In a recent blog, Shane Raynor addressed millennial myths and the real reasons that people leave the church. He argues that millennials are not a homogeneous group, and their decisions to disengage from the church vary greatly. Some are reasons that lead people of all ages to leave the church. He suggests five reasons that millennials leave. I don’t agree with all of them, but he does suggest one with which I resonate—“They don’t feel challenged”—but I see it in a slightly different way.
Raynor says, “Some of us have tried so hard to meet people where they are that we’ve made church too accessible. Most people want to grow spiritually, and it’s hard to do that in churches that spend an inordinate amount of time catering to the spiritual lowest common denominator. . . .People who don’t feel they have opportunities to move forward spiritually may leave church simply because they’re bored.”
I would suggest that challenge comes in many forms. If we pursue the idea that the common approach for many people today is to belong, behave, and then believe (rather than the old approach of believe, belong, behave), the challenge that young adults seek is not a higher level of spiritual engagement, but a desire to make a meaningful contribution in a supportive environment. Although it may seem trite to say it, “They want to make a difference.” Often this is seen as personal investment in service rather than becoming more spiritual. Unlike previous generations, young adults don’t want to take the time to “pay their dues” before serving. They have seen other generations who have worked up through the system and who have then found themselves marginalized and their leadership rejected.
Young adults do need to be challenged spiritually, but a foundation must be laid first. When it comes to spiritual growth, helping young adults to engage the Gospel in language that they understand and answering the questions they ask is not “catering to the lowest common denominator.” In a post-Christendom society, many young adults lack the vocabulary or context to pursue their spiritual quest in the ways familiar to a previous generation. Once on board, however, they are quick learners and find much in Christian doctrine, theology, and heritage to enrich their lives and help them grow spiritually.
So, I agree that we need to challenge young adults, but the form of the challenge must be concrete, meaningful, and engaging. Only then will they realize their need for a spirituality that will change their lives and their motivation.