Hot on the heels of an article showing only 36% of millennials belong to a place of worship I give you some reasons I think the younger generation are leaving in droves:
We don’t “experience God”
Let’s face it, for the younger generation mental illness is rampant, some surveys say half of them struggle with one. Seeking an experience of God while depressed is like drinking salt water. Anxiety is basically God not showing up, hard. In bipolar and schizophrenia one’s experience of God can even turn against you telling you to do all kinds of crazy stuff to mess up your life. People selling Christianity double down on the promise of experience of God because people want it and a lot of the mentally healthy people (who generally have the wealth and charisma) can do a serviceable job of feeling it. The rest of us not so much.
Inability to perform.
Let’s face it, Christianity is performance art. A lot of being in the faith revolves around selling the idea to others that you are, in fact, a Christian. It’s an image thing, the same way one has to produce an image to try to “make it” in any scene. A cornerstone value of millennials and zoomers is authenticity which flies in the face of this. They want to be real and they want to be loved for who they really are, flaws and all. The fact that they are leaving the church in droves shows that they aren’t finding acceptance there.
Short attention spans.
Computers and smartphones have shortened people’s attention spans so much that it takes a lot of effort or is even impossible for some people to get anything out of the writings of the church fathers and other texts that require fixed attention. In the age of Tik Tok sermons go over people’s head.
Branding certain identities sin.
Being anti LGBTQ is a non-starter with zoomers. Identity is a huge part of who they are, so much so that on their Twitter handle they often have emoji’s to show it off. For example a wheelchair symbol and a rainbow mean someone has a disability and is queer. Biblical admonitions against sexual sin were attempts to attack an act but modern Christians have decided to attack actual identities that happen to encompass certain sins. Of course they are selective with this, they won’t attack greedy people who are rich because that isn’t a marginalized group. Any attack on identity is a direct attack on a person’s core being. Older people often don’t realize this because identity wasn’t so important for most of history.
Church is too loud and the lights are too bright.
The idea of worship being a performance has been driven more by the boomers than the younger generation. But they can sell it as being for the younger generation because we all like to be entertained. Unfortunately a lot of younger people are on the autistic spectrum or have other issues with loud music and bright lights. The younger generation is awash in more entertainment than they could enjoy in 100 lifetimes; what they want is authenticity and love which is a lot harder and more sacrificial to perform than Sunday worship.
We are too much for Christians.
People with mental illnesses (which millennials and zoomers often have) need more self care and thus can’t perform up to a level society and the church expects of them. Because of the often conservative bent of churches this gets them branded lazy and accused of committing sins of omission. We need people who are going to do the dirty work of being part of our self care instead of trying to get us to perform more when we don’t have the mental bandwidth to do so. Sometimes this just means spending quantity of time with us from which quality time often coalesces. It’s counter cultural but the culture isn’t serving all but the people on top’s interests now. In my own life being bipolar 1 I’ve noticed that I’m “too much” for pastors and Christian friends so they ghost me when I open up to them.
We fail at late stage capitalism.
Let’s face it, my and many other poor people’s experience shows that if you don’t have money you get treated like garbage in church. Part of this is just American culture which equates your worth as a person with how well you perform at late stage capitalism. Christianity often goes a step further in the health and wealth gospel and the progress-oriented “Purpose Driven Life” gospel implying that there is a spiritual deficit in the lack of material success. Men without money are branded manfails. Millennials and zoomers often struggle financially because there are less good jobs than there are people and housing is ridiculously expensive. A lot of them have turned away from capitalism entirely embracing socialists like Bernie Sanders. To a lot of them any faith wed to an economic system they already find abhorrent (as it finds them so in return) is a non starter.
Inability to concoct a redemptive narrative.
The Christian story, like many stories, involves suffering and heartache but ultimate redemption in the end. This has seeped into people’s individual stories, now people of faith are expected to concoct redemptive stories of their own life how “God was at work” or whatever regardless of how difficult astroturfing the bad stuff to make things make sense in hindsight is. Millennials and zoomers have lived through wars, recessions, (often) divorces and other trauma. They have been brought up in a culture that believes bad things are just bad and often leave a permanent stain or worse. To expect them to concoct a redemptive narrative out of a life that could involve rape, abuse, destitution, mental illness, disability, injury, etc.. is just too hard of a slog. Also when you add mental illness this makes people more likely to see their life without a positive spin (maybe the people who pay 10k of therapy can concoct a redemptive narrative out of their situation). As for me I lost my ability to live on my own and half of my friends to a psychotic break. Disability based prejudice and mental illness have made me a net drain on society instead of a net gain and (obviously) made me persona non grata in church.
Hell doesn’t play well.
You could make the argument that hell never played well but it certainly doesn’t now. The younger generation has skyrocketing rates of mental illness and are in their heads a whole lot. Saying you are going to be tortured for eternity over something that is subject to the vagaries of your mind is cruel and unusual. People have enough psychological trauma as it is. People are already afraid enough of death but Christians just have to make it worse. I get that it was a deterrent to keep people from bad behavior and before technology aided policing was pretty successful at keeping people in line. They need to find something better to keep people in line that doesn’t ruin some people psychologically.