A few weeks ago (May 12, 2015) the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life released the findings from its latest study. As expected, this release brought about a flurry of blog posts focused mainly on the decline of Millennials in the church. If you follow my blog you know my thoughts on that one, but if you are unfamiliar, feel free to read the article End the Millennial Postmortem here.
I purposely steered clear of reading the study until the buzz died down and I could read without other voices in my head telling me what to see. I wanted to see for myself this abject decline of the church and the overwhelming gap left by Millennials who have chosen to walk away from organized religion in the form of “church.” And, as everyone warned, I saw it. I saw that for Evangelical Protestants and Mainline Protestants on 16/17% of their population was made up of 18-29 year olds. I saw that these percentages matched those of the Catholic church and the Jehovah’s Witness.
But I saw something more disturbing than that. I saw that those were the ONLY religions were showing the lowest percentages. In contrast, 34% of Buddhist were in the 18-29 age group, 34% of Hindus, and a whopping 44% of Muslims (almost half, think about that!). The only other category that could even come close to competing with those was the new religion of “Unaffiliated” which, for the first time in Pew history, hit a high of 35%.
What’s going on?!?
It’s not that suddenly 18-29 year olds don’t associate with religion. 44% of the Muslims surveyed were Millennials!
It’s not that 18-29 year olds don’t believe in God. Of all the survey respondents who identified as Unaffiliated or “religious nones” only 3.1 % identified themselves as atheist.
I think it’s simply that they are… Unaffiliated.
The religion that has seen the biggest drop? Christianity. And the area with fastest growth? Unaffiliated.
That word just makes me sad. If you look up the definition for “unaffiliated” you’ll read things like, “not associated with another or others” and “not connected” and ” not a part of.” I think if we look at the multiple studies that have been done on why there’s been a decline in the attendance of 18-29 year olds in church, they put it this way; “We don’t belong.” There’s a sense that there simply is not place for them any more. They had a place a kids in the children’s department and they had a place as youth in the youth department but as high-school graduates, they are met with a way of worship with which they are unfamiliar, a group of people they have little to no relationship with, and a myriad of other opportunities outside the church building walls that are screaming, “You BELONG Here!”
And in the words of one of the most noted Millennial bloggers (Rachel Held Evans), their generation is “struggling to find a faith community in which we feel we belong.”
And I cannot help by look at my daughter, getting ready to enter middle school, and think, “What about you? Do you feel like you belong in church? Do you feel like you are a needed part of the body of Christ? Do you know that you are necessary?”
I look at my 9 yr old little girl and I pray, “Lord, let her know her voice is important. The church needs her smile, her songs, her prayers and her love. Let her understand that she doesn’t need to search because she belongs.”
And I look at my “baby” my 4 yr. old son whose name means “wholly devoted” and I hold him and ask him, “Who loves you?” and he says, “Jesus loves me” and I say, “Always and forever…you belong.”
Because if you feel like you don’t belong, if you feel like you aren’t needed, it’s very easy to become…Unaffiliated.
And that’s on us, Church.
So find the kids in your pews. Find the little ones in Sunday School. Find the middle schoolers in your youth room and your high schoolers in the worship band. Find them, welcome them, engage with them, invite them, listen to them, and make sure that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are members of Christ’s body and they most certainly belong.
And more than that, make sure your actions match your words.
Give them the chance to serve in ministry. Let them share what God is speaking to them. Let them lead you in worship and read to you the Scriptures. Incorporate them into the very fabric of your local body until not just they, but you, know that without them, you’d be incomplete. Until each generation is convinced that they are exactly where they belong…in the body of Christ. Connected to Jesus and one another in the bond of love and community; not alone, not disconnected, not removed…a part of a larger whole… Affiliated.
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About the author
Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at ChildrensMinistryBlog.com