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Have the millenials lost their faith?

Stavanger Lutheran Church
Stavanger Lutheran Church
Jo Anderson

The Public Religion Research Institute recently concluded millenials are leaving religion because of LGBT issues. Last fall a study indicated 21% of all Americans are classified as “nones.” This means they do not affiliate with any traditional faith. A PRRI study indicates 32% of millenials are unaffiliated, the largest group as compared to generation X (23%), baby boomers (19%) and the silent generation (17%).

The millennial generation is anyone who happens to be ages 18-34. Church affiliation is not the only institution abandoned by this generation. Many have detached from political organizations, are distrustful of people in general and delay marriage, but are optimistic about the future. They are also the most racially diverse generation ever.

Pew research has the numbers for millenials. Fifty percent identify themselves as politically independent, indicating they are generally more liberal than previous generations. Only 26% of this generation is married and 69% desire to marry but hesitate until they have a solid economic foundation. This is the first generation with the best of technology not having to adapt to it. The term used is “digital natives” which is evidenced by their Facebook usage. Overall 81% of them are on Facebook with an average of 250 “friends.”

Millenials have experienced great diversity due to mass immigration. This diversity indicates 43% are non-white and half the newborns today are non-white. This racial makeup explains part of the more liberal political factor. Part of the low societal trust (19%) can be explained by racial diversity. Those feeling vulnerable or disadvantaged, trust less because of the consequences of misplaced trust.

This generation is the best educated, (1/3) with four year college degrees. In a knowledge based world, they are the best prepared for economic success. This success brings challenges of its own. Record high college debt has slowed some from marrying until later. The average marital age is now 27-29 and is most prevalent among those most educated and with a high income. Millenials are the ones with the highest out-of-wedlock births. A comparison of each generation at this age shows millenials (47%) and generation X was 35%. This is something they are not proud of as they join the other generations saying being raised by a single parent is bad for society. As all generations have aged in the past, attitudes and actions have changed as they matured. Hopefully this will be the experience of the millenials as well.

Many will write off the millenials and discount their contribution to our world. However, positive strides are being made by them and they desire to contribute to society. Barna group research does not deny the statistics cited by many in regards to those attending church. Overall 59% of millenials who grew up in Christian churches left their faith or the institutional church in the first decade of adult life. This generation has seen an increase in the last decade which mirrors the national trend. Church does not make their top 10 factors for faith growth. The encouraging reality of millenials can be seen in those who have not left their faith. Millions remain committed and active in their faith. Of those ages 18-29, 25% are practicing Christians; attending church at least monthly with religious faith as an important part of their lives. They pray each week and 25% of them read their Bibles and attend a religious small group weekly and 15% volunteered at a church related function in the last week.

The millennial generation has grown up in a culture and with peers who resist the gospel. Many have described the church as irrelevant and boring. They find life complicated, trying to live a life of faith with all the information, world views and options available today. Christianity has not offered them challenging answers to complex questions.

Dave Kinnamen from the Barna Group identifies several factors relating to millenials and their faith. Relationships are important to millenials. Comparing those who stayed within the church and those who left, a personal relationship with an adult was important, 59% to 31% for those who left. The same is true of mentoring; 28% of those who stayed compared to 11% of those who left. The most positive experiences were relationships as 70% of those dropping out had no close relationship to an adult and 90% never had a mentor.

Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to tell you they learned how Christians can contribute to society while attending church; 46% to 20%. Those active in church life are four times as likely to tell you they found their purpose in life through the church; 45%to 12%. They need to know how to apply heart and mind to the complexities of today’s culture. This is done by engaging in our culture with a Christian perspective. The motivation of practicing Christian millenials is to bring faith in Christ to their present problems. A holistic faith must be part of today’s church.

Millenials want to be taken seriously today. Do not put them on the shelf for some time in the future. They want to use their gifts today for the glory of God. Instead of the church’s divisions according to age and group, give and take between the young and established leaders in the church could be helpful. This is known as “reverse mentoring.” These young people need help discovering their mission in the world. Their sense of mission is important in establishing a faith that lasts. Faithful millenials are twice as likely as dropouts to indicate they helped the poor; 33% to 14%. They are more likely to have taken a trip which expanded their thinking; 29% to 16%. They are also more likely to find a cause that motivates them at church; 24% to 10%.

Teaching a theology of vocation or calling is important to these young people. They view their gifts and passions as God’s calling more than dropouts; 24% to 10%. They tell you the Bible applies to their career; 29% to 7%. Pastoral counseling on education was most helpful; 21% to 5%. Kinnamen calls this vocational discipleship, connecting the history of Christianity to work God calls them to. Intimacy with God is important for a lasting faith. This includes times when God speaks to them in a personal, relevant way; 68% to 25%. Wisdom for living a meaningful life can be found in the Bible is stated by 65% of the faithful as compared to 17% of the dropouts.

Grandparents will find this generation a unique group of individuals to care for and nurture. This begins with a meaningful relationship which develops between generations. The grandchildren want to be useful today, so we must find meaningful outlets of service to others which will keep them wanting to use their talents. As this generation asks questions about our current world, answers in terms of God’s sovereignty and grace must be part of their world view. As these grandchildren grow older, guidance and advice concerning how God can use their careers to his glory will have lasting results.