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The Church Failed Millennials, Just Not in the Way You Think It Did

This article originally appeared on the Christ and Pop Culture blog on Patheos. 

If you hadn’t already heard, millennials are leaving the church in droves, leaving many church leaders scratching their heads as to what to do about it. Rachel Held Evans came out with a piece on CNN.com, stepping into the gap to explain why they are leaving.

Apparently it struck a nerve; it was shared over 170,000 times. Speaking as the voice of a generation, she raised issues like our exhaustion with the culture wars, poor handling of teaching on sexuality, gay marriage, science and religion, and putative weakness on social justice. Instead, millennials want, and need, a deeper encounter with Jesus.

Of course, as the college and young adult guy at my church, as well as a millennial myself (freshly 27), I read her piece and the follow-up with great interest. I saw a number of those 170,000 shares in my Facebook feed, with loud cries of “Amen!” and some disgruntled nay-saying. I probably uttered both as I read it.

While there were a number of insightfulreassuringly critical and helpful interactions with her piece, addressed to the churches and readers in general, I wanted to briefly address myself more directly to my fellow millennials here.

We Were Failed.

I’ll be honest, my initial instinct when I come to pieces like these is to balk a bit. I worry that we can tend to come off as whiny, demanding or entitled.

Even worse, there’s a sort of myopia involved in thinking Christianity must change or die every 30 years or so.

We’re not the first group of young’uns frustrated with the church, and maybe we need to question ourselves a bit more here. That said, I want to acknowledge that I think we were failed. This failure was more than weak, harmful teaching on sexuality, or false science/religion dichotomies.

Those errors are there, to be sure, and ought to be dealt with, but the failure I’m thinking about goes a bit deeper.

One thing I think the pop Evangelical church has truly dropped the ball on is talking to us about the church.