On April 30, an article appeared on FoxNews entitled, “Ten reasons millennials are backing away from God and Christianity.” The author is Alex McFarland, Director for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University. He appears to base his comments on findings from his own research as well as that of others and what he says sounds similar to articles I’ve read elsewhere. The article itself is brief enough, so perhaps some of these reasons need more detail in order to fully comprehend them.
However, as interesting as the analysis might be, what I’m interested in is what can non-millennials do about the world that is growing up and coming to leadership all around us? We can’t change the world at large, or the reactions/values/beliefs of “millennials” as a class. They are what they are and the society they are creating is somewhat frightening to believers.
In ministry circles, it has long been reported that of youth raised in homes that were to some degree “Christian,” roughly three-quarters will jettison that faith after high school. Just under half of this number will return to some level of church involvement in their late 20s or early 30s.
There are probably more reasons for this than the ten he listed, but of the ten, only a few involve complaints that other generations (i.e. “old people,” “traditional Christians,” “what-have-you”) have personal control over. He cites:
2. Breakdown of the family. It has long been recognized that experience with an earthly father deeply informs the perspective about the heavenly father.
4. Lack of spiritual authenticity among adults. Many youth have had no — or very limited — exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.
More on the rest of the reasons in a moment. Regardless whether these things are truly a cause of millennial skepticism, we are called to be disciples by our Lord Jesus. We need spiritual authenticity. Everyone who professes faith in Christ should engage their time and energy towards becoming a faithful disciple and leading others to faithful discipleship. Both actions can occur at the same time, of course – we don’t have a training regimen where you have to wait until you get to “Gold Star” level before you can help someone else along. As the old line goes, sharing the gospel is “one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.” Well, that’s discipleship and spiritual authenticity. We are sinners, we need Christ, we need to grow in Christ, and we ought to try to bring someone else along the same path.
On the rest of the reasons (the mindset of eclectic “digital natives,” militant secularism, abandonment of morality, intellectual skepticism, rising atheism, the god of Tolerance, and the commonly defiant posture of young adulthood), what can we do? It seems to me we can’t simply wring our hands in despair and give up, we need to proclaim truth to those who don’t believe in truth. The gospel we believe is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rm 1.16). It still “works” – God still changes lives. What can we do? Proclaim it. Speak truth to our neighbours, call sinners to repentance and faith.
I think it is important to understand why people think as they do, but our understanding should only inform our actions, not discourage or impede them. We may need to learn creative ways to expose the doubting millennials to Christ. Our methodology may need to change. No doubt. But better to speak than to fail to speak because our methodology isn’t “with the times” don’t you think? Paul exhorted Timothy, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season…” (2 Tim 4.2). It is true that “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Pr 25.11), but a word not spoken will change no hearts.
My conclusion is that we need to be Christians who are alive with our faith. We need to find ways to communicate our faith to others. We need this to be “top of mind” for us. It should be what we are about. No doubt most millennials will ridicule our efforts, but what of the eternal life of those few who hear, repent, and believe?
Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.