Norsworthy: Where have all the young people gone?

Published 9:14 am Friday, February 23, 2018

“Where are all the ‘young people’ in church?”

Maybe this is a question that people in your faith community or family have asked. Every denomination across the board is seeing declines in attendance, the most obvious being the younger generation.

This problem isn’t just in traditional or more liturgical type of churches either. It’s in every type of church on a broad spectrum of stylistic approaches. This decline can be zeroed in even more to millennials. They are leaving in droves … and I can’t blame them.

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I love millennials. Really. I love the way they see the world, I love their raw authenticity. I love it that they make people of faith step back and ask, “What is wrong with this generation of young people?”

A “millennial” is typically defined as someone born between 1982 -2000, hence the label. Millennials are often defined as entitled, lazy, addicted to social media, godless and one of “the problems” with society today. While that is a broad generalization of non-millennial thought, I believe it’s an accurate one. I just happen to disagree.

Of course, there are millennials who are all of the things mentioned above. There are even some who exhibit these characteristics knowingly and without desire to be different. These are the millennials I’m putting into a different bucket.

The millennials, however, that I’m speaking about might seem entitled, lazy, godless and pre-occupied but I think they just see the world, faith and the church differently. Could we take a moment and specifically talk about what’s making millennials leave communities of faith and find courage to adapt, without compromising the message? The faith of the next generation depends on it.


— value authentic community, rather than membership. Their sense of belonging isn’t about an official creed or roster they are on. It’s why country club memberships and long-term commitment endeavors are in sharp decline. They want to know and be known. Often a coffee with a friend at Starbucks is a more meaningful than checking into the Sunday morning worship hour. Dialogue about matters of faith will resound more than lectures about faith. They want to belong, even before they believe.

— Desire to love others over being right. I know this seems compromising, but it’s actually the opposite. Millennials often are accused of throwing aside moral standards as to not offend anyone. They are accused of personally having no moral compass and sway to whatever culture is selling. I don’t think this is the case. Rather, they have a deep sense that a person’s value isn’t wrapped up in the way that person behaves. This is why millennials have no problem worshipping and being in relationship with someone whose life looks very different than theirs.

— Don’t buy the reasoning “because the Bible says so.” Hold your stones! I know that statement feels all kinds of wrong. Let me explain. Simply making the statement “because the Bible says so” and wanting a millennial to believe it on that statement feels shallow to them. Instead, millennials want to reason. They want to be allowed space for doubt, questions and even objections.

Most often, millennials don’t reject absolute truth, they just want to investigate it on their own. Many faith communities don’t allow for time or patience for this. Instead we replace it with phrases like “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

I’m not indicting someone who says that. I believe that personally. I just know to engage the millennial generation we must allow for safe space to discuss truth, morality, and love without fear of judgement or being looked down on. The Bible is strong enough to face cross-examination and still come out on top. We must trust that.

Do you know what’s even better? Our faith doesn’t even rest on our ability to prove to a millennial that the Bible is 100 percent true, even though I personally believe it is. Our faith rests on an event, the resurrection of Jesus!

This was a historical event, something that can be discussed and even proven! This event was good enough for the 1st century church to explode in growth and honestly it’s good enough for us too. Do we want millennials to re-engage? Let’s begin with who Jesus is, and what he did. The rest will come.

I believe the best days of the church are still ahead. I can’t help to believe it. I know what Jesus said about His church and He’s not been wrong yet. I also believe millennials are a part of this too. We can expedite it by adapting.

We can become less concerned about structure and rigidness, and more concerned about building environments conducive to great dialogue.

We can choose to love others fully without behavior clauses, even when we don’t agree with their lifestyle.

We can choose to dive deep with people with questions and doubts about God, allowing them to come conclusions that are more deeply rooted than “I believed it because they told me to believe it.”

Do you know what we will find if we can do these things? We will find that the church will grow. We will find that the message won’t change, but our methods drastically will. We will find that millennials aren’t a disappointment to society or the church. In fact, we will find out just the opposite. Why do I believe all of this?

I am a millennial.

Adam Norsworthy has been the family pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church since February 2015.