Are Millennials Pushing Church Attendance Down? If so, Why?
I was just reading an interesting blog article by James McGrath (prof. of New Testament and blogger on religion, etc.) here.
I hope I don’t depart from his point too much in saying he seems to suggest that the “Millennial” problem (of church loyalty, attendance, etc.) is actually a perennial problem. It’s one that’s always been with us… that is for anyone who cares about keeping any given church or churches collectively, going. Then there are those who are (prematurely) celebrating their supposed demise, who may “care” for different reasons.
But I don’t want to sound too sarcastic there, as I have my own mixed feelings…. most of my life a church-goer and sometimes in church ministry or lay leadership. Having moved a long ways theologically, such that finding church settings of intellectual and spiritual honesty for me is much harder, I still find faith communities of high importance on a number of levels.
So I found myself drawn in to commenting there… then thought, “That’s not bad thinking and wording (not necessarily great, either) … might as well post it for wider readership.” So what follows is most of my comment there. The intro just given I think is enough to give it context and make it understandable. BTW, the McGrath’s post has a number of links for those interested in various perspectives on this issue of Millennial church attendance, abandonment, etc.
One thing you don’t say much about here but I know is featured heavily on several blogs, whether Evangelical, “Emerging”, Progressive (i.e., mainly Mainline), etc. is theology itself, and theological “systems” or paradigms. To me, educated in family systems theory and other related systems stuff, “system” says more than just “paradigm” tho I use and like both terms.
I do think that many, many people from Boomers (I’m one) to Millennials (and below… whatever goes down to late teens) are dealing with “systems/paradigm” issues, whether they’ve every heard of Virginia Satir et al, and Thomas Kuhn or not. That is perhaps not a first-time, but presently-strong factor that hasn’t always been there as much (before or after the peak of the “modernist” controversy around a century ago).
I can’t say for sure just why, but one guess is that “historical-critical” scholarship has finally percolated down to the lay level and out to broader culture, tho this seemed well under way at least by the 60s or so (when I was “coming of age” and starting serious study of the Bible and theology) … but things move s-l-o-w-l-y in academic and church circles.
I presume that also the broadening of psychology out of strict behaviorism and religiously skeptical psychoanalysis into “human potential” or “humanistic” and then “transpersonal,” underway heavily by the 60s, played some (maybe large) part…. Witness the strong and fairly long influence of the secular/Buddhist, become some-kind-of-Christian, M. Scott Peck, for example.
All this to say that more sophistication in understanding our highly subjective standpoints and experiences and the effects of “postmodern” views on objectivity and truth HAS influenced how we evaluate our beliefs. Although we are perhaps not as “enslaved” to them as once, we do take them seriously… maybe more than ever. I believe people allow some latitude to not be in full agreement with their church or pastor, but if their limits are crossed (as they so often are, on social mores as well as theological matters), they will jump churches. (And may not get counted in any, except in weekly attendance numbers.)
Are you a Millennial?
Have you left church, or switched churches, perhaps multiple times? For what reasons?