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Why are we losing Millennials?

Sam Eaton gives us the Church some very interesting challenges....

His article 

By Sam Eaton

From the depths of my heart, I want to love church.

I want to be head-over-heals for church like the unshakable Ned Flanders.
I want to send global, sky-writing airplanes telling the life-change that happens beneath a steeple. I want to install a police microphone on top of my car and cruise the streets screaming to the masses about the magical Utopian community of believers waiting for them just down the street.

I desperately want to feel this way about church, but I don’t. Not even a little bit. In fact, like much of my generation, I feel the complete opposite.

Turns out I identify more with Maria from The Sound of Music staring out the abbey window, longing to be free.
It seems all-too-often our churches are actually causing more damage than good, and the statistics are showing a staggering number of millennials have taken note.
According to this study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history, and most drastic among millennials described as 22- to 35-year-olds.
  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
As I sat in our large church’s annual meeting last month, I looked around for anyone in my age bracket. It was a little like a Titanic search party…


Tuning in and out of the 90-minute state-of-the-church address, I kept wondering to myself, where are my people? And then the scarier question, why I am still here?
A deep-seated dissatisfaction has been growing in me and, despite my greatest attempts to whack-a-mole it back down, no matter what I do it continues to rise out of my wirey frame.
[To follow my publicly-chronicled church struggles, check out my other posts The How Can I Help Project and 50 Ways to Serve the Least of These.]
Despite the steep drop-off in millennials, most churches seem to be continuing on with business as usual. Sure, maybe they add a food truck here or a bowling night there, but no one seems to be reacting with any level of concern that matches these STAGGERING statistics.

Where is the task-force searching for the lost generation? Where is the introspective reflection necessary when 1/3 of a generation is ANTI-CHURCH?

The truth is no one has asked me why millennials don’t like church. Luckily, as a public school teacher, I am highly skilled at answering questions before they’re asked. It’s a gift really.
So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.

1. Nobody’s Listening to Us

Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?
  • Create regular outlets (forums, surveys, meetings) to discover the needs of young adults both inside AND outside the church.
  • Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
  • Hire a young adults pastor who has the desire and skill-set to connect with millennials.

2. We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements

Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.
Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.
Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?
  • Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jambo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
  • We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service.

3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority

My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.
Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…
Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.
If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).
“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt
  • Stop creating more Bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose.
  • Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts. Then connect people who share similar passions. Create space for them to meet and brainstorm and then sit back and watch what God brings to life.
  • Create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference (and, oh yeah, they’ll also meet new people).

4. We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture

From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from Footloose to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the down-falls of the culture—believe it or not we are actually living in it too.
Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.
  • Put the end times rhetoric to rest and focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
  • Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. (If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel)

5.  The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect

There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic Mean Girls.
In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”
Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”
The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.
Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.
  • Create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service.
  • Create and train a team of CONNECT people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events. Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population.
  • Stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected. For some people, especially those that are shy or struggle with anxiety, putting yourself out there even just once might be an overwhelming task. We have to find ways to bridge that gap.

6. Distrust & Misallocation of Resources

Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.

We want pain-staking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.

Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?
  • Go out of your way to make all financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence.
  • Create an environment of frugality.
  • Move to zero-based budgeting where departments aren’t allocated certain dollar amounts but are asked to justify each purchase.
  • Challenge church staff to think about the opportunity cost. Could these dollars be used to better serve the kingdom?

7. We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At

Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.

For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.

Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.
We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?
  • Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them.
  • Ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church.

8. We Want to Feel Valued

Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”
Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.

We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.

We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.
  • Return to point #1: listening.
  • Go out of your way to thank the people who are giving so much of their life to the church.

9. We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)

People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.
We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.
No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.
  • Create real and relevant space for young adults to learn, grow and be vulnerable.
  • Create an opportunity for young adults to find and connect with mentors.
  • Create a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need.
  • Intentionally train young adults in how to live a godly life instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

10. The Public Perception

It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.
We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ.
  • Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are. (See: Service Day from #3)
  • Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
  • Make your presence known and felt at city events.

11. Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)

Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).
  • Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach millennials.
  • If you want the respect of our generation, under-promise and over-deliver.

12. You’re Failing to Adapt

Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.
“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells
  • Look at the data and take a risk for goodness sake. We can’t keep trying the same things and just wish that millennials magically wander through the door.
  • Admit that you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the millennials you already have before they ask themselves, what I am still doing here.
You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.
You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.
Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.

The truth is, church, it’s your move.

Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.
About the Author: Sam Eaton is a writer, speaker, and in-progress author who’s in love with all things Jesus, laughter, adventure, hilarious dance parties and vulnerability. Sam is also the founder of Recklessly Alive Ministries, a mental health and suicide-prevention ministry sprinting towards a world with zero deaths from suicide. Come hang out with him at

Friday, February 10, 2017

The “Inappropriate” Police

Have you ever been ticketed by the “Inappropriate police?” 

