This would be a nice song to play while reading this post.
In the final chapter of my book, Thrive, I tell a story about an old Presbyterian church that invited Darrel Guder (of Missional Church fame) to speak. As I sat in the crowd listening to his lecture, the congregation was struggling. They were earnestly trying to figure out ways to connect with lost generations. I understood their plight, but saw the level of cognitive dissonance they used to justify their current beleaguered existence.
One man lamented they had done, “all they could”, to lead their children who had now left the church. The trouble was, the examples of the last time this congregation “tried” something was thirty years in the past.
I wonder how many churches are in the same predicament?
Right now church leaders continue to process the “millennial exodus” from the pew. Readers of my blog know I’ve talked about this subject many times before. My position on millennials and the church is simple, millennials aren’t leaving in droves because they’ve already left.
Those that remain are supposed to be lifers. The proverbial ‘bible thumpers’ who grew up in church, will die in the same church, and hang out with only church people. They are relied on to stick it out and keep things the way they’ve always been. Now it seems these “core” millennials are following their peers and leaving.
Losing The Last of the Millennials from Church
The New Yorker posted an article citing the growing dissent among remaining millennial evangelicals. This core is starting to leave, a problem on its own, but one I believe reveals a source pointing squarely at contemporary church leadership. The last of the millennials are coming of age, leaving home, and leaving the church. That means current church leaders have had a generation to respond to shifting cultures. Yet little has been done.
The mainstream white Protestant (and Catholic) churches have not addressed culture changes with any significant substance. The inability for current church leaders to adequately prep their congregations for culture shifts in general has resulted in a lot of problems.
- Abject decline in congregation. That didn’t start with millennials but with white Boomers (so really that’s 3 generations and counting little has been done).
- A complete deficiency in evangelism to attract new converts in a post-Christian age.
- Inadequate preparation for culture shifts leaving vulnerable congregations to outside influence.
The last point would create a scenario where congregations are highly susceptible to perceived “threats” to a way of thinking and life. It would then result in rash decision making in an attempt to preserve that way of life. The overwhelming white evangelical support for Donald Trump is Exhibit A of this threat in action.
The loss of core millennials means the current generation of leaders, like their forerunners, are not well equipped to handle and lead change in our churches. To repeat, church decline in white Protestant churches (the dominant church) started with Baby Boomers. There’s been a lot of time to get things right, but there has been a conscious choice to preserve the comforts of domination and privilege inherited from Christendom.
Like the Presbyterian church trying to figure out what to do, the answer is right in front of us. No emerging generation wants to inherit the legacy of dad’s church, particularly when that legacy is tainted and out of touch with the Gospel (failing and sometimes incapable of having coherent conversations on core mainstream and biblical issues like justice, the environment, immigration, sexuality, etc.)
Preserving dad’s church has been rejected.
Where do we go from here? The answer isn’t easy. We need a new generation of church leaders capable of re-imagining both leadership and Gospel in a post-Christian world. That process will mean a turnover in leadership structures to make room for the next generation. At the helm now are largely managers (shepherds) trying to maintain what’s left. That process seems to leave a church in a perpetual state of decline, vainly trying to preserve what’s left at the expense of it all.