Searching for the Lost Generation
You Lost Me. Live! shows the tough road ahead for churches trying to reclaim prodigal Millennials.

When I first left home for college seven years ago, I was finally able to search for a church on my own. I'd attended a single church up till then, and I was anxious to find a new body of believers. I quickly found a college group at an established church, but I was shocked by how detached the group felt from the rest of the body. In the years since, most of the churches I've attended don't know what to do with my generation, the Millennials. As Millennials leave the church in droves, church leadership scrambles to find ways to retain the few that stay and hope that the rest will eventually return on their own.

David Kinnaman and a number of guest speakers address this very issue in the conference series, You Lost Me. Live!, presented by the Barna Group. I attended the conference in Chicago and found myself in the company of Baby Boomers, Generation X-ers, and many Millennials. Here are a few points that stood out to me:

The world is becoming more complicated. We've given people a cultural vision of Christ, but not the tools to live in this increasingly complex culture. Millennials are coming of age in this new culture, so it defines them in a unique way. While Baby Boomers are constantly astounded by new ways to communicate and access information, Millennials were born connected.

Boomers may have learned about Paul's tent-making side-job in seminary, but many Millennials fully expect to hold multiple jobs at once and change careers throughout their lives in pursuit of a single calling.

They may not automatically return. Many people assume Millennials who have left the church will come back as they get married and have children. But research shows that people are taking longer to settle down, get married, and have kids than in previous generations. Are we really willing to wait until a young adult is 35 to reconnect? It's also a bit presumptuous to think that marriage and babies will automatically bring young adults back.

It is different ministering in Jerusalem than in Babylon. As the West continues moving in a post-Christian direction, churches must recognize that our culture is starting to resemble Babylon more than Jerusalem. But Christianity has flourished in many cultural contexts. As we acknowledge the changing world, we shouldn't fear it.

This generation is creative and entrepreneurial. 52 percent of Millennials are interested in science-related careers. However, when youth pastors were surveyed, less than 1 percent claimed to have taught on science-related issues in the last year. Perhaps this is the type of disconnect that leads many young thinkers to conclude that the church is anti-science.

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October 11, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments

Emmanuel

November 07, 2012  4:27pm

I'm confused about your comment regarding "watering down the gospel." My point has always been that the gospel is true in its original form across cultures. If a pastor feels that they must "water down" or "dress up" the gospel to make it applicable, then they do not understand the rich applicability and power of the true gospel of Christ.

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sheerahkahn

October 20, 2012  12:41am

Jeff, I'm not picking on you, so I'm hoping you don't feel personally criticized. My view, which, admittedly, is biased due to the sample group of what I see both in my own Church, around me at work, during the day, and encounters with people on a day to day basis. So, with all that, this is what I see: The boys, and unfortunately, me being old tend to view anyone below thirty years of age as a boy, or girl are not seeing Christ, G-d, or anything remotely leading them to conclude that the whole thing isn't just some gag being pulled on them from a group of old white guys looking to make a buck out of our pockets. For example, and this hits home for me, I asked my boys, "do you believe in G-d?" Ouch. I mean, seriously, I feel like I have failed as a parent, and as a follower of G-d. I'm hoping and praying that if I screwed up somewhere, and considering my personality I'm sure I've done screwed something up somewhere with them...well, I just hope G-d can work through my mistakes to bring them to a faith in him. But it's not just my sons, it's a lot of sons...they just turned their back and walked away...it's almost like us adults are thinking, "what did we do wrong?" I only see two boys out of a cadre of close to sixty still involved with the church...it's bothersome. I can't help but think...we've screwed up somewhere...but I just don't have a clue as to where that would be, or even what it was/is us older people have done. I hope G-d shows me where...or clues me in on what is going on...in all honesty I just keep looking at myself wondering, "have I done a good job of representing Christ?" And I keep coming back to the evidence...and it says, "nope, you ain't doing to good their buddy."

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Anonymous

October 19, 2012  12:48pm

Jeff, I'm not a youth pastor, but I am a pastor who spends a lot of time ministering to youth. I can only speak from my experience. Your experience may be different. But from where I'm sitting, it looks to me that your ideas about who millennials are and why they leave the church are a bit too simplistic. You might want to think through this issue a bit more deeply. Also, you seem to be reading too much into the article that isn't really there. Like I said earlier, the article says nothing about "fun activities." And as the author himself pointed out, the article also doesn't say anything about "watering down the Gospel." I think you're reacting to things the article doesn't actually say.

