Recent studies show that millennials – those born from 1980 to 2000, roughly – are leaving the church in droves. In fact, 60% of millennials who were raised in church have dropped out. This statistic might seem alarming, but it makes perfect sense to me. I too am a millennial who was raised in church. And I too no longer feel compelled to attend regularly.
Churches must reckon with the fact that young people are leaving. Older Christians do this by finding fault with us. They bemoan our lack of commitment. They remember the good old days when church encapsulated the entire Christian life – sunrise services, potluck dinners, revivals, etc. They simply can’t understand what it means to be a Christian who doesn’t attend church.
I’m glad church has played such a meaningful role in their lives. But maybe church isn’t as meaningful to us as it is to them. That is what millennials crave, after all – meaningful experiences. We don’t want to attend church for the sake of attending church; we want it to mean something.
It’s Not about Jesus
Church is supposed to be about Jesus. Everything that happens on Sunday morning – the songs, the sermon, the sacraments, etc – should “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Going to church should “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is.” It should “set our minds on things above” (Colossians 3:1-2).
It’s obvious that church should be about Jesus. Bewilderingly, this concept seems lost on the American church. Many churches do not approach ministry with a Jesus-centered mentality. Instead, they approach ministry like customer service. Instead of asking, “How can we make Jesus happy?” they ask, “How can we make visitors happy?”
When Paul preached, he “resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In contrast, preachers today resolve to know everything except Jesus! They include only a minimal amount of Scripture in their sermons, which usually amount to nothing more than self-help. Some churches don’t even mention Jesus in their “worship” songs or serve the Lord’s Supper!
I go to church to fix my eyes, heart, and mind on Jesus. I don’t need chart-topping songs. I don’t need life advice. I don’t need high-performance value or quality customer service. I need to be reminded of why I need Jesus more than anything this world has to offer.
If you don’t do that, going to your church is meaningless.
No Freedom to Lead
But older Christians still find fault with us. They say, “You only get out of church what you put into it. If you’re just going to sit in the back and complain, of course it won’t be meaningful!” They argue that church would mean more if we were willing to help out.
But this isn’t true either. My wife and I spent a decade helping the church out. My goal in ministry was to follow Paul’s advice: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Do you know what I realized? Older Christians won’t follow the example of younger ones!
This is especially true in leadership. Church leadership is supposed to be about Jesus. But young pastors often run up against an elder or a board member who cares more about promoting their own agenda. This agenda usually means resisting change to keep people happy so they can remain in power. If a young person does anything to “disturb the peace,” they must go.
I’ve seen several young pastors (and volunteers) undermined by “church leaders.” All we want to do is promote Jesus. But instead, we get fired for refusing to play along with someone’s politics. We don’t want power; all we want is the freedom to lead our ministries according to Jesus’ will.
If you won’t give us that, going to your church is meaningless.
Better Things to Do
The bottom line is this – church should be meaningful. If it isn’t, I’m not going. This is especially true since Sunday is the only day neither my wife nor I work. It’s much more meaningful to spend the day together. We’re doing plenty to cultivate our own faith as well as our children’s. We’ll be just fine without a meaningless church experience.