The surprising reason millennials are leaving the church

Young people want a more relevant church experience... right? I mean, if we made the music louder, put in concert lighting, and preached on topics like dating and grace millennials would come flooding through our doors?

If we mis-diagnose the problem, we will never heal the ailment.

Sure, modernisations that enhance a church service may help. But we need to dig deeper.

Digging deeper means peeling back the layers of church services, programs, styles, and get to the core issue - culture.

Culture is never just about what you see at a surface glance. It is comprised of intangibles - it is about how someone feels. The assumption that if church services where more modern and entertainment based that millennials would come running back to church is a mis-read. It assumes millennials are shallow. They don’t want to contribute. They don’t want deep teaching. And on these matters, we couldn’t be further from the truth.

The facts show us a different story. Millennials are educated. Cause driven. Mission focused. Deep thinkers. 

I am a millennial. I almost left church. Now, to my own surprise, I pastor a church that reaches a lot of millennials.

Want to learn a bout about Millennials? Let me tell you about one - me.

Born in 1982, I sit on the boundary between Generation X and the Millennials. While I don’t completely fit in either generation, my age gives me a unique insight into both.

My childhood involved riding my Huffy BMX bike unsupervised through the leafy Western suburbs of Brisbane, where for 20 cents I could play arcade video games at the local fish and chip shop. My only rule—come home when the sun sets. Atari. Hyper-color t-shirts. The Wonder Years. The 80s was a cool decade to grow up in.

I am also an early settler of the digital era. I’m not a true native, but I was young enough when the digital revolution hit to catch the first wave and adopt technology early. I was streaming movies before Blockbuster went bankrupt. I was blogging at 18. I traveled the world in my early twenties, seeking experiences over structure. I rejected the hierarchical church structures I was raised in, and went in search of more fluid, relational models. I embraced technology instinctively as a norm in almost every area of my life.

I have experienced life in both analog and digital. My childhood and early teens were not just another era; they were another way of living that has long passed. True Millennials and Generation Z have only ever known a digital world. Their worldview starts at a very different place than all other generations.

The sound of dial-up Internet is still familiar to me. I can remember searching for the VHS tape behind the cover in Blockbuster video stores, and I even carried a Walkman on the way to school to play cassette tapes. I grew up in an analog environment, but during my teenage years, I also experienced the genesis of the digital age.

It doesn’t surprise me when I read almost universal statistics of Millennials abandoning church. Church, unlike many other industries, has not had its prevailing model disrupted by generational change or technology to the extent that it has been forced to undergo a complete rebuild. Think Kodak film vs. digital cameras. Airbnb vs. the hotel industry. Uber vs. taxis. If church history teaches us anything about ourselves, it is this: we (the church) have a remarkable ability to insulate against mega-changes in society and maintain our status quo.

The Big Change? Culture.

I have segmented church culture into 8 different layers, and written about the unique challenges, and cultural solutions to reaching Millennials. For more, please go to Amazon to get my book in Kindle or paperback.

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