In 2014, the Barna Group, a leading research organization, conducted a study that indicated an ongoing silent migration away from the church.
According to the study, an estimated 3,500 people leave the church each day, and over 1.2 million people will leave the church in the next year.
In a recent news release about the study, Barna cited many contributing factors, with the largest being an overall sense of disconnection to the local church.
“When asked about the importance of church in their lives, 80 percent of 14-33 year-olds reported that church was 'not important' to them,” said the release. “’Millennials,’ as they are often called, have very different preferences of what church should look like compared to their parents. Millennials prefer worship spaces that are quiet and decorated in a classic style. They prefer casual dress and a sense of community over privacy."
Clint Jenkin with the Barna Group says, “Millennials don't look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”
In short, churches do not need to create ultra-modern worship spaces to connect with young people, but rather create an environment that engages and inspires.
Ultimately, while the trend of young people leaving the church is troubling, there is hope. Churches should continue to reach out to their community and engage with young people. Jenkin with Barna went on to say, “When Millennials visit your faith community, are they welcomed and respected, or harassed and put on the spot? Think about how you can respect and respond, rather than assert and demand. If, at the end of the day, teens and adults can say they met with God in your faith community, getting them to come back won't be much of an issue.”
Local pastor Terry Broome, of Broad Street Church of Christ in Scottsboro, believes the solution lies in showing the love of Christ and teaching enduring biblical truths in a secular world.
“By and large,” he said, “teenagers in America are being overwhelmed with a secular attitude. People are being bombarded with a sharp decline in moral values. Everywhere you turn, immorality is being plastered all over primetime television and other media. I believe far too many young people leave the Lord when they go away from home to college.
“We have active programs to instill in our young people their own faith and not a hand-me-down faith,” he said. “We have developmental programs where students arrive at an awareness of biblical truths for themselves. They need to come to see there is overwhelming evidence that God is real. Programs need to help them come to see Jesus as their Savior.
“There is room for entertainment,” he continued. “But you have to get down to the core and help them see for themselves that Jesus is the Lord of their lives.”
For the past 20 years, Donna King has been the pastor of the Scottsboro Circuit United Methodist Church. It is a group of three churches that includes Aspel, Hollis Memorial and New Hope United Methodist churches.
King agrees with Broome and believes the church can draw people rather than drive them away by simply following the commands of Christ.
“People are looking, watching and listening,” she said. “If every Christian was aware of that, it might make a difference in how we act. We have a responsibility to show the joy, peace and love that the world doesn’t have or even understand.”