They are the voices of people who always know better, lack tolerance, and in some cases look down their disapproving noses as they pronounce you inappropriate.

Just the sound of the word sounds so proper and somehow … British.

What drives a person to set the rules for all people? When did God appoint them police of all that is unsuitable?

As a recovering minister’s wife, I have felt the receiving end of many a stinging censorious barb. I absorbed it, usually with indigestion, and put on a smile and never let them see me sweat. 

I have a potent deodorant.

However...I draw the line if the aim is at another person.

When another soul is scourged by the very people who are suppose to be lovingly supporting, accepting, and being a role model to them, then its time to roll up my sleeves and say something.

Sticks and stones break some bones but words can injure, assault, and kill with their intent.

Those who put down others should be taken to the shed of enlightenment.

My first few years as a spouse of one in the ministry revealed a life lesson that no matter how hard you try you can’t please everyone and you can’t be perfect. Even if you were perfect … you could not pass the test of the Inappropriate Police. 

Their rules are harsh and unbending.

They come in all shapes, sizes, cultures, religions, including the non-religion folks.

You may have a touch of it yourself. You may think stuff, and hopefully, never say it aloud. We all come across people we disapprove of but the test is how we treat them. 

One example I have experienced.... the appropriateness of dating after being widowed. There are widely debated rules for both men and ladies.....apparently.

When is it appropriate to show up at the widow man’s door with steamy casseroles? I know of women who begin the hunt the day after the deceased wife’s funeral. 

My not my grandmother...she began her plan during the wake of her future third husband’s wife. Too soon?

Women can target a grieving husband and we all smile at the humor of it, but let a woman start dating a short time after her husband is buried and a few higher and mightier folks get all pious in ‘Thou shalt not’ mode.

One of the most spiritual and Godly women I have ever had the privilege knowing waited years the first time she was widowed, and the second time a few months. She was concerned she would be judged.

Time is our enemy. If our relationship ends with a satisfied closure which death can be, then it is healthy for one to open their heart. No one should reject the opportunity for companionship because of a calendar.

For the record, I failed to wear black after the funeral of my husband, and I made a conscious decision that life was way too short and I was going to live the rest of mine. I opened myself to finding the new me, finding love, and finding more of God’s blessings. 

So, critics abound. They judge and say harsh things all in the defense of being the inappropriate police. 

Church has the best folks in the world and then, it has some of the most critical. We should always remember, not everyone who goes to church is a true church member.

Once in choir practice a choir lady called out a woman for wearing cullotes to practice, that is the blend of shorts and skirt. As the woman had only recently joined the choir, the choir lady’s denouncement of her attire was deeply wounding. 

We all have heard tells of church police who tag youth with the stinging retort of their inappropriate attire; thereby wishing them to be clothed suitably but lost eternally.

Some rules are man’s creation, and for the critical Christians, Jesus never attacked anyone for their sin, improper attire, only for their judgmental attitude. He ate with sinners, declined throwing stones, and accepted the worse of humanity with open arms. His only fit was against those making profit on the church grounds.

But let us get real serious.........

Righteous folks attach their anger, their disapproval of sin to the sinner.
If someone lives a lifestyle that is different from what our moral plan calls for then we end up attaching our disgust for the sin to the person. For example, listen to a perfectly sweet Christian lady speak and watch as she transforms when you mention anything about a homosexual. The look, the arch of the head into disapproval mode, and the lack of tolerance all click into place....obvious to the person who is being judged and not loved.

This pain of rejection is almost like collective bullying, sending many into the pits of despair and suicide... when our love and acceptance of them as a person could have changed lives for the better. 

The snarly look of disgust reminds me of the look some white people use to get when you mentioned something about the black culture. Same reaction, same look, same prejudice.

If you ask me, it is inappropriate to hate.

It is easy for some to live their life clean of poor choices, set themselves better because of it, but the truth be told, it takes someone of a bigger heart, a bigger faith to speak words of encouragement, acknowledgment and understanding than all the years a person has gone without messing up.

It is also appropriate for life to go on after a loss of a partner. It is not for anyone to condemn someone’s way of grief. It is not right to make snap judgments about someone’s character because they open their heart to love again not on an approved schedule of others opinions.

It should be about feeling joy that someone is not alone and hurting; that life goes on. 

Yet, the inappropriate police will relish the taste of condemning a person for what they feel is an unsuitable behavior.

  • Shame on those who point fingers and wag. 
  • Shame on those who ‘know’ better. 
  • Shame on those who feel the need to police the behaviors of others. 
  • Shame on those who speak such poison.

I declare that these Inappropriate Police are highly INAPPROPRIATE.   
Each day is a gift. Live and love. Even if it’s the day after you bury a loved one. There is no guarantee that you will have another day. 

No one is perfect and forgiveness is very appropriate.