Don’t Drink, Don’t Smoke, Don’t Chew… Or Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church

randomlychad  —  August 7, 2013 — 9 Comments

And don’t run around with girls that do. My wife and I were talking about this last night. There’s some wisdom to this. There’s enough objective science out there which shows that:

Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful

Smoking causes cancer

And so does smokeless tobacco.

But none of these rules is the Gospel. And the last line (“Don’t run around with girls who do”) marginalizes a whole people group who need to hear that Gospel–the “Good News.”

Right from the get go, people who do those things–smoking, drinking, chewing–get the distinct impression that they’re not welcome in our churches. The implicit message is conform to our expectations, and then (and only then) you can be one of us…

Instead of the other way around, where we say “Jesus loves you, and so do we. Come to him.” It’s not “Clean up, and come to Him.” Rather, come to Him, and He’ll clean you up.

Which brings me to millennials. They’re not good conformists. They’re the square pegs in round holes. They don’t experience God necessarily in the same way you and I do.

But who are we to say they can’t come?
I think this is why they are leaving the church in droves–and this, though the window dressing might be different–is the same reason people have been leaving the church since time immemorial:

They’re fed up with a Gospel of don’ts–don’t do this, don’t do that, Christians don’t [fill in the blank]. Instead of being known for the Big Someone (Jesus) that we’re for, we’re rather known for our rules (which we can’t even quite seem to keep ourselves), for what we’re against.
Hear me carefully here: what I’m not saying that the church is any more full of hypocrites than any other human institution–because it’s no more, or less, so than any other human institution. Hypocrites are like Mr. White in Quantum of Solace, who said, “We have people everywhere.”

What I am saying is that, because of that implicit message we peddle, the church is more open to the charge of hypocrisy. And millennials, like Holden Caulfield, are particularly adept at sniffing it out.

So the $64,000 question: How do keep millennials from leaving? We need to be authentic, get real, and be vulnerable. Admit it when we screw up. And stop lading people down with rules we can’t even keep ourselves.

Moreover, who says it’s our job to keep them from leaving? The Father let the Prodigal go… And maybe that’s what we need to do, too. Watch, pray, and look for the return. But for goodness’ sake we can’t hold onto those who don’t want to be there.

We can’t want something for another more than they themselves want it. Oh, we can, but you know the expression about leading a horse to water, right? The horse has to drink from the fount of its own accord.

So what do we do then? As the late Chuck Colson asked, “How now shall we live?”

With integrity, and with love.

Like Jesus. (A tall order, I know).




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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers.Subscribe to RandomlyChad by Email

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  • craigbooker

    Many questions and areas going on in this article. I would narrow it down to following the law versus following by faith in Christ. I believe a lot of millennials are abandoning following the law, but not the Church itself. They want to fight for a cause. Something which matters. Lasting impact is more important to this generation than ever.

    • Point taken. There’s no significance, thus no buy in, in following the law for the law’s sake.

  • troy mc laughlin

    Yes Chad great post. I believe Christ’s version of what the world would see in the church was love. That kind of kills the rules and laws way of thinking in the church. We can’t clean up others anyway. That’s God’s alone. Jesus did what we could never do and died as a result. His blood for my soul. Thank God for this.

    • “HIS blood for my soul.” Love that, Troy! Amen!

  • I’m not a millennial (by a long shot, haha) but the one big push-back I felt as I was becoming closer to God was that I couldn’t continue to be myself. I had this overwhelming fear that I was going to have to change, clean up my act, stop doing certain things, though I didn’t have a clue what those things might be. I just had the feeling that parts of myself were going to be taken away from me. Maybe this was just the feeling of being convicted for my sins, or just the fear of having them pointed out to me, which is not a pleasant idea. But I can’t imagine feeling that way and at the same time being pressed upon by a group of people (who should be supporting me and loving me) that lots of things about me are wrong, being told that I have to a long way to go to belong to God.

    And you’re right, the closer I got to God, changes occurred in me naturally. I didn’t need a congregation for that; God took care of it.

    • I know, right? Scary thought. We’re all quite good enough at condemning ourselves that we don’t need any help. But, yeah, if we listen to that still, small voice we’re always much better off (even if it hurts).

  • J. S. Bailey

    I’m a “Millennial,” am part of the church, and have never left. It never even occurred to me that I could leave if I really wanted to. And why WOULD I want to?

    I do wish more of my generation would come back. It’s kind of sad being one of the only non-gray-haired people in the pews each Sunday.

    • It is sad. The dilemma is so multifaceted that I feel like I barely touched on it here. I mean there’s the perceived irrelevance, perceived hypocrisy, rules presented as Gospel (outside of any relational basis), and people feel like their stories aren’t being heard. I could go on…

      Thanks for commenting!

  • brianboyko

    I’m not sure you have this right at all.

    To be fair, the church has always been one of dont’s -- starting from Moses bringing down the Tablets -- but that’s not the reason why Millenials are leaving the Church.

    The reason most leave the church is because it’s *no longer* taboo to leave the church.

    Previous generations had their atheists and agnostics, but socially, they were pressured by friends and family to at least “keep up appearances.” That’s not the same thing today, as the Internet provides the millennial generation with a support network that assures them that: “No, you’re not crazy for thinking that religion is crazy,” “Yes, you’re still an okay person if you don’t believe in an invisible man in the sky,” and giving them the information that they need in order to make sense of the world without religion -- through science.

    And the funny thing about religion is that it requires conformity in order to prosper. That is, if you know an atheist and they seem to be an okay, good person, then it exposes the lie in the idea that you need religion in order to be moral. So the more people who reject the Church, the easier it is for others to reject the church.

    And that’s a very good thing.