Young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate. At least that’s the narrative you hear over and over again. As the narrative goes, these godless, self-centered, me-first, consumerist millennials are abandoning the church, the body of Christ, for individualistic spirituality. No more will organized religion suffice for them. They are forsaking the faith of their fathers. We should be concerned, very concerned!
Assuming that young people are, in fact, leaving the church in droves it raises a question: are millennials more godless than previous generations? It seems like obvious answer is “yes”; they’re leaving the church after all. But such a question deserves closer examination.
In decades past America was a traditionally churched, religious nation. A significant portion of society was religiously involved, and church was a cultural centerpiece. Those who grew up in explicitly religious families and contexts attended church out of habit. It was expected that come Sunday morning they would scrub behind their ears, put on their nice trousers and tie, and off to church they’d go. The power of cultural expectations was enormous. In entire swaths of the country a person was a pariah if he wasn’t a churchgoer. But no more. Sure, the Bible belt still exists, but the cultural pressure to be in church week in and week out has waned to near zero.
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So what is it young people are leaving behind? In many cases they are leaving a faux godliness. Millions of lost people, people hanging their hat on morality or mere attendance, populated the pews of the church in previous generations. They were just a lot harder to pick out than those who brazenly walk out the door, so hard we can’t even be sure how many there were.
To answer the question, no, millennials are not more godless. They’re just more obvious.
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