In this episode, Dr. Jon Chasteen talks with millennials Megan White and Josh Pruis about why millennials are leaving the Church. What can church leaders do to reach people in this age group?
Dr. Jon Chasteen: So, today we’re going to have a healthy conversation about millennials in the church. And there’s many, many conversations on this. There’s many, many opinions on this. You might have heard opinions on this. You might have read about opinions on this. Carey Nieuwhof, a friend of mine does tons of articles on this, and there’s tons of data out there that describes the millennial generation leaving the local church. Barna Group, for example, published some studies where two in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending church is important. Only two in 10, 20% of people under 30, think that attending church is worthwhile. It’s at an all-time low. They also found that 59% of millennials raised in church have now dropped out. 60% of millennials have dropped out of church. 35% of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing that the church does more harm than it does good. And that is a really, really strong statement. But we got to look at this. We got to look at these things.
And here’s our approach to today’s podcast is many times you’ve heard podcasts. You’ve listened to articles of Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Silent Generation writing about millennials, and giving the why’s of millennials and giving their opinions about millennials. And while we could do that, there’s lots of research out there for that, what we thought we would do today is just ask a millennial directly what they think. And why is it that they believe that some of this was happening. And just to clarify, I think a lot of people like to talk about millennials, but maybe they don’t even know the age range of a millennial. And so, let’s just put that out there. But according to the American Psychological Association, a millennial is anyone born between 1981 and 1996. 1981 to 1996.
And right now, in 2019, those age ranges are from 23 years old to 38 years old. I’m 39. I missed it by one year. I am Gen X by one year. And so, anybody born after 1997 is Gen Z. So, we’re not talking about Gen Z today. We’re talking about millennials. And so, today I’m excited to have a couple of guests with us and they have very bravely come to share their opinions, and we’re anxious to hear what they have to say about the local church.
And so, their names are Josh and Megan. And let me just welcome you guys. Welcome to the podcast. We’re so excited that you guys will be with us today.
Josh Pruis: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Jon: Awesome. Well, I will spare you having to go back and relive any kind of your whole life story. I don’t need you to go all the way back to the day you were born and walk me through your life and what pastor hurt you and what was their name and what was the church name? This isn’t about bashing any particular church or any particular pastor or any particular event. But what we want to do is really pull some things out of you guys to help the local church, for the local church to see maybe where we’ve missed it, or maybe where we’ve done things a little wrong. And so, help us do this. And let me just start with this question. So, I found another research by the Barna Group. So, this is what statistics say, but I want to know what you have to say.
And so, according to this study, millennials are opting out of church for three factors. And I’m going to ask you what your opinion is. But according to research, the three most prevalent factors of millennials opting out of church are number one, irrelevance. It’s not relevant to my culture, to this day and age, whatever you want to say. The hypocrisy, the hypocrites. And number three, moral failures of its leaders. So, those were the top three things in this particular study. And so, do these resonate with you or is it something else completely different?
Josh: Yeah, I think that, for me, the tension was seeing a church that wanted so badly to be relevant, that it actually made them irrelevant.
Josh: And I think that that was the tension that I was feeling is this desire to have the answers to everything. The place to find answers, the place to get the best music, the place to be taught up and read up on everything. And the reality is is that we live, I mean, the millennial generation up until Gen Z coming behind us, we have access to more than any generation before us.
Josh: I mean, none of us are oblivious to this, but I mean, we can go on to our phones or computers right now and we could listen to podcasts of the best teachers in the world. And we could take classes through top educational institutions for free from our iPad. So, like we don’t need the saturation. We’re so saturated that the relevance factor, it made it feel irrelevant because what we really craved, I think, is something that is authentic and something that helps us feel like we have community. And so, the attractional church is irrelevant to a lot of millennials because the thing that it offers is something we don’t really desire.
Josh: So, the irrelevance factor is not that the church itself is irrelevant. It’s the way in which we’re doing church that’s just not relevant to the culture of the millennial, Gen Z and the generations to come. And I think that that’s it. For the hypocrisy thing, I think that that was a big tension for me when politics get involved in the conversation, where we can allow certain political agendas to tell us kind of what it means to be pro-life. Where I think that to be pro-life in a Christocentric perspective is much, much broader than voting along certain political lines. And that’s not to negate the conversation, but I would like to suggest that it’s, it’s bigger than that. So, yeah, I think that those are, for me, I would have maybe used different words, but I think that the heart of those struggles resonates with me as well. I don’t know. What do you think, Megan?
Megan White: Oh my gosh. Bottom line for me, it’s been pride. There is a lot of people in position of power with pride. If it’s a young hipster, a youth pastor, trying to get a bunch of followers on Instagram, trying to get a bunch of clout, trying to meet this certain level of all these tiers of pastors.