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Kyle Rohane

October 18, 2012  3:36pm

Jeff, Thanks for your comments; they bring up some good points. First, the statement that today's culture is more "complex" is more from David Kinnaman's conference than my own thought. He does make some good points to back this up (that I won't go into here), but in my personally opinion, I'm not sure I agree that the world is actually more complex. However, through access to the internet and other technologies previously unavailable, I do think we're connected to the complexities of the world more than ever before. I genuinely don't think this new "hyper-connected" culture should change the content of the gospel in any way. I do think that pastors have to be diligent in light of competing worldviews (perhaps these beliefs are not new, but they certainly have a forum in the marketplace of ideas that they never have before). I'm confused about your comment regarding "watering down the gospel." My point has always been that the gospel is true in its original form across cultures. If a pastor feels that they must "water down" or "dress up" the gospel to make it applicable, then they do not understand the rich applicability and power of the true gospel of Christ. Learning about the present culture should never change the content of Christ's gospel; it's not necessary! So why should pastors care to learn about a changing culture and a young generation if it won't change the content of the gospel? Because, as I said in my last comment, interacting with the culture (which may not be more complex, but is certainly different) helps bring out the rich texture of the gospel in amazing ways. In fact, ignoring the important issues of today waters down the gospel because it implies that the gospel can't actually stand toe-to-toe with the plethora of other belief systems that younger generations are exposed to. I believe it can! Finally, I agree with you that this generation is fundamentally not that different from others in their sinful nature and need of the gospel. That's exactly why I question how the church has dealt with them. If they truly aren't any different from other generations, then why are there fewer of them in the institutional church? I think it's precisely because the church has tried to attract them with bells and whistles at the expense of the clear gospel. Millennials can smell insincerity from a mile away, and merely instituting new technology, offering a bunch of service projects, making bold promises of prosperity, etc. isn't working. Like I said in the article, as we learn more about the new generation, we'll discover that they will be best reached through the clear presentation of the timeless truth of Christ.

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Jeff Fairchild

October 18, 2012  10:53am

Kyle, I appreciate your article but I really wonder how you feel our society is more complex? Oh, we have technological gadgets that many feel they cannot live without. I do not thing we are any different than any other generation. We still have a horrible sin problem. We still have perverts, corrupt politicians, high substance abuse, crime against the weak and above all direct defiance of God. We all need the Lord and yet, most will rebell against him because they would rather believe the lie instead of the truth. The one lie that I see that prevents people coming to Christ is that it is someone else's bad behavior that keeps me from the Church and coming to Christ. I do not believe there are many true believers outside of the Church. A lot of people say they are but they are not because they are living in rebellion to loving your neighbor and the gathering together of the Body of Believers. Yes, the Church has faults but anytime a fallible human being is involved there will be problems. There are no perfect churches. I know some may think I am being judgemental but I am not. I care for souls an dI have been called to preach the Good News. The Good News is strong medicine and most will reject it. However, I will continue to tell it like it is. Remember Jesus never watered down the Gospel, Paul never watered it down, Peter never did and so on. Why should we because we might hurt some feelings? Or, because the people want to find a way to continue in their sin and get to heaven? We need to grow up. Not all are going to be saved. Not all will receive the Gospel.

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Kyle Rohane

October 17, 2012  1:37pm

Just to clear a few things up, David Kinnaman and the Barna Group made a distinction between a few types of Millennials leaving the church. Some are truly "ex-Christian," they were raised in the institutional church, but they have rejected Jesus Christ as their Lord and do not self-identify as his followers. But many still claim to be Christ-followers. This group has left the church for a number of reasons, but they all feel like it is possible to be a Christian (and part of the universal church) without being an active participant in a local congregation. Personally, I believe this is to their great detriment. Yes, it is possible to be a Christian outside of an institutional church, but where else can a believer be regularly fed with Word and Sacrament, engage in deep and lasting relationships with other Christians of all ages and backgrounds, and devote intentional time to worshipping the Lord in community? For the sake of these brothers and sisters' well-being, I believe the church must do what it can to reach out to them. This does not necessarily mean changing style and adding technology (although church leaders must decide if these things would benefit their individual congregations). As I mentioned in the blog post, integrating technology and shiny, new service projects only changes form. But churches must look beyond advertising schemes to the content of their messages, and understanding the changing culture bears on this. When less than one percent of youth pastors are teaching on science-related topics, that is an issue of content, not form. When churches avoid these conversations (even unknowingly), they paint a limited picture of who Christ is (are we really so arrogant as to think that all churches do this as well as they can?). Millennials who are so concerned with application and functionality desire a Savior who actually means something in the chaos of the world. And Jesus is that Savior! But do we always portray him that way? We worry about many of the qualities of this young generation, but they are primed perhaps better than most to respond to the truth of the applicability of the gospel in the totality of life. I think it is impossible to present a comprehensive picture of Jesus without learning about the changing culture, if only to show how his truth applies in every cultural aspect of life. By speaking the truth of God and his relationship with creation boldly (even in controversial areas), the church will attract Millennials to the honest dialogue. With a fuller picture of Jesus Christ, they will be reminded why it is important for Christ's followers to meet together regularly as a body.

