This morning, Lay Anglicana shared a link to what looks to be a new blog, and looks to be excellent. The post concerned is titled Please Stop Telling Us Why We’re Leaving the Church, and it looks at the phenomenon of young-ish adults losing interest in church affiliation. The difference it claims is an important one: it’s actually written from the standpoint of those young-ish adults.
What a radical idea, that the people who are leaving might have something to say about why. It is a plea for an end to–or at least a moderation of–the self-serving tripe which almost always ends up as a moan about people not keeping the Sabbath holy (and “choosing” to work or engage in other activities rather than make the minister feel good by filling up the building). It’s a rallying cry to actually take a few heads out of the nice comfortable sand and look at the realities that face churches in the 21st century, rather than pretending that if churches just do more of what worked fifty or sixty years ago, everything will be better.
The author is eloquent in saying some very hard truths: that the churches are often not places equipped for intellectual growth (and, according to my go-to guy William Temple, mind is a precursor to spirit, so if the mind isn’t fed the spirit can’t develop properly); that economic realities often make Sunday employment a necessity rather than a choice; that church can be a place of difficult experiences from which people need to recover; that good ideas aren’t necessarily well-received; and that compassion and empathy are often mistaken for a desire to “sin” (Jesus might have had some words about this, though).
I agree with absolutely everything Kayla had to say in her post. But one more thing needs to be said.
It isn’t just the Millennials.
Every single thing Kayla said rang true to me, and I’m far from a Millennial–if I had children, they would be Millennials. I’m a tail-end Baby Boomer. The church is less interested in my leaving (I don’t see much about “Why Middle Aged Gimpy Grey Haired Single White Straight Middle Class Educated Women Are Leaving the Church”, but it may be out there). I’m not sure why that is, but with people living longer than ever before in history, and living longer past child rearing and retirement, it might be something to consider.
A few phrases in the blog post tipped me off that although we are both dissatisfied, we are dissatisfied with different Christian denominations. As an Episcopalian, it’s not that I have a problem with a weekly “altar call” (as that’s not something that happens much), and there has never been in my experience of Anglican Christianity a great fear of leaving the Christian “bubble” and being part of the “world”. Indeed, we rather encourage that. But the fact that, from different points on the spectrum of Christianity, and at different phases of our lives, we can experience such similar dissatisfactions and frustrations, that should be worrying to the ordained leadership of most denominations.
The question shouldn’t be “Why are Millennials leaving the church?” It should be “Why are people leaving the church?”
Especially formerly committed, enthusiastic people who have been generous with all of the resources at their disposal. Why is it more upsetting that a person in their twenties or thirties has left, than someone past 50, who has given the equivalent of that younger person’s entire lifetime of service to the church?
A few months ago, I left a Facebook group on changing congregations because of a dust-up with a pastor who claimed “It’s not rocket science” and said that her congregation was full of “real” people who wanted an “authentic” relationship with Christ, and she had no patience with “over-educated aging intellectuals”. I asked for the location of her church so that I could be sure not to inflict on her the burden of any pastoral responsibility towards me. I was told that “tongue and cheek” (sic) posts were not welcome, and that I owed her an apology. I apologized (but probably not in the desired spirit), and left.
As I’ve left the church, because at least for now they don’t have a lot of use for an over-educated aging intellectual like me.
Bluntly, I hope the churches listen to Kayla in ways they have not listened to me. And I hope Kayla’s points resonate with the leadership of Christian denominations in ways that cover the Millennials well, but also slop over onto other demographic groups.
Because, unless they get on board with why people–of all ages and stages–are leaving the churches, the churches have signed their own death warrants, and there will be no reprieve.