Millennials Are Leaving the Church (But Maybe That's OK)

I used to be an alarmist.

I used to read every article, every Barna report with dread and fear.

Millennials are leaving the Church.

Fewer Americans than ever identify as Christians.

“Oh no!” I thought. The Church is shrinking, losing influence, becoming irrelevant. Soon, Christians will be a minority on the sidelines of American culture, and we’ll all be sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Recently, I discussed the exodus of millennials from the Church and the oft-repeated idea that it is because they are “entitled.” Now I want to take on the whole exodus itself. Because invariably, the statistics come across as some kind of apocalyptic doomsday scenario for the Church.

But one day very recently, I just stopped panicking. I stopped believing that the world would end if the Church ended.

I started wondering what if it was actually a good thing for a generation to leave the Church.

Confusing Church With a Capital “C”

Like a grain of sand, one tiny thing started bugging me about the discussion around Millennials leaving the Church.

A seemingly insignificant, tiny detail …

In fact, it’s only a single letter. The letter “C.”

You see, this entire conversation (including this blog post) hinges on a capital “C”; the one in the word Church. That capital letter shapes the whole conversation. For Millennials are said to be leaving the Church … with a capital “C.”

In that capital letter is the implication that they are leaving the whole Church, the global Church, the universal Church. They might as well be buying a one-way ticket to hell.

But as I see it, Millennials aren’t leaving “the Church.”

They are leaving churches with a lowercase “c.” There is a huge difference. The Church is an eternal thing, the Body of Christ, built by God himself, which cannot be destroyed.

But churches are human institutions. They are imperfect. They are mortal. They are built by people. At their best, they are still only shadows of the real Church. Young people are not leaving the body of Christ. They are not leaving the Kingdom of God. They are just leaving churches. And that makes a big difference.

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Matt Appling
Matt Appling is a teacher, pastor and author of TheChurchOfNoPeople.com and the book "Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room," released by Moody Publishers. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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