The worship engagement of Missing Millennials in existing worshipping communities continues to hover around 4%, 5% on a good day. As I have begun engaging those who stayed (remained somewhat active and engaged in a local church) with those who strayed (left the church), and those who never played (never made church part of their lives) I have found some interesting categories among the “strayers” and the “never players.” They seem to fall into one of three categories: the anti-spiritual, who believe spirituality and church are essentially a waste of time; the pseudo-spiritual, who in some way create their own personalized faith system that may only make sense to them; and the spiritually apathetic, who really just don’t care one way or the other.
Almost a decade ago Jesse Ventura made the headlines when he said, “Christianity is for wimps.” People of faith, offended and defensive, quickly paraded Christian athletes, weightlifters, and bikers to prove that “real men love Jesus.” Regardless of what you think of Mr. Ventura, he was expressing a sentiment that I have found underneath the surface for many young adults, that is that spirituality, of any kind, is a waste of time. They don’t really care if you believe as long as you don’t expect them to adhere to any religious tenets or fundamentalist belief system. Though probably not all the way over to an atheist mindset, these neo-agnostics assume that God may have wound up the clock and set it free or, if there is a God (or gods), god is too busy for the likes of us. Why bother wasting time with the intangible when the real world is hard enough to understand?
The pseudo-spiritual cobbles together a belief system with components and elements from all sorts of faith traditions. Some forgiveness from Jesus, some self-awareness from Buddha, maybe some Hindu dietary practices, with a side order of meditation to round out their spiritual life. They don’t feel the need to create any form of systemic belief system or establish any rules of practice, they just adopt what they like, and jettison the rest. Spirituality is about creating inner peace and feeling good about yourself, anyway, isn’t it?
The spiritually apathetic seem to be an interesting hybrid between the anti-spiritual and the pseudo-spiritual. My conversations with these young people reveal that they were probably active at some time in their life but when they became less active, and eventually completely disengaged, they really didn’t miss it. They don’t really mind attending Christmas Eve worship with their parents or showing up at Easter to keep grandma happy, but in actuality they just spiritually don’t care. The most troublesome part of this group is that at one time in their life they cared very much about their faith journey but as they matured they realized that the complexities of life were not answered by the simplistic Sunday School religion they were taught. The world did not fit into simple categories so they simply grew apathetic assuming that if they ever needed a church it would be there but essentially not caring if it was there or not.
Until we realize that these young adults aren’t coming back just because they get a little older and then decide to engage them in authentic, agenda-free relationships, we will continue to struggle with why they are missing from our pews and our lives. I want to challenge you to build a relationship, a friendship, with some one who is anti-spiritual, pseudo-spiritual, or spiritually apathetic, not to get them into the church, but to let them into your life so that their voice can resonate in your heart and perhaps, together, we can discover how to communicate with the missing millennials.