Why Millennials Rarely Connect With Churches


Faith for millennials is less about doctrine or institutional fellowship and more about experiential learning, Owen observes.
The latest buzz about the postmodern, millennial group in Baptist life is that "they don't care about the conservative resurgence." There is also a growing feeling that says, "They don't care about the institutional church." 

Perhaps a third reality is emerging saying, "I'm spiritual, but I'm not religious." 

I realize these are generalizations, but I'd be surprised if you disagree with them.

Fueled by a desire to "hang with the herd," these young adults refuse, reject and rebuff denominational loyalty for fear of causing separation or marginalization.

Words like "community," "intentionality" and "ecumenism" are mentioned long before words like "doctrine," "controversy" or "resurgence." And it appears this is happening on both sides of the aisle.

Millennials cannot bear the thought of intentionally ostracizing a group. They tip their caps in appreciation to denominational bodies like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the Southern Baptist Convention but do little to strengthen, support or foster solidarity with them. 

In short, whether millennials appreciate the theology of a particular denomination, it is increasingly apparent that ennui is emerging.

Likewise, this inactivity is affecting the financial stability of denominations. Millennials don't tithe. They're finding alternative and creative forms of giving while rejecting traditional church offerings. 

Both CBF and SBC are losing members, losing financial resources, losing missionaries, losing educational curriculum and losing cultural relevance – while organizations like Bread for the World, HisNets and World Vision continue to sustain their annual budgets.

 

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On a similar note, millennials are building foundational beliefs about faith and morality based on experiential truths as opposed to doctrinal or creedal statements. And this is happening outside Sunday school. 

They are more likely to say that Jesus is the "fullest expression of God's love … but not the only expression," just as they are likely to say, "I'm spiritual but don't go to church." 

In other words, one can find God in a Benedictine prayer ritual, a mosque or on top of a mountain. In short, organized religion is no longer the norm.

Since faith for millennials is less about doctrine or institutional fellowship and more about experiential learning, beliefs such as wholeness over segregation, love over hate, commonalities over discrepancies, activism over bitterness, shared story over division, and missional engagement over doctrinal supremacy become their heart's cry. 

They carry a sense of optimism and are constantly on a quest toward wholeness.

In my opinion, millennials have a lot to offer the world. Their optimism, need for reconciliation and attitude toward the sanctity of all life make them marketable. They are motivated, not offended. They care about creation, people, worldviews, religions, art, creativity, sexuality, beauty.

But on the other hand, I'm wary of their effectiveness. If they aren't mindful, they will live in a world where liberal arts colleges don't exist, churches are boarded up or sold to the government, and missionaries are nothing more than a storied past. 

Giving up on financially supporting denominational bodies or larger institutions is a risky hope. It's a hope that something new will emerge. But since this group doesn't like division, corporate advancement or institutions, I wonder what could ever create enough momentum to have longevity?

I'm critical of this behavior because I'm a millennial. And in my opinion, we don't care, tithe or act concerned about this reality. I guess we should. But we don't.

J. Barrett Owen is the admissions associate at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University as well as pastor of National Heights Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.  

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