In the first half of 2010, we conducted in-depth ethnographic interviews with 25 young adults (age 18-29) who are active in work for social justice and have a connection to local religious communities. Given that this Millennial generation has a higher proportion of religiously unaffiliated members compared to other generations, we were particularly interested in understanding what was working for them about church; why they thought church wasn’t working for so many of their peers; and what language and values they used to talk about the integration of social justice and their faith.▶ Read the full report here.
What Turns Millennials Off about Church
As the national research makes clear, the Millennial generation generally has more negative than positive associations with religion and Christianity in particular. About one-fifth of the young people we interviewed explicitly talked about feeling the need to be a “closeted” Christian around their friends because of all the negative associations their peers have about Christianity.
The young people we interviewed most frequently mentioned being anti-gay and judgmental as key attributes that turned off younger adults about contemporary churches. Many of these Millennials talked about LGBT equality as a kind of litmus test for evaluating churches.
Millennials lamented that many churches wanted them to fit into preexisting programs and structures, rather than creating programs that were responsive to their needs, styles, interests, and busy lifestyles.
Millennials were more interested in participating in a community than joining an institution.
What Millennials are Looking for in Church
Traditional programs, denominational orthodoxy, doctrinal purity, and traditional institutional membership are not appealing or important.
What is important or appealing:
- Church as a community that encourages responsibility for social justice activism.
- Church as an “oasis in a sea of noise,” a safe but challenging place of mutual concern.
- Church as a diverse community that broadens their worldview and circle of concern.
- Church as a place for critical thinking.
- Church as a place of creativity, open to the arts.
- Church as a place to recharge and rekindle hope in the face of overwhelming odds.
Three key values were prominent in our interviews with millenials:
- Social justice, which goes beyond charity and doing good works and extends to focusing on systemic change.
- Non-judgment, which was embodied in a live and let live attitude.
- Respect for ethnic and religious diversity and strong interfaith relations.
The Church and Politics
Millennials showed a general wariness about churches speaking out on political issues, particularly because of a perception that the churches that had done that the most had been hyper-politicized around opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.
Millennials demonstrated a higher comfort level with religious public engagement at the local grassroots level than at the national level.
Millennials believe churches should focus their engagement on actions that serve the common good or speak up for the oppressed rather than opposing a controversial issue because of theological objections▶ Read the full report here.