20 Millennials Express Faith in a Shifting Culture: Engaging the CNN Discussion [Video & Transcript]
Welcome to I Believe Podcast, a cast for all honest seekers of truth, where you can dip in at any point in your spiritual journey, particularly if you’ve hit a crossroads—as an atheist, agnostic, blended practicer, unchurched wanderer, Goth, or churched Christian seeker. This is a venue for us to discuss matters of knowing truth, cultural trends in a context of finding and keeping faith in God and Jesus Christ, and His plan for living. In a few minutes in this particular episode, you’ll hear one group of Millennials speak about the relevance of their active faith in God and Jesus Christ in their daily lives.
Incontrovertibly, for the last decade plus, young folks have been leaving the pews of their mainline or Evangelical churches. As one researcher articulates:
Churches in the Southern Baptist convention, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and conservative Presbyterians are reporting losses that resembled decline that their mainline counterparts suffered in 70s; mega-churches [that have sprung up] and are successful for a time [have been] forced to close down. The Catholic Church has barely maintained its share and is on decline, and so forth .
Like many, I’ve personally followed this research and trend with rabid spiritual interest, first of all, vested in the needs and aspirations of the rising generation. I am, as a Baby Boomer, secondly attuned to this trend because while a Gen-X-er in my day, I also left the distant but moral faith of my upbringing, became agnostic, and then, after receiving an undeniable witness of God’s reality, sought, found and joined by baptism a true and living faith community—one in fact which fills all of those enumerated voids–valid ones oft-described by disenchanted young and middle-aged. The passion to engage others who were unfulfilled or confused on their journey actually rose as the impetus behind I Believe Podcast: Expressions of Faith series.
That said, the recent wave of online discussion sparked by each successive religious survey or significant study and most recently, by Rachel Evans’ viral personal opinion post on CNN, Why Millennials are Leaving the Church, led to this particular episode .
In her recent post, Rachel indicated the reasons some have walked away from their prior religious communities. She said many longed to be “challenged to live lives of holiness;” in other words, not just to learn ‘about’ God and Jesus, but to engage in a real spiritual relationship with them. She spoke to finding a place where, in effect–and in my own words here–science and religion aren’t trying to tow each other out of the parking lot, and where there are not just pat answers to sincere, legitimate questions. And I have to pause right here and interject that some questions are insufficiently answered in general forms of Christianity, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t answered elsewhere.
Here are two questions quickly, that came to me recently, one in conversation and one through someone else’s research:
One man shares that his pastor declared that “our baby died because we hadn’t prayed enough. It was our fault, he said; our lack of faith killed our son. I walked out of church that day and I have never returned.”
Another writing in said this:
“I have so many questions and concerns that I’ve never had answered. Years ago, a well-meaning co-worker took me to church with him. I asked him some questions that had been eating at me. I explained that my father was the type of man who would give anyone the shirt off his back. . . . I asked my friend, “How can a loving God send my father to a place of burning and torture for eternity simply because he doesn’t know Jesus?” My friend assured me that ANYONE who did not accept Christ would burn in Hell. I could not wrap my mind around that. What about a primitive culture of people in the rain forest who may have never even heard of Jesus? Do they burn in Hell simply because they were never informed?”
For the answers to these 2 questions, follow the links on our site. (Children: Sinless, Saved, and Sanctified; What Happens to Those Who Die Without Knowing Christ.)
I mention these because they underscore one point Rachel makes. It’s understandable that this kind of diluted and false doctrine can drive people away from religion altogether and that we find the scenario Cox describes where those declaring themselves spiritual but not religious means “that they want to have access to the sacred without going through the doctrinal scaffolding.” Where the scaffolding is broken, it makes sense that discerning young adults would want to avoid it .