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Jeff Fairchild

October 17, 2012  10:11am

sherrahkahn and anonymous With all do respect I come back to my original premise, those young adults who leave the church are using the way we do church as an excuse to not follow Christ. The Church has always had hypocrits from the very beginning. Yet, the Church has survived. The millenials are primarily over entertained, over gadgeted and very self-centered. They have heard the Gospel. It is pretty simple. They have chosen to reject it because they want to make lots of money, party and be entertained. Let us be honest. I am a baby boomer and grew up in the 60's and 70's. My generation was considered lost too. I went to an old fashioned low tech country church and learned about Jesus and made my decision to follow him as a young adult.I learned Bible lessons on the old goofy flannal grafts. I have been a Christian for 35 years and a pastor for 32. I have seen every trend and program coming down the pike and we still lose people because they do not want what Jesus has to offer. Some will follow Christ and most will reject the Gospel. Jesus said it plainly "Many are called but few are chosen." He is stating the reality. Instead of worrying about gadgets and entertainment let's go back to telling the truth of the Gospel. That is where the Church's responsibility lies. Some will follow Jesus most will not. Above all, pray for this generation so that some hearts will be softened by the Spirit so that they can receive Christ. Live a good exmaple of course but remember for many of these people the Gospel is quite a foreign message because they have filled their hearts with too much worldly junk.

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Anonymous

October 17, 2012  9:40am

Jeff, who said anything about the church not having any fun activities? I read through the article again, and not once did I see this argued as a reason for why millennials are leaving the church. A comment such as yours assumes unreal stereotypes. Also, regarding the church not knowing how to communicate with them, if the church doesn't know how to communicate with millennials, how do you except them to hear and respond to the Gospel message? Perhaps the problem is not that they are rejecting the message. Perhaps the problem is that they are not HEARING the message, because we, the church, are not communicating it to them. More importantly, we are not embodying the message. Sheerahkahn wrote: "Corinthians 13, the Love chapter...we treat it as a sweet ideal in a world of cruel, brutal reality." Boy, doesn't that explain the tone of some of the comments on here!

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sheerahkahn

October 16, 2012  10:58pm

"We have heard the Message so much all of our lives none of us are without excuse." Yes, however I would say the issue is less with the "millinials" minimizing their spirituality, and more of the fact that they haven't seen the message lived out. For example, Corinthians 13, the Love chapter, sure we all know it, and sure we all think wonderful things about it...but we treat it as a sweet ideal in a world of cruel, brutal reality...so it has lost its luster and taken on the mantle of a sweet pipe dream that has no practical application to us today; And when we do see someone expressing that love...it's a one time thing that is crowed about for years after...in truth, it should be a common thing with all of us, and yet...it ain't. So, to carry this thought further, we all loves us some Jesus...right? Sure, whats there not to like? And yet...we treat Jesus like some legendary figure from long, long, loooong ago that has little to do with us today...oh yeah, we got a whole pile of words fed to us on a daily basis from a quaint little book, but if Jesus is just that legendary dude from long ago...why "act out" a faith that seems kind of like an old comedy skit that has lost it's humor decades ago. What it comes down too is this...following Y'shua is difficult...no, it's worse than difficult...it's down right impossible. And yet, somehow, we're able to pull it off day by day. For some, that's rather stupid, others, lame, others, a total kill-joy...you see, you're right to a point, but the main issue is that if we all act like Y'shua is just another name from history that we formed a club around...there are far better clubs with much better activities than what we got going on in the church.

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Karen

October 13, 2012  1:26pm

It seems to me that Millennials leaving churches also represents the end of the road of the desacralization of what is understood to be "the Church," in the mindset of most modern Christians. In the biblical mindset, the Church, as the very Body of Christ, was the embodiment of the resanctifying through Christ of all of Creation beginning with the first disciples and incorporating all members of the Church (and in the Eschaton to include the entire Creation), who together comprise a Royal Priesthood with Christ as High Priest, and whose role together with Him is to reconcile and reconsecrate the entire world to God through Christ. The consummate (note: the *consummate,* not the only) expression of that was in the ritual of the Eucharist, which could only celebrated in the gathered worship of the entire local Body under one local Bishop's authority–representing the unity of the Church in Christ and the incorporation of all its members into one, unified Body). Modern Christians, especially in the wake of the Reformation and denominationalism, have largely lost the understanding of the meaning of this Act, and reduced the gathered worship of most churches, for all intents and purposes, to a series of discreet actions (sermon, prayers, worship songs, multi-media presentation, mental memorialization of Christ's sacrifice) that amount to little more in most people's minds than a religious motivational meeting (and thus constantly under evaluation as to its quality). It is not understood as a biblical "mystery" in which God Himself in His fullness is truly present to nurture, heal and fill His people.

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