Megan: It affects everybody. And then people can’t trust you as easily because you’re only doing it for more tithers, more followers. You’re gathering instead of helping.
Megan: It’s really dangerous. And I saw that working for a church, is you would be in meetings with people on the worship team and how they spoke to you, how they spoke to other people, and then the following day, they’re up on the platform, faking it. That’s what we see. And so, obviously we’re not going to stick around because it’s not authentic.
Megan: It’s not true to what God is doing, or God is saying. But the other side of the coin is they’re humans.
Megan: And that’s what I’ve had to walk through so much is forgiveness, and they are human beings who are struggling, and they are struggling with their own thing that’s different than mine. Theirs might be pride or whatever it is, and I can’t keep holding that.
Megan: But I also can’t just go with it and join them.
Megan: And worship with them.
Jon: Yeah, there’s something there about, and it’s really one of the reasons that I got the opportunity to come down and work with a university. It was really appealing to me because as a senior pastor as well, I see some of the same things that you guys see. And obviously, like we said, the church is made up of humans.
Jon: So, it’s going to be broken.
Jon: Jacked up people.
Jon: We’re all jacked up.
Jon: So, one of the things that I came down here knowing, and what I’m seeing in young pastors is you spoke to it, Josh, is this desire, it’s like the definition of what a pastor is has completely changed in culture.
Josh: For sure, yeah.
Jon: It’s something I’m pretty passionate about where, I’m not saying all young pastors believe this because I do not think that’s the case, but deep inside the heart of every pastor is this desire to quote unquote, be somebody.
Jon: And right now in our culture as pastors, you aren’t quote unquote, somebody, unless you reach a certain pinnacle of Instagram followers.
Jon: And you’re on the teaching circuit.
Jon: And you’re on the conference speaking circuit.
Jon: And you have the look and you have the, and so what it’s doing is, it terrifies me, because it’s changing what it means to be a pastor. And this is what I tell young pastors, you are never more of a pastor than when you’re sitting on the bedside of someone that’s dying in a hospital room.
Josh: Amen, yeah.
Jon: Pastoring a group of four people, and no one will ever know that you ever did that.
Jon: I think Eugene Peterson is a testimony of one of the greatest pastors of somebody who is just willing to be unknown, pastoring a small congregation.
Jon: And so, I get that and I totally see what you guys are saying. And I so appreciate you guys’ honesty there. What are the challenges that the local church is facing today?
Josh: Just to add to the Eugene Peterson thing.
Jon: Yeah, please.
Josh: So, when I first came to The King’s to work on my M Div, I was starting to process a lot of this, and struggled with a lot of this. And I read a quote from Eugene Peterson. This is kind of my own paraphrase. I’m sure I’m not going to get it right from memory. But he said something along the lines of the role of pastor has been turned into social or something like spiritual entrepreneurs with business plans.
Josh: And that just cut so deep for me because I think it spoke to the tension that I was feeling. And I want to emphasize this. It’s not just the tension that I’m seeing in this church that’s all screwed up, but the tension I’m seeing in myself.
Josh: The tension that I’m wrestling with as somebody who is figuring out what it means to be a pastor and a preacher and a teacher. And then if you get affirmed that, “Oh, you can kind of communicate.” Then it’s like, oh man, maybe I could do that thing, but there’s that tension of going, but something feels wrong or hollow or inauthentic. And I think that that is the very challenge right now is that the church as it exists right now is in transition. And I think culturally, we’re in transition.
Josh: And this is something I talk about with a lot of my friends who are pastors at small community churches, or some of the biggest churches in the country, where we’re all feeling that tension of this transition that’s happening. Where church is going to have to look different. It just is going to have to. And for me, I had to come to the place of realizing that’s not to say that the church that is is wrong or evil or sinful.
Jon: Right. That’s right.
Josh: But it’s to say, praise God for what He did.
Josh: And what He has been doing and what He’s still doing.
Josh: In that church.
Josh: In the megachurch, the institutional church, the traditional church, however you want to speak to it. But there are some of us that are feeling the tension of realizing that the church to come is not a different church, but it is the next season of the church. And these transitions, they’re hard. I heard one guy who was speaking to this, Carlos Rodriguez, who was saying that there comes a time where when there’s new wine, you know when we talk about new wine in biblical language?
Josh: That there’s new wine skins. And he said that sometimes the wine starts to flow before the new wine skin comes, and the wine skin for us is language and vocabulary. So, for those of us who were like, “We don’t have the language for what this thing is, but we feel the tension of this thing coming.”
