The Pew Research Centre released some curious data that has shocked some church leaders. The stats point to a decline in Christianity across all denominations and age groups, but in particular the millennial generation.
If any of the data comes as a surprise, then unfortunately you’ve been living in denial. The rumours are indeed true, Christianity is losing it’s prominence in America. The number of people who consider themselves of ‘no religious affiliation’ hovers around 25%. Curiously, evangelical protestants have recorded a downward slide as well. I think if you were to drill down you might find large pentecostal and evangelical churches are indeed growing. Min you, the growth is merely the attraction of Christians switching churches, but that’s another post.
What should make of this data?
When there is an obvious gap in a particular demographic church leaders attempt to strategically address the problem. Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, changing strategies to re-attract lapses millennials will never work. [tweetthis remove_url=”true”]Millennials have already left the church, and the ones who are hanging around probably aren’t going anywhere.[/tweetthis]
What we must deal with is a fundamental problem with the predominant view of church and culture. We need a paradigm shift before we can tackle the entire landscape of shrinking churches.
The Great Commission bids us “GO”, yet we continually practice and cling to a model of church that implores everyone to “come” within. The questions we ask when it comes to the church function are ones that seek to preserve its privileged position as a central cultural institution. There’s a problem with this antiquated thinking: the church is losing/lost its prestige, and the privilege that it once had has disappeared.
We need to ask different questions.
Before we try to find solutions to support a egocentric view of church existence. “What can the church do to attract millennials back?”, “do I need to hire a young adult pastor, or have an evening service?” “What kind of outreach events would be best targeted to the lost millennial generation?” “Is there a program we could run that would excite millennials to return to church?”
[tweetthis]We ask, “what can be done to save the church?” rather than, “where can the church encounter the Kingdom of God?”[/tweetthis]
The former treats the church as the starting point and focus, the latter assumes a learning posture in an already unfolding mission.
We’re asking the wrong questions because we start off with the wrong understanding of the church’s role in culture. Rather than being participants in the unfolding Kingdom of God (that proceeds with our without the church), we try to implement strategic platforms with the goal of building church attendance.
Ask not what the church can do for millennials (or any lost generation), rather ask where does the emerging post-Christendom generation seek connection, spirituality, and justice, and then encounter them in the places they already exist. Hint: your church likely has no existing program in this space, nor could it create one. The best you can do is settle in for the long haul and relationally engage in spaces and places we have little familiarity with.