So, I should start this post with a confession…I can't even spell the word "millennial." I had to Google it as I started writing. I should also go ahead and apologize to all my former English teachers for my horrible spelling abilities.
Until a few months ago, I think I had heard people talk about the millennial generation just a handful of times. In part, I think I was just oblivious, but, I also think there is a recent surge in discussions about my generation. Let's start with a definition: millennials don't have a specific age range, people will say it could be birth dates ranging anywhere from the mid/late 80's to the early 2000's. That's a pretty big range. This generation often gets a bad rap for being very "me" focused (selfies anyone?), but some people also think this generation also has a very strong sense of community both locally and globally. The thing I find most interesting however is how the millennial generation is leaving organized religion in droves, if they ever darkened the door to start with. According to Barna Research, 6 in 10 millennials leave the church as they reach young adulthood.
Naturally this has intrigued me. I am a millennial, having been born in the late 80's. I grew up in church most of my life. My faith flourished in college, where I felt like I really leaned into that personal relationship side of Christianity. And now I work full time for a large church in the Dallas area. I have had my ups and downs with the Church, even times where I have seriously considered walking away altogether, but I still come back over and over.
One thing that struck a nerve for me as I thought through why so many millennials are leaving and why I have considered leaving before, is how my generation has interacted with large corporations. I thought back to growing up in the 90's and then Enron and Clinton scandals. Both are large corporations, one a large business, one the federal government. Those are the first big scandals I remember hearing about and knowing about as a kid. Then comes the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Knowing that the largest, or one of the largest, church bodies in the world, systematically covered up abuse. That one still makes my stomach hurt. We also grew up in the era where we watched the Church schism over homosexuality and women. Personally I grew up in the Episcopal denomination and those fights were part of my reasoning to split with them when I left for college. The drama was just too much for me. Fast forward to 2008, the banking crises. Many of us had just graduated, or were about to graduate. We lost jobs or couldn't even get them because of the recession, that seemed to be all caused by large corporations. My friends and I, all armed with our new and shiny degrees ended up working retail and minimum wage jobs and moving home because we couldn't make rent. That was certainly humbling for this girl who always claimed, "I will never move home, I want to be independent when I graduate." That seems to be what happens when you say "I will never…", but I digress. I think the high number of divorces has also played a part. Marriages aren't quite an institution like a bank or the whole Church, but I think we tend to see them as something that should stand and last like an institution.
I know that these scandals are nothing new, but, I think more than the generations before us, we were constantly surrounded by the scandal, the heartbreak, the distrust of it all. We had 24-7 coverage of these events thanks to cable news and the internet. We had access to Facebook and Twitter giving us all the updates. We were aware of the mass of the failing by our government officials, by our church officials. We all witnessed our friend's (or our own) parents get divorced. You couldn't escape these events it if you wanted to.
So, I wonder, after a lifetime of exposure to these events what impact it has had on our beliefs about the church. And then, I started thinking about how we go about restoring the reputation of the church. How do we make people see the beauty of the Church and trust her again? I don't think I have an answer for this, it's just something I am mulling over right now.