What Led to the Millennial Exodus and Will Reason Bring Them Back?

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He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.”  Acts 17:17

Logos”  is a Greek word signifying both “reason” and “word“, and is ascribed to the “Word” of God (Jesus), described in the prologue to John 1.

For one generation leaving the church in droves, reason has played a contributing role in their exodus.

A study by the Barna Group found that 59 percent of millennials, now the largest generation (83.1 million according to the most recent census), raised in a church have dropped out – skeptical of the church culture they were raised in.

In addition, they’ve been witness to charlatans, who preach the self-enriching heresy of prosperity and lead lavish lifestyles.

Then there are the mega-church demigods, such as Bill Hybels, former pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and Association, who resigned in 2018 with numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, and there are others who through heresy or misconduct, have led their following into a dark night.

The Church Growth Movement of the Nineties, from which churches like Willow Creek, and other mega-churches emerged, took the “Church” as God intended it to be, and turned it into a “Purpose Driven” church, galvanized by man-inspired visions – “doing church for the unchurched”, or “give people what they want”.  Often this meant to “grow”, you had to compete with the entertainment of the world, and cater to wants instead of needs.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the Lord'” (Jeremiah 23:16)

Is it any wonder this generation is cynical of Christianity when confronted with all the misrepresentations, falsehoods, and scandals surrounding it?

As one of the 59 percent recently told me: “When we don’t agree with something, we ‘re done with it.”.  She went on to give reasons why those like her, when it came to the church, were “done with it”.

For one, she views the church, not as religious or spiritual, but more like a business that, among other things, “sells peace by putting on a show”.

Instead of seeing a church, that is responsive to the needs of the disenfranchised, they see the church, as lost in its abundance and inwardly focused on their own comfort.

What does she want to see in the church?

For one, how about a church that “[opens] up to people and [meets] them where they are”.

They’re searching for sound, grace laden, biblical answers to the messy, mixed-up, and broken things in life – not false piety.

Only by listening to the simplest requests of people and by placing ourselves next to their concrete existential situations, can we be listened to when speaking of higher values”. Pope Francis

She’s not looking for a church with a Starbucks in the foyer to attract her. She’s looking for a church of sincerity and genuineness of spirit – a church with the feel of family and community, but most of all, a church that treats everyone with the same grace that is bestowed by God on all who seek his truth…no exclusions. As one who sees herself as spiritual and not religious, the church has not reflected the truth and character embodied in Christ.

Michael Bayer , himself a millennial, writes:

“We are allergic to artificiality, and too often, adults in the church are projecting an impossibly pious exterior that young people often know isn’t honest — and if it were, they wouldn’t be able to live up to it, anyway. As a cohort, young Americans are congenitally cynical, and it’s a near-universal truth that young people want adults to be real with them instead of posturing.”

He goes on to say that, “They hunger for a church that can name explicitly these precise, practical things we’re experiencing, while guiding us through a spiritual discernment of what it all means.”

Jesus Christ exemplified truth in action, by meeting and ministering to people where they were, and so should his Church.  Instead, the church has cluttered up the truth for them with man-made rules, inspired by man-made ideologies, that are taught as though they were laws of God – truth becomes untruth in their eyes, and I believe truth (what is real) is what many of this generation strives to know.

A Pew Research poll last year, found that, of those attending church at least monthly, 83 percent of those in the 30 -65 age group say they experience a sense of God’s presence when attending, while for those 30 and younger, those that experience. that same sense, drops to 63 percent.

As a generation, millennials have the propensity to reason, and their desire for what is real will drive their search for truth.  The same reason ascribed to God as Logos, may lead millennials back to a saving faith in him.  But that alone may fall short without those who can mirror Jesus Christ to them in a genuine, real way.

Bayer puts it this way:

There’s no magic bullet to bring young people back to the church or to ensure that those in our congregations and classrooms are having an experience of faith that will keep them committed for life.  Rather, it is on each of us, baptized believers, to be Christ to one another — to model, in every interaction with young people, the authenticity, charity and humility that has defined so many holy men and women down through the centuries, most of whose names are lost to history but whose impact on individuals can never fully be calculated.”

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Those of us who have went before them, need to be that mirror, and allow God to make his appeal through us on behalf of Christ.

A generation is waiting and watching.