The Biggest Reason Millennials Are Leaving the Church Is Not What You Think

If there’s one refrain that the Christian community is hearing over and over again, it’s that millennials are leaving the church in droves. At the church where I work, we have a wonderful turnout from all generations, so I just haven’t seen this trend to the degree that some experts assert.

When it comes to millennials leaving the church—and their faith along with it, some say—we hear tons of different reasons why. Some experts insist that it’s because churches don’t worship in certain ways (and, believe me, both traditional and contemporary churches are to blame, depending on which article you read). Others say that millennials cry out for liturgy in ways that the American church does not offer. And still more blame the church’s insufficient emphasis on social justice issues.

To an extent, all these issues may play a role in the way millennials approach church attendance, serving, and giving, but the authors of a new book have revealed what they refer to as the “single greatest contributor” to the exodus of millennials from the church—and it’s not what you think.

“I’ve got to say this as a pastor, as a researcher, as an educator, as just a Christian who cares: the single greatest contributor to the attrition rate [of the Christian faith] has been the breakdown of the family,” Alex McFarland, author of “Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials Are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home,” told The Christian Post. [emphasis mine]

McFarland’s co-author Jason Jimenez agrees:

“I could see now why they questioned God, His nature, and His unconditional love,” Jimenez writes in “Abandoned Faith.” “If what their parents believed was true, why didn’t they live it? If God is so loving, why didn’t their parents show that same love to each other?”

This is a generation of kids who grew up watching their parents talk a good talk on Sunday mornings and at other church functions only to fail to walk the walk outside of church. Fights, adultery, and divorce have led millennials to question all authority figures, starting with parents. And a Sunday morning faith that didn’t play out the other six days of the week caused this generation to view people of faith as hypocrites. The authors also assert that parents who took a legalistic view of Christianity and those who used their faith as a reason to be overprotective have helped color millennials’ view of the church.

The interviewers at The Christian Post asked McFarland to elaborate on millennials’ distrust of faith and the church.

A general mistrust of institutional structures and voices of authority pervades the millennial generation, he acknowledged, hence the distaste for church and “organized religion.” But that same mistrust extends to college professors speaking from lecterns, he added.

“Millennials are digital natives, moral libertines, social globalists, spiritual eclectics,” McFarland said, so there is “not a lot of connectedness to institutions and traditions.”

And the entry point for much of the skepticism and rejection of the Gospel among them are not intellectual objections but emotional wounds.

How can we reach these millennials who view Christianity with scorn or cynicism? McFarland and Jimenez suggest that Christians engage with and invest in them without expecting anything in return—love them and serve them the way Jesus commanded His followers to. The authors also assert that Christians need to step up their apologetics game in order to answer questions and counter arguments (in love, of course).

And how can we make sure another generation doesn’t suffer the same fate? Parents need to live out their faith seven days a week, praying and digging into God’s Word with their children and demonstrating that a relationship with Jesus is a part of their everyday lives. Churches must preach sound doctrine, and children’s ministries should partner with parents, working with them to raise kids up in faith.

And we must never give up on praying for the kids and young adults in our lives, that they may come to know the Lord and Savior who loves them endlessly.