find those who are leaving the church and, sadly, sometimes the faith.
But that’s not the whole story.
When I read articles or blogs that make blanket statements such as, “My generation is leaving the church because …” or “My generation will be part of a church if …” I find myself thinking the wording is wrong. That statement should read, “My circle of particular friends is leaving the church because …” or “My circle of particular friends would be part of a church if …”
When I read some of these gloomy statements, I try to uncover the person’s background. What city are they from? What church are they part of—if any? Often when that happens I think, But wait! In that very city there is this church I know of that has hundreds or even thousands of college age people. Not all millennials are leaving church, not by any means. In fact, the opposite is true in many churches.
I have the fortunate joy of traveling quite a bit across the country and, although I live in California, I believe I have a fairly good perspective from visiting all types of churches in different areas. When I go to a city, I ask local church leaders which churches millennials are a part of. I keep finding myself encouraged and optimistic—and cautious about generalizing this generation.
I was listing to someone from a major West Coast city speaking about “my generation.” She was saying what her generation wants in a church—and what it doesn’t want. She asserted that her generation won’t connect with programs and preaching and evangelical theology. Yet I am quite familiar with that city. I recently preached at a fairly new church there, which God has blessed; it has grown to include more than 1,000, primarily college age and young people in their 20s. I got to hang out with another pastor in that same city. His church is also seeing God do amazing things, and the church is growing with college age and young people in their 20s. The young woman was generalizing about her generation, while thousands contradicted the generalization by the way they were actually responding to the church.
From Portland to San Francisco, New York to San Diego, to cities all over the country, there are encouraging stories of what God is doing among millennials in churches of all sizes and types. And what kinds of churches are rising above the disheartening generalizations? Churches that are not compromising theology, that still feature preaching, that offer organized programs to help people grow in their faith, and that afford opportunities to serve on mission.
True, we are living in difficult times. But let’s not miss the good news: the tide is turning in many churches. Millennials may be leaving some churches, but they are swarming to others.