Where church goes wrong for many millennials

Disco lighting
In this 2011 file photo, Urban Jerusalem congregants raise their bibles to the beat of churchgoer Dwayne Brown's performance.
Nikki Tundel | MPR Photo file

If churches really want to get millennials in the pews, they should stop trying to make church "cool," wrote Rachel Held Evans in a recent piece for the Washington Post.

Americans who are under 30 are not showing up at church in nearly the numbers that their parents did at that age. This is not to say they're not interested in spirituality, Evans said in an interview with MPR News' Kerri Miller.

"Young people are still interested in religion, still interested in spirituality, but they're just not finding that in church for a lot of reasons," she said.

Evans said that as churches struggle to bring in and keep worshipers, they often miss the point by making the service a bigger show or offering giveaways.

"I think it's a misunderstanding of how millennials think," she said. "We're not quite as shallow as people assume and sometimes those gimmicks and those desperate attempts to be cool actually end up turning us off. Like any other demographic we're just looking to connect with God and to one another, so you don't have to wear skinny jeans and give us lattes to get us back."

Churches can do a better job offering younger people a "mystical connection with God" and a more welcoming space that acknowledges the changing attitudes about social issues like same-sex marriage.

"A lot of millennials, like myself, feel that church is not a safe or good place to talk about that kind of thing: To talk about their doubts about Christianity... their big questions about science and faith, and how that all works together," Evans said. "We feel like church is where you kind of come once you've put yourself together rather than church being a place where you show up broken and doubting and questioning and struggling. The reasons for leaving are a lot more deep and a lot more personal than just creating enough programming for them."

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