I had a strange moment at church several weeks ago. As I was sitting at a table fellowshipping after services and looked around, it hit me that I was the only person in my 30s in the whole room. That day, there wasn’t anyone there in their 40s, either. The 50-and-older and younger-than-30 age groups are well represented in my congregation, but there’s a whole generation that’s missing.
Technically, I suppose we do have some younger millennials and older Gen Xers, so it’s more like two halves of two generations. But there’s a whole two decades’ worth of people that’s represented by just a few people. I can find people my age and a little older if I travel to other congregations across the country, but it still seems like a pretty small number. And from what I’ve heard talking with people in other church groups and denominations, low numbers of Millennials and Gen X in Christian churches is fairly common. If you’re a Millennial who feels alone in your church, there’s a good chance it’s (at least in part) because you’re the only person there in your age-range.
Of course, I already knew that I’m the only person in my congregation in my 30s before that moment a few weeks ago. And I don’t really feel “alone” because I have great relationships with other people in the congregation who are younger than me or who are my parents’ age. But this time, I started to dwell on the idea of being the only one here since I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful that weekend (as I shared a couple weeks ago, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression again). I started worrying about whether or not my church group would vanish some day, decades from now, as the older people grew older and younger people moved away. I wondered if the younger people who are here would be ready and able (and if there’s enough of us) to step-in and take over service roles in the church in the years going forward as the people in their 50s, 60s, and older need or want to cut-back on their responsibilities. I started feeling sorry for myself, thinking about how this is one of the reasons I’m still single.
I journaled about these thoughts and mentioned them to my counselor, who reminded me this isn’t an uncommon thing to see when looking at Christian groups today. As I started writing this blog post, I did a little more digging into the numbers of Millennials and Generation X in churches. I found that a Pew research study in 2014 reported the number of people who say that religion is important to their life drops as the generations get younger. The younger the generation, the less likely they are to identify as Christian, believe in God, or place a high priority on any religion (click here for more info).
A more recent worldview survey released in 2021 by Arizona Christian University reported that “Millennials Seek a Nation Without God, Bible and Churches” (click here to read). Though 57% of Millennials (which this survey defines as those born between 1985 and 2002) identify as Christians, the report also noted that only 16% “can be classified as born-again Christians based on their beliefs about personal salvation.” This report also reminds readers that what’s going on with Millennials is continuing a trend away from belief in the Bible and God that began gaining ground with Gen X. It’s definitely a trend I’ve noticed among my Millennial peers and Generation Z as I interact with them at university.
My counselor is the one who suggested I blog about all this rather than keeping it just in my journal. It’s a relatable topic, since there are so many Christians in their 40s, 30s, and younger who feel like I did when they look around their churches. There just aren’t that many of us here. I’m not sure what the right word for this feeling is. “Lonely” or “alone” doesn’t seem to fit because we can still have great relationships with people older than and younger than us. No one in a healthy church ever needs to be alone since the church can provide a community and support system (though of course we can still feel lonely even when surrounded by people we genuinely like). “Underrepresented” is probably closer to what Millennials in the church face, but it seems a little odd to use in this context; as if Churches should recruit based on age rather than welcoming all faithful believers who are called by God.
As I’ve been working through my most recent struggles with depression and anxiety, I’ve been asking questions about my thoughts. Questions like “Is this helpful or useful?” and “Is this encouraging?” Musing on how lonely or underrepresented I could feel isn’t either of those things. But is there something helpful or useful that could come from thinking about the dwindling number of faithful people as we look at more recent generations? Perhaps there is.
I think it’s useful to acknowledge that people from certain age groups are less common in the churches for a few reasons. Firstly, it helps those of us in that age group know why we feel like there aren’t very many of us in the churches, and lets us know we’re not alone in that feeling. Knowing which generations seem less interested in and committed to faith also gives us a chance as churches to examine ourselves. The diminishing numbers of younger people is likely a sign of the increasing secularity of the world as we draw closer to the time of Jesus’s return. Even with that being the case, we should still see if there’s anything we ought to change and improve in order to be more faithful and therefore a better environment for new people (of all ages) whom God is calling. To give a few possible examples, we might guard more closely against hypocrisy, embrace enthusiastic worship services, preach a stronger message of personal responsibility, or show how meaningful a life of faith can be.
Ultimately, we can’t force people into churches to fill some kind of quota we set up in our minds. God the Father is the one who calls people, though we do get to participate in sharing the gospel. Prayer is the best thing we can do in response to worries, questions, or loneliness related to the decreasing interest in faith among young people or our feelings of being alone in our churches. We can pray that each of us, as individuals and as parts of church communities, be drawn into closer and more meaningful relationships with each other and God. We can pray for the gospel to reach more young people and touch their hearts. And if we are feeling lonely, we need to be praying about that as well. One of David’s psalms says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:6, WEB), and He can do that for each of us.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Are there any generations that seem to be “missing” from your church group? Or maybe you’re part of a group that does have a lot of people in their 40s, 30s, and younger and you’d like to share what that’s like. Let’s discuss in the comments!
Featured image by Anggie from Lightstock