Dr. Alex McFarland, Author of the New Millennial-Focused Book
‘Abandoned Faith,’ Reveals What They Are Looking for in a Church
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Study after study confirms several hard-hitting and alarming facts—that millennials are walking away from their faith, disillusioned with the church and not living by a biblical worldview.
But what’s the solution?
Religion and culture expert, national radio host and author Dr. Alex McFarland (www.AlexMcFarland.com) is the co-author of the new book Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials Are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home,” co-written with apologist and evangelist Jason Jimenez. In “Abandoned Faith,” McFarland explores why millennials are leaving the church and how those who love them can bring them back.
In Chapter 4, he specifically takes a hard look at the church and how it is failing millennials.
“Traveling to churches across the country, I have seen a wide variety of congregations,” McFarland writes. “From churches that meet in steepled buildings with stained-glass windows to those located in former Walmarts, gatherings vary more today than perhaps any other time in American history. Despite this variety across our nation, unprecedented numbers of millennials are finding ways to exit church life rather than join it.
“Why?” he continues. “Who is to blame for the millennial generation’s mass exodus from church involvement? The answer depends on whom you ask. Older Christians tend to blame younger ones—just as previous generations did. Young adults, including many Christians, have listed multiple reasons why the church became irrelevant or harmful in their lives. There are problems on both sides, with churches shrinking and millennials seeking spirituality in all the wrong places.”
“Abandoned Faith” seeks to point the way to recovery. The church is called the bride of Christ and is clearly important to Jesus. Yet many churches have failed to reach the next generation, while many millennials have not recognized the important role the church can play in their lives.
In his new book, McFarland points to three major ways the church is failing millennials:
- Valuing Tradition over People
The first and most notable way the church has failed millennials is by considering tradition to be more important than people. Many church leadership meetings focus on immediate issues: financial concerns, building renovations and the next children’s program. Unfortunately, praying for and pursuing young leaders often takes a back seat.
“Two extremes have developed in response to this unhealthy focus on ‘business as usual,’” McFarland says. “First, some churches have decided to start new ministries or completely ‘rebrand’ the church to appeal to the next generation. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. The unchurched community simply continues as-is and doesn’t even notice the new dress code or sign on the highway.
“The second extreme is an unhealthy change in doctrine,” he continues. “To appeal to more people, some congregations and entire denominations have shifted convictions regarding marriage and even their belief in Scripture as God’s perfect, inspired Word. These changes may or may not appeal to those seeking a new church, but they certainly do not please God, the One we are called to ultimately honor. If the goal of the Christian life is to bring glory to God, then remaining faithful to biblical convictions is essential.”
- Making Safety More Important Than Service
Another way the church has failed millennials is less obvious, but just as concerning. Protection and security became of primary importance to the previous generation. Parents sought to guard against “evil” influences by restricting their children to consuming only “approved” music or films. Many churches, in response, moved out of urban locations and into relatively safer suburbs.
“Christian schools expanded, as did universities, so many children were exposed to only ‘safe Christian kids’ until young adulthood,” McFarland writes. “While these efforts were well-intended, the abundance of caution led away from serving real needs in local communities. To their credit, many millennials see the importance of social justice as a vital part of life—serving the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the orphans, the widowed and the enslaved. Unfortunately, many churches have not prepared this generation for such service, leaving young adults serving through secular organizations because they consider the church irrelevant.”
- Choosing Comfort over Cause and Community
An enormous shift has also taken place because of the rapid growth of the American megachurch, McFarland notes. The church became more businesslike and organized in the pursuit of “excellence.”
“While these types of seeker-friendly churches have helped some people, they have generally left a bad taste in the mouths of millennials,” McFarland says. “This generation tends toward an anti-corporate mindset that values informality and seeks family rather than a cool children’s ministry for their kids or a fancy logo on a coffee mug for visitors. Young church seekers are just as happy at a 100-year-old church or storefront as a megachurch campus. They couldn’t care less about the next building project, but they deeply care about finding a small group of friends they can call in a time of crisis.”
McFarland also pointed to the fact that many millennials have distaste for how rigid church has become. They do prefer a church with structure, but not one so rigidly traditional that they don’t have a say.
“Growing up in the church, for most millennials, was awkward,” he said. “Much of the feedback we have gotten about their experience with church was that it didn’t feel natural to them. They were told church was a place to be free and open, but generally millennials never did fully engage. They kept to themselves. Some millennials raised in the church have known an old-fashioned, exclusive, and judgmental form of Christianity with a chip on its shoulder. They perceive the older generation as forecasting ‘gloom and doom’ for America’s future.”
He also referenced a CNN column by Rachel Evans called, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.” She cited several key reasons that speak to the generational differences defining millennials:
- What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
- Millennials want an end to the culture wars and a truce between science and faith.
- They want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
- Millennials want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or nation.
- It’s important that millennials’ LGBT friends feel truly welcome in their faith communities.
- Millennials want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
“We need to remember,” McFarland says, “that millennials aren’t against spiritual things or religious observances. They are opposed to a watered-down version of Christianity that emphasizes a whole lot of judging and not a lot of loving. Or as Jonathan Swift put it, ‘We have just enough religion to make us hate but not enough religion to make us love one another.’”
To book Dr. Alex McFarland for interviews or receive a review copy of “Abandoned Faith,” contact Beth Harrison at 610-584-1096, ext. 104, Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, or Deborah Hamilton at 215-815-7716 or 610-584-1096, ext. 102.