Are Millennials Leaving Religion for Reasons Other than Politics?

This is a brief article based on an older Religious News Service article about the rise of the nones. Is it more than just politics that is resulting in millennials abandoning religion? I very much believe that the changing demographics is also a factor. 

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Robin Williams

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

John 10:28-30 ESV

San Francisco, California 

Are there more reasons why young people are leaving religion than just politics. Politics is huge and its a factor. When mainstream Protestantism was losing people the conservative evangelicals claimed it was because of theological liberalism. Now, conservative evangelicals are losing a large number of people. There are other factors that can also be a factor as told in this Religion News Service article


Delayed Marriage and the Change in Cities in the United States

We live in a time in which the demographics of society are changing. The population is shifting from the heartland to the coasts. You see this happen on both the West and East Coast of the United States. Cities are growing bigger than they were previously and this is happening as many people’s wages remain stagnant while their cost of living is increasing. Can you afford to get married in places like New York City or San Francisco when several people are trying to jump start a career and sharing housing with many people. Here in the Washington, D.C. area there are people I know who have left the region to head to Maine, or the Midwest to be in a more family conducive spot. But is that process also resulting in more people walking away from religion? 


Growth Among the Nones 

The nones are continuing to grow and are the fast growing “religious” group in the United States. Its my belief that the restraints that kept people from joining the nones has been removed. That has happened with people rel-locating for employment and being away from historical family traditions. The other factor is that religion can’t reach the nones because of their approach and a number of issues. I think the biggest is how religion has treated gays, and how some conservative evangelicals are acting towards gays. Case in point is gay marriage and how some evangelicals can’t separate the issue of state versus spiritual marriage. The nones are an issue that is growing and its time that people acknowledge it. As for myself religious people need to reflect on these issues and why this is happening. But for me the rise of the nones will lead to a lot of changes which will be good. 

4 thoughts on “Are Millennials Leaving Religion for Reasons Other than Politics?

  1. I think the internet may have as much or more to do with it. Back when I was young, I was happily ensconced in my church activities, and didn’t really give a second thought to whether my beliefs were correct. Until I got to college, and ran headlong into crazy shouting preachers like Brother Jed, and super fundamentalist groups like CCC. How could these be a reflection of the same religion that I was following? It got me thinking. With the internet, today’s young people are brought into contact with the world of other religious ideas far sooner and more often, and it doesn’t take leaving home to have those encounters anymore.

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    • I wouldn’t describe CCC (now Trendy “Cru”) as a “super” fundy group. The Navigators were far more “super fundy”, with a reputation for high burnout/flunkout rates. And there was always some local More-Christian-Than-Thou group (like the later Maranatha Ministries) who out-Naved the Navs. The Crazy was Strong in Those Ones.

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      • Compared to the Presbyterians I grew up with, and the Methodists I was hanging out with in college, Cru was super-fundy. There’s always crazier crazies out there, I ran into a high enough level of it to prod me into thinking about the whole mess, which is what was important.


  2. I think there are a large number of contributing factors to the rise of the “nones.” Some of these the church directly bears responsibility for, others are cultural obstacles which the church didn’t create but has struggled to overcome. I could create a very lengthy list, but I’ll offer a list of a few of the more significant ones I have seen over time.

    -There are a lot more “entertainment” options available to people these days and competing for attention. For example, instead of going to church, you could stay home and use the time to binge watch a season of a TV series. Taking the time and effort to go to church depends on people seeing something of value in doing so. Some churches have tried to combat this by becoming more or less entertainment centers themselves, with a bigger and better worship band and staging and lights, etc., with understandably mixed results.

    -Closely related to this, many people in society have tended to be increasingly isolated. Many people don’t do “community” as much as previous generations, not just with church but with other community-level organizations and functions as well. Most flourishing churches really function well as a community, but community is less and less of a draw for many in our culture. It can be seen as uncomfortable, and it can be seen as something that is going to place too many demands on time and energy.

    -As Ubi Dunium points out in another comment, widespread access to information on the internet means that Christianity today is just one world view competing in the whole big marketplace of ideas. We don’t have a captive audience any more, nor do we have the corner on religious perspective. If we want to compete in that marketplace of ideas, we had better have a strong clear distinct and differentiating message, and something to offer that the world and other religions can’t provide.

    -You mentioned the political. I believe the mission of the Christian church has suffered greatly by engaging so heavily in the political arena. Shouldn’t the church be offering something that the world is unable to offer, rather than strongly embracing the very things that the world embodies and embedding itself within a worldly system? And when people are basically told that in order to be a good Christian they must also be a strong political partisan who supports without question every single thing the party does and every single politician that represents the party, that is going to drive a lot of people away.

    -Hand-in-hand with the political is the growing involvement of many churches with culture wars. They draw a strong dividing line between US (our team the good, the righteous) and THEM (everyone else, who are terrible people and are nothing but enemies to be destroyed). Typically these culture wars line up with the political affiliation. A lot of people have no interest in being a part of a system that tells you to hate and oppose at least half of your neighbors because they aren’t on “OUR” team. Especially when such a message completely undermines the gospel message that is supposedly a foundation of the church, rightfully leading to the charge of hypocrisy.

    -We’ve seen far too many Christian leaders and churches that are characterized by greed and shameless self-promotion and self-enrichment, and/or characterized by abusive environments due to domineering and power-hungry leadership. Who really wants to be part of such such an enterprise? And when we don’t police this within our own faith and within our churches, and when we turn a blind eye to it, we all become complicit in the eyes of those outside the church.

    -We’ve allowed a schism to develop between faith and science. Both the church and science bear part of the blame for this. Too much of science dismisses faith as a legitimate perspective and calls it irrational. Too much of the church portrays science as inherently clashing with faith and, in the process, denies things that actually have a strong scientific basis. This leads people into a false choice between “faith and reason,” as if the only choices available are a faith-denying scientific approach or a modernity-hating science-denying superstition system. Both science and the church seem to have forgotten that many of the great scientists were people of faith who were trying to better understand the functioning of the universe that God made. We’ve made enemies out of world views that don’t really need to be enemies, and in so doing we drive a lot of people away from the church.

    Those are just a few of the dynamics I see. I’m now getting old enough to be able to see things such as these as longer-term trends. Obviously the church can’t be all things to all people, and it has to stand for something. But we also needlessly create obstacles and barriers which contribute to driving people away, and then wonder why the numbers reflect this.

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