Millennials are leaving the church. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away, and the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade from 44 percent to 52 percent, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing in America.
This was the headline of an article published by the Barna Group on its website on April 6, 2016.1 The article lists several reasons why Millennials, those in their 20s and early 30s today, are leaving church. Among those listed were things that took them away from church when they were youth: sports leagues, extracurricular activities through school, and a lack of significant church relationships. Gone are the days when a young person found social interaction primarily at church through weekend youth retreats, game nights, and Bible study on Sunday morning. The occasional attender in their youth who did not develop a growing faith will find it hard to connect once they leave for college.
Another reason Millennials are leaving church is because of the cultural environment they grew up in as youth as compared to the one many of us experienced. We readily accepted the truth of the Bible and the teachings of respected Christian adults in our church. Today’s youth are confronted daily with differing opinions about the validity of God and the many different ways they can experience faith in something beyond themselves. If they do not have a solid faith foundation and a trusted adult to talk to, they may not be able to distinguish real truth as they integrate their beliefs into everyday life.
The Barna Group made several suggestions to pastors and youth leaders through this article. A strategically designed youth program will include “discipleship and spiritual instruction” and “building relationships” as its top priorities. And of all the experiences that connect well with youth for the long-term, missions trips was high on the list—those times away with a committed leader who creates the kind of environment where the hard questions can be asked and answered.
What does this have to do with WMU? When you think about the purpose of WMU, our goal is to engage people of all ages in understanding and being radically involved in the mission of God. This applies to Acteens, Challengers, and Youth on Mission. I have often said the information about missions taught in our youth organizations is not as important as the relationships built between a youth and a Christian leader—someone who cares about them and lives his or her faith every day with a missional mind-set. When you open up the heart and minds of youth to the needs of the world and show them how God wants us to help meet those needs, faith development begins to make sense. When you tap into their desire to make a difference in the world and show them in Scripture why it matters, their lives are more tuned to the Spirit of God at work in them.
WMU can help reverse this trend of Millennials leaving church. We have a framework for building relationships and quality missions experiences already in place. Let’s step into the lives of our youth at church while we still have them and make a difference in their future for the kingdom.
1The Barna Group, “The Priorities, Challenges, and Trends in Youth Ministry,” April 6, 2016.
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