In other words, some young people are slipping on banana peels of false creeds. No wonder many are finding a disconnect between what is often preached in some churches—in infotainment formats—and lived out in a mega or pop culture community. Many—not all, for every one has a unique story and perspective, and we can’t clump all in a generational label in any sense—are tired of drinking sugar water in cone cups with holes in the bottom, not unlike the “broken cisterns” Christ referred to, where diluted doctrine spills out and leaves them hungry for the true divine narrative that is meant to give them meaning, purpose outside themselves, true identity, salvation, freedom, access to God, commitment, that exacts service to the poor and needy, and gives them power to live out their fore-prepared missions on earth. These missing ingredients are actually tenable and where and how they exist will be explored in other casts.
Back to Rachel. Conversely, she noted, many millennials are not seeking a cosmetic “change in style, but rather one in substance from what those individuals were experiencing in their faith congregations” .
Caveat here: This isn’t to say that, as one Millennial, McCracken, writes, that Christianity is to cater to needs and whims of Millennials, nor is it what Rachel was promoting. McCracken is right that “the Christian gospel isn’t defined by whatever itch people think [it] should scratch” . It requires all of us—but in the right way and with a proper conception of God and Christ.
But we’re here to address the broader question.
The stories of those leaving the church spins out and results in millions of varied outcomes, but the one that concerns me most is those who not only left the Mass card or mega-church behind but who, unlike Rachel, leave God behind as they shut the door of their past faith congregation.
The point is that by 2010 a clear change had crystallized in which “America’s third largest religious group and one of its youngest is unaffiliated with so singular theism or view of God” . Declining shares of Americans never doubt the existence of God, and many disbelieve in Him and/or in a literal Savior Jesus Christ as His Son.
In fact, the number of people self-identifying as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million, closer to 4 million now. As Diana Butler Ross indicated, using data from Cox and the Religion Survey of 2011, Christians will be outnumbered in the US by 2042 if this trend continues .
Add to that that about 41 percent of Americans don’t believe the Bible is reliable and the inspired word of God….That there is increasing doubt that Christ was sinless (About 40 percent of 6000 Barna-polled believe that).. that there is increasing uncertainty and denial of the literal Resurrection of Christ… and that 27% of 6000 polled Christians believed in literal hell or reality of Satan or the Holy Ghost .
In fact, in Hollis Phelps, an Assistant Professor of Religion at Emory, responded to Rachel’s remarks that maybe it’s just that “the word of God’s death takes a little while to get around,” reminiscent of Altizer’s 1966 Nietsche-driven Time Magazine cover article . Both of these professors of religion are atheists or agnostics, and that’s not an anomaly in many universities where the ratio of agnostic or atheist professors is about 1/3 higher than in the general population .
It’s against this backdrop and in this context that I’ve invited a volunteer group of Millennials to speak with clarity and conviction regarding their vibrant faith in the reality of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Here’s the statement and question asked of each:
In today’s America, a subset of Millennials are dropping out of either faith in God and Christ or faith in any organized religion. Some say they are not “finding Jesus” or connecting that which is taught on Sunday with the rest of their broader lives. Some are questioning the very fundamentals; some are holding to faith but finding different outlets for it. To you, we’d like to pose this question:
Why do you believe in God and Jesus Christ in an increasingly doubtful culture? How do you hold on to and fortify your faith on a personal level? How do your living faith in God and Jesus Christ–your Sunday worship and personal beliefs–connect and/or play out and impact your day-to-day life, your outlook, your work, your life mission?
Find us on: Or call: 185KNOWGOD1
1. Nathan Schneider, Age of Spirit: An Interview with Harvey Cox, October 30, 2009.
2. Evans, Rachel Held. “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” New York Times. July 2013.
3. Cox, Future of Faith pp 213, 221.
4. McCracken, Brett. “How to keep Millennials in the church? Let’s keep church uncool.” The Washington Post. 31 July 2013.
5. Ross, Diana Butler. Christianity After Religion. 45.
6. “Questioning Old Gods.” American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Footnote 8. 2001.
7. “New Research Explores How Different Generations View and Use the Bible,” The Barna Group. 19 Oct 2009.
8. Alitzer, “Is God Dead?” Time. 8 April 1966.
9. Stobel, Lee. Case for Christ.