The Myth of the Perfect Millennial Church

Caryn Rivadeneira, Sharon Hodde Miller and Megan Hill share their perspectives on young people and the church:

As a true sign that I am getting old, Rachel Held Evans’s uber-popular CNN post Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church brought about a wistful, nostalgic response in me: Ah, to be young and turning my back on church again.

My mind traveled back to 1990, when I swore off church for good. I told God I still loved him, but his people I wasn’t so sure about. Like a good Gen-X-er, I was angry. Angry about what I saw as wrongheaded views on women in the church and a hostile stance toward the gay community. Angry because I thought the church was filled with hypocrites who cared more about sexual sins than greedy ones.

Sound familiar?

Though I did still love Jesus and read my Bible and pray and go to a Christian college and then work for a Christian publisher, I kept pretty true to my no-church word. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I darkened a church door during my 20s. And one of those times—at Westminster Abbey, no less—I was drunk.

So while I don’t think we should ignore pieces that suggest differences in generational “needs” from church, millennial malaise about church is nothing new. Gen-Xers felt it, as did Boomers before us. And lest we forget: the U.S. was founded by disgruntled church folk!

According to Scot McKnight, statistics show that “young adults have always been less affiliated; when they get married and have children they return to their faith. Part of the life cycle is reflected in this.” That’s what happened with me. Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was the Holy Spirit, probably it was a bit of both, but five days after giving birth to my son, I was back in the pews of the church I had once sworn off. In the 11 years since, I can count on my fingers the number of Sundays we’ve missed. And never once have I shown up drunk.

Today, I love church more than I ever could’ve imagined. I love it for the things that used to drive me nuts: for the hypocrites and other messy folks who gather together every Sunday to be unified in one thing, for one hour: to worship the God who loves us regardless of our cheesiness or our rigidity, of our hostility or our mushiness, of our inclusion or exclusion.

I feel this way not because the church changed, but because God changed me, grew me up while he held tight to me as I wandered away. The welcome I received when I came back to my church family changed everything.

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