Josh: And there’s some of us who are feeling that and pressing into that and others who don’t yet feel that. And that’s okay. And I had to come to that place. It’s okay. The mega church is by God’s grace, imperfect as it is, doing amazing things.
Josh: And seeing people come to know the Lord.
Josh: And life transformation. And I pray that whatever that new thing is, that we, in its imperfect state, will also continue to see the Lord doing something remarkable.
Jon: That’s really healthy. And the book, the Eugene Peterson quote you referred to, I think the one you quoted, it’s in his book called Working the Angles.
Jon: And if you’re a pastor listening to this and you just feel like being convicted, Working the Angles. You read the introduction in the first chapter of that book and you will walk away going, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing?” It’s just that heavy of a book. What about you, Megan?
Jon: Okay. So, the question was what are some of the most difficult challenges that the local churches is facing today?
Megan: I don’t think they’re going out as much as they need to. We’re doing missions trips, we’re doing all kinds of stuff. But I don’t think the sheep, I think the sheep in general, like they’re following, they’re going to church, all that stuff, but they’re not also going out?
Jon: Right. It’s more of a consumeristic.
Megan: It’s, “I went for Sunday. I feel better.”
Jon: Check the box.
Megan: “I did it. And I’m going to keep on going.”
Megan: When you get on the topic of abortion, it should be immediately followed up with the topic of adoption, and taking people in, in all of the book of James. And it’s just not talked about as much as it needs to be. The real love of Jesus.
Jon: So, do you think a big disconnect of the millennial generation is failure to launch? It’s talked about, but the justice that you want to see something.
Josh: Oh, for sure.
Megan: For sure.
Jon: Help us understand, help us listeners understand that a little bit more.
Megan: I think the millennial generation is the largest doers, about movements and advocates, and they’re trying to fight against injustice.
Josh: For sure.
Jon: I always like to know the why behind that. Do you think that a big part of that is because of what you were talking about earlier, Josh, about there’s no failure, there’s no lack of knowledge. It’s everywhere.
Jon: So, maybe previous generations was about learning, education, and now it’s like we have all the access to everything we need to know.
Jon: We want to actually do it.
Megan: Go do it.
Jon: We want to actually see it.
Josh: Yeah. And I would even say that the way that we define justice is different than generations before us.
Megan: For sure.
Josh: And I think that was so helpful for me in coming to seminary and studying justice from a biblical perspective. This idea of restorative justice versus retributive justice.
Josh: And seeing that God’s heart is to restore all things, that caring for the planet is a gospel issue. God cares about restoration of all things, of humanity, of creation. So, yeah, when we talk about abortion, it grieves me. My wife and I, we pray for children in our home, both biological and adopted, but for me, “I’m going okay. Why are we only talking about it through somebody’s predetermined plan of attack? Why it is limited to, ‘Okay, cool. We need to make abortion illegal.'” Why are we not going, “Hey, can we get to the root of this?”
Megan: How can we help?
Josh: How can we help?
Megan: Yeah. Eliminate it.
Josh: How can we eliminate it? And also eliminating it, one of the statistics, and I’m not going to say the exact number because I can’t remember it, but it was a shocking majority of women who are looking to get an abortion or who actually follow through on getting an abortion, it’s for financial reasons. Not about raising the child, but about the fear of having a child in a country where they know they could go bankrupt if they have anything wrong. So, again, I’m not advocating that this becomes a political issue as much as it does, “Okay, if the issue is resource, then we should make sure that healthcare is not the reason why, or lack of health care is not the reason why, they’re looking to an abortion.”
Josh: I just think that the conversation could be so much bigger as followers of Jesus, if we’re willing to go, “Okay, I’m not going to be subject to a party line. I want to actually pursue life and restoration in every way.”
Josh: I want to see wholeness in every way. I want to see the Shalom of the Lord and the kingdom of God in every facet, not just within a political ideology.
Megan: I think the church culture at large is very fear-based. No matter what religion. So, everything is easier to kind of keep at a distance.
Megan: All these huge topics, they’re uncomfortable to talk about for some people. I am an Enneagram eight, so I can talk about anything. I’m not scared. So, it’s very hard for people to have those honest conversations.
Megan: But everything that I feel has been preached has been very fear-based and then it trickles down and all of these people go out and that’s how people see Jesus, which is not true. He doesn’t hate gay people. He’s not hating on people who get abortions. He made all of them. Why aren’t you talking to them? Why aren’t you teaching us to go be out?
Megan: Instead of doing it through the church that cost $3,000 and give that $3,000 to someone else?
Megan: There’s a ton of things. I don’t say anything as eloquently.
Jon: No, that’s good.
Megan: You talk so beautifully.
Josh: That’s because I’m an Enneagram seven.
Josh: I’ll speak eloquently even if I have nothing to say.
Megan: I will do it in circles.
Josh: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think that just to the movement, we do want to move.
Josh: We want to see movement started. And I think that that’s one of the things that also gets under the skin of millennials is when the generations before us say, “Oh, those millennials are lazy.”
Josh: “Lackadaisical, don’t care.” No, we actually care very, very much. We just maybe have a different way of looking at it.
Josh: Or want to go, “Hey, maybe this box isn’t it. Maybe there’s something more.” And maybe we don’t yet know what it is, but I think that-
Megan: But we’re going to try.
Josh: We’re also okay with the mystery.
Josh: I think we’re okay with like, “Let’s press into this even if we don’t know where this is going to go.”
Jon: I think that’s a big part of it, is, even my father was a pastor. He’s a Baby Boomer. And I lead my church in ways where my dad’s coming up to me going, “Why are you so vulnerable?”
Josh: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: He grew up in a generation where the pastor, the knot in the tie’s perfect.
Jon: It’s cinched tight. It’s perfect. Everything’s perfect. It has to be presented that way. And I’m not a millennial, but I’m on the cusp. But my leadership style, at least I try, hope, is to be much more, “I’m human.” And I think there’s a vulnerability there, an authenticity there, that people become far more attracted to than the perfection.
Jon: So, let me ask you guys this question. Let me put you in a scenario. The largest venue on planet Earth has been arranged, and every pastor in America, and I’m just going to keep it to America for now.
Jon: But every pastor in America has come together, and every denomination, every pastor in America has assembled to hear the words of Josh and Megan. And the microphone has been shoved in your face. And you get to stand in front of every pastor.
Jon: And say something to them about millennials that you think could shift and change, I’m putting the pressure on this, aren’t I?
Josh: This is huge.
Jon: Yeah, it’s huge. But the microphone has been shoved in your face and you have this opportunity of opportunities to share your heart. It’s not a rant. You’re going to share your heart, and your love for people in the local church. And you’re going to do it in this moment. What would you say? Now, listen, I put you on the spot. You didn’t get to go write a message.
Josh: No kidding.
Jon: But just the heart, just the basic heart. What would you want them to know more than anything else? What would you say?
Josh: I feel like I’d have to first apologize that they all came to listen to me.
Jon: That’s good. That’s really good.
Josh: Maybe that would win them over a little bit. Man, I love the church. I really, really love the church. And I went through a season of being more cynical and a season of having my heart hardened to the Instagram culture church.
Josh: And the slick church and the high production church. But I really love the church. And I believe that the church, like you said before, the local church is the hope of the world. And I think that it’s what Jesus instated, and it’s what millennials want to be a part of. But that doesn’t mean that we want to be a part of just what exists now. We might want to be a part of something that is still coming, and something that we don’t have all the answers to, but I would want them to know, as a millennial, I love the church. I believe in the church. I also see that the church is very, very flawed. I am also very willing to admit that I am very, very flawed, and whatever church I’m a part of will be very, very flawed.
Jon: That’s good. Yeah.
Josh: But my heart is not to leave the church.
Jon: That’s great.
Josh: My heart is to be a part of the church and to always see in a redemptive, restorative, way, what does the Lord want to do in the church?
Jon: That’s really good.
Josh: The church that has been around for over 2000 years, and the church that will be around until our Lord comes back.
Josh: To bring all things into complete and perfect restoration. I want to be a part of that church. I’m not leaving that church. I’ll never leave that church. So, don’t kick me out of it.
Jon: No, I think that’s good.
Megan: That’s really good.
Jon: And I think it’s healthy for us to look at it in that way, to say Joshua led differently than Moses did.
Jon: But it doesn’t mean that Moses didn’t do a lot of amazing, phenomenal things.
Jon: And so, here Joshua stands on the shoulders of a faulty man.
Josh: For sure.
Jon: Of a man who failed, a man who struck the rock when he should have spoke to it.
Jon: And did things he shouldn’t have done and things that God directly told him not to do.
Jon: And I think that’s a good picture of sometimes we think that when the church is shifting and changing for the next generation, it means that the generation before it was worthless, they did it all wrong.
Josh: Oh, yeah.
Jon: It’s pointless.
Josh: Absolutely not.
Jon: Yeah. I think what I sense in your hearts is it’s not about that. It’s that God is wanting to do a new thing. It springs forth. Do you not perceive it?
Josh: Absolutely. Yeah.
Jon: And let’s shift together.
Jon: And create a really healthy, beautiful church.
Megan: Yeah, that’s terrifying to think about that scenario. I’m like, