Why Millennials Might Feel Alone In Their Churches

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).

Image from PewForum.org

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

Still Struggling Even When Life Is Good? It’s Not Just You

Do you ever feel like everything’s going really, really well in all the parts of your life except inside your head? That’s where I’ve been at for a while now. I started grad school and that’s going really well. I’m teaching and tutoring a wide range of ages and subjects and that’s going really well. I have great relationships with my parents and siblings, I’m getting a new sister next year when my brother gets married, and I have a stable, supportive church family. It’s all fantastic. This is probably the best my life has ever been.

And yet, I keep finding myself sinking into depression and struggling with anxiety. What if all this goes away? Going to grad school was always my back-up plan and if that doesn’t work I don’t have anything in mind to fall back on. I look at what’s going on in the world today, and I don’t really have a lot of confidence that society’s going to remain stable. I tell myself that I’m okay with being 32 and single–that I’m not sure I even want a relationship at this point–but then I feel like I might be lying to myself. So I start worrying, and then I feel guilty for worrying, and then I worry about how my glumness is affecting the people around me. And when people who care about me notice there’s something wrong I struggle to tell them what’s wrong because there’s no good reason for all this worry.

This post isn’t just about me sharing my struggles, though. I’m going to be okay–I’m seeing a counselor again a couple times a month to help get myself back on track with my mental health. My reason for writing today is to get us thinking about how to work through the guilt, shame, and disconnected feeling that can go along with having mental health struggles when everything in life seems to be going well. I often hear people talk about how it’s normal to struggle with depression and anxiety when things in your life aren’t good, or recommendations to focus on the positive and get engaged with your life so those feelings will go away on their own. But what if things are already good, and you are engaged with all the positive things in your life, and you still struggle? That can be “normal” too. Not normal in the sense that it’s a good thing to stay there, but normal in the sense that there are lots of other people struggling with it as well.

Fighting the Battles in our Heads

Some time ago, I wrote a post called “Fighting Something You Can’t See.” I’ve been thinking about that idea recently, and I just went back and read what I wrote three years ago. Near the end of that post, I said, “It’s so hard for me to turn anxiety over to God. In a way, letting go of the thoughts demanding constant attention doesn’t seem safe. … [but] God doesn’t want us to cower in the face of attacks inside our minds. He wants to help us fight back. Casting our anxieties on God frees us to let Him help us fight the real battle behind all the other struggles we face.” Past-me had some wise advice, and I think I need to tell myself this once again.

This idea that God wants us to keep trusting Him during the tough times is also something I’ve been studying recently, sort of by accident. It came up when I was reading Peter’s letters as part of studying for the next post in my new series on the general epistles (you can read my post on James here). Peter spends a lot of time, especially in his first letter, reminding people that confronting trials is a normal part of being a Christian and that the source of those is the adversary, the devil who stalks about like a lion seeing to devour God’s people. Peter is also very clear that, with God’s help, we can resist this adversary.

And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11, NET

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1:2-3, NET

God gives us tools for success. He does not promise we won’t face trials or that we will not need to fight battles. Rather, He says He’ll be with us through those things. James and Peter even agree that we can have joy during the challenges and trials we face. That joy comes from us having faith faith and hope that provide context for understanding what we’re going through (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Practical Steps We Can Take

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

It’s all very well to talk about having faith, hope, and joy when we face trials and using the tools God gives us, but how does that work in real life? As I think most Christians who struggle with mental health issues can attest, it’s not like we haven’t tried praying about these things. We know we’re supposed to turn things over to God and stop worrying, but if you’re like me you’re not really sure how to do that.

I’m going to share a few tips now for practical steps that we can take. Some of these work for me already, while others are recommendations that others have shared and which I’m working on trying out. It’s not an exhaustive list, and since we’re all so different they won’t all work for everyone. I hope, though, that you’ll find something here that’s helpful for you or which sparks an idea of something that might help.

  • Practice mindfulness. My dad, sister, and counselor have all stressed this to me recently. It’s not a good idea to live in the fearful “what ifs” of the future. They might not happen at all, and we don’t really have control over them anyways. As Jesus says, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34, NET). Being mindful of the present is a conscious choice/effort. It’s part of taking “every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NET).
  • Keep the context in mind. When we’re struggling with something inside our minds, we need to remember that we’re not alone and that this is a very real fight. Paul counsels us to remember that “though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds,” including ones inside our own minds (2 Cor. 10:1-5, NET). When you feel like your mind’s under attack or like you’re fighting against something, you’re not going crazy. We are fighting in spiritual battles, and we are not doing it alone. Remind yourself of this, and go to God in prayer. Ask Him to keep His promise to fight alongside you.
  • Sing and praise. One way to counter the dark things inside our minds is to speak light out of our mouths. Did Paul and Silas sing in prison because they were so happy to be there, or because they knew that praise would connect them with God, who is the source of the strength and joy they’d need to get through this? (Acts 16:24-26). I’m not sure, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s not very helpful to try and muster up joy silently when we’re struggling. We need to speak/sing to God whether we feel like it or not, and then the joy may follow that. I know I tend to feel better when I sing and listen to Christian music, but I’ve gotten away from that recently. Today as I write this, I’m listening to a lot of Jean Watson and I find that music very uplifting. I also find Jason Gray’s “Sparrows” very fitting for how I feel right now.
  • Talk with someone. I know it’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not let people know how much you’re struggling. But the people who love you would rather have you let them know what’s going on and how they can help and support you than to have you struggle on your own. And if you don’t have anyone you can talk with (or even if you do have someone but your struggles are still having a negative impact on your life), I highly encourage you to seek professional counseling. Click here to start searching for therapists in your area.

Those are the four things I’m using right now to try and work through the anxiety and depression that I’ve been dealing with recently. I’d love to hear from anyone else who wants to share their experiences in the comments or who has advice for others going through similar things. What tips do you have for maintaining a focus on God and holding on to joy during times of inner struggle?

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What Do You Do When You Don’t Feel Good Enough?

Have you ever read one of those self-help books, articles, or blogs that encourages you to think you’re enough? That who you are is “good enough” and you don’t have to keep trying to measure up to an impossible standard?

I’m sure for some people this is encouraging. But what about when you don’t feel good enough?

If you’re really struggling with feelings of unworthiness, then just hearing assurances that you really are good enough isn’t going to help much. Positive affirmations have their place but they can’t dislodge or replace thoughts that are really rooted into your mind. They’re not a substitute for personal growth work and (in some cases) getting help from a professional therapist.

So what do you do when you feel like you’re unworthy? How do you change things when you think you aren’t “good enough” and this belief is part of what defines you?

Figure out where this thought came from

When you struggle with ongoing feelings of unworthiness, combating the voice that says “I’m not good enough” can often be easier when we understand where it’s coming from.

Therapist Karyl McBride says, “this message of unworthiness” usually “goes back to the family of origin” (“Do You Feel Not Good Enough?”). At some point, someone or something that had a deep impact on your formation as a person put the message “you’re not good enough” inside you. It may have been deliberate or accidental, but the fact remains many people picked up the idea that they’re unworthy from other people while they were growing up. Read more

It’s Okay to Ask for Help with Your Anxiety

Have you ever thought that maybe you’re going through something that you can’t handle on your own, but something held you back from asking for help?

That’s a feeling quite a large number of people who struggle with anxiety (and I’m sure other mental health issues as well) can relate to. Maybe you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to bother with therapy, or you’re concerned that therapy won’t do you any good. Or maybe you’re worried about what other people will think of you if you seek help. Perhaps it’s a financial concern, or pressure from someone in your life, or something else entirely that’s telling you not to ask for help.

The stigma against talking about mental health issues is lessening, but it hasn’t gone away completely. Admitting we need help with something that’s going on inside our own heads is rarely easy. But there’s nothing wrong or weak in seeking help. Rather, it’s a choice of strength and self-care to seek out the help you need when you’re struggling with anxiety.

Waiting 10 years for treatment

While some of the things I’m going to say in this post might apply to other mental health issues, I’m going to focus on anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) because that’s what I have direct experience with.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “fewer than 5% of people of with social anxiety disorder seek treatment in the year following initial onset and more than a third of people report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.” And even though anxiety disorders in general are considered highly treatable, “only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.” Read more

Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com