Why aren't millennials attending your church?

February 23rd, 2015

The American church is obsessed with reaching millennials. Well, at least we are obsessed with talking about it. I’m not entirely convinced we really want to reach them, or that we even know what “reaching” them would entail.

That aside, I’ve got a good clear reason why millennials aren’t attending your church. No, no, it’s not an exhaustive reason. There are other reasons. There are other good reasons. But I’ve got a reason very few people are talking about. And we’re not talking about it because 1) it’s basically too late to do anything about it, and 2) we’re to blame and we have a hard time accepting responsibility for our failures when its easier to blame a whole population for their lackadaisical spirituality.

Do you want to know (one of the reasons) why millennials aren’t attending your church? Here goes…

Millennials aren’t attending your church because they’ve never had to attend your church.

Think about it. From the time my generation was born, we were thrown in the nursery with other babies. Then we went to children’s ministries with other children to be entertained while our parents when to “big church.” Then we had middle school ministry. Then we had youth group. Then we went away to college and we found a church with a stellar college ministry.

It wasn’t until we graduated college that we were actually expected to be a part of the intergenerational community called “church.” We’d been segregated by age for the first 22 years. And you not only allowed this, you encouraged it.

And now you’re wondering why we don’t want to go to church. Now you’re wondering how to reach us to make us a part of the church?

I’m sorry, but you never really valued us being part of a church before. But now that we’re making money, now that you’re seeing statistics that cause you fear, now that you want us to help you reach the other 80 million of us, now you want us around?

I’m not saying this cynically. I’m not saying that you were opposed to our* presence. But I’m saying that you created structures and systems of “doing church” that taught us that our presence in the communal gatherings were relatively irrelevant. We learned from your structures, not necessarily your example.

Millennials who grew up in churched families sometimes don’t feel like they belong in church because they have never participated in church on a week-to-week basis. We’ve never believed (because we’ve never been taught) that our weekly presence, despite age, matters to the vitality and mission of the church.

So, it may be too late to fix this problem for older millennials. But if you want to begin fixing this situation for future generations, then look for valuable ways in which children, teenagers and college students can participate in the church both on Sunday mornings and otherwise. Teach them that their presence matters, not merely so we can reach our attendance goals, but because their voice matters to the mission of God in the world.

In fact, if you start doing this for younger people in church, I think you might be surprised how we millennials might learn from watching what happens.

*I refer to myself as a millennial here, but in all honesty, I’m right on the cusp. Born in 1980, I’m half Gen-Xer, half millennial. I have sympathies and a worldview associated with both generations.

Tom Fuerst blogs at Tom1st.com. You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

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