Okay, we get it. Millennials are leaving the church in droves! Sound the alarms! Circle the wagons!
Not much makes me angrier than seeing those articles that make the rounds on Facebook every few months. You know the ones: a pastor claims to know why Millennials are really walking away from church. This particular article has proven especially resilient; it pops up in my news feed every few months to much acclaim. This one, the one that really pushed my buttons and prompted me to finally start the blog we’ve been talking about for a month now, calls these articles to task, purporting to know “how the church really lost the Millennials.” (CliffsNotes: it says the exact same thing as all the other articles.) This one innovatively shifts the focus to Sunday school rather than youth group, but the conclusion is the same.
These pieces, on the whole, have two things in common. First: they blame the current model of youth ministry (or children’s ministry, but we’ll focus on youth ministry for the sake of the argument). While we would certainly agree there are some terrible youth ministry ideas floating around out there, what this does is shift the blame to a more marginalized group of people—youth pastors, who are typically paid less and have less job security, and, of course, the teenagers themselves. Additionally, it takes attention away from a crucial fact: we’re not walking away from youth groups. We’re walking away from “grown-up church.” (This is what we will call the adult-oriented church body throughout this article. Is it a silly name? Yes. Does it effectively communicate the exclusiveness, and sometimes arbitrariness, with which young people are added—or not—to the realm of participating Christian adults? Yes. But more on that later.)1