Millennials are leaving the church, and the School of Religion is searching for the reason why
The demographics of the church have undergone a great deal of change over the last 30 years: according to Barna Group, 59 percent of Millennials who grew up in the church no longer attend.
Facing dire statistics, the future of the Church may appear hopeless.
Determined to address the concern of Millennials leaving church, the School of Religion’s Coffee, Cake and Theology opened up its forum to hear insights and a possible solution from Millennials themselves.
Dr. Mark Walker, Vice President for Ministerial Development and Chair of Christian Ministries, acknowledged the importance of the School of Religion addressing the staggering decline in Millennial church attenders.
“This is the target audience we are trying to reach. We are raising up and developing Christian leaders,” Walker said. “The conversation will impact how we teach and prepare in our own classrooms.”
Coffee, Cake and Theology began under the leadership of Dr. Daniela Augustine, a professor of theological ethics. What started out as theologians discussing topics over cake soon branched out to incorporate an interdisciplinary focus.
The forum took place on Tuesday, Sept. 26 and consisted of four Millennial panelists, each offering their perspective on why they believe Millennials are leaving the church.
Among each panelist’s perspective came a similar solution: high liturgy.
Drenda Butler, member of the panel and second-year student in the Lee Master of Arts theological studies program, found high liturgy to show the purpose of the Church.
“Higher liturgy makes me feel connected to Christians throughout time and also across the globe,” shared Butler. “It makes Christianity and the Church feel bigger than just the four walls in one particular building.”
Joshua Barrett, student panelist and first-year student in the Lee Master of Arts program, said he believes the Church’s lack of rest is a prime reason why Millennials are no longer attending church.
“Church is exhausting,” Barrett shared. “In the Church we are often being sold a message, a holy book, a fast-track program, a community to belong in, an experience with God. God, and everything that has anything to do with God, has been made into a product.”
Unlike the ever-changing structure of the American Church, Barrett found liturgy to offer rest in a way other denominations could not.
“I often find more rest in tried-and-true liturgy that actually utilizes Scripture and pulls from Church tradition and rejoices in sacraments,” Barrett said. “I don’t find an invitation to buy or buy into something, but rather an invitation to rest.”
Justin Walker, a pastor at Mount Paran North Church of God, offered that Millennials crave a need for meaningful symbols.
“In the absence of a meaningful status quo, we are fascinated with the peculiarity of God’s people,” Walker said. “Found not in the Church’s culture accommodation of entertainment, but in mere rituals of the Church herself.”
New Covenant Church of God Associate Pastor Lacey Anderson shared how her church's decision to have the Eucharist given on a weekly basis revolutionized her faith.
“The weekly experience of being at the table gave me reason, even forced me to turn around and look my sisters and brothers in the eye and to realize that my faith and salvation are not about me as an individual, but about us as the body of Christ,” Anderson said.
The Millennial panel received a hum of appreciation from the audience participants.
Barrett, who assisted Augustine in planning the event, reflected on the outcome of the forum.
“I felt people grab on to what was being said, and that’s the whole point,” Barrett said. “We want people to think about what’s being said and think theologically and deeply about it.”
The next Coffee, Cake and Theology will offer a dialogue in response to what was said in the student forum. It will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 10, with panelists Dr. Rickie Moore, Dr. Heidi Johnson and Dr. Josh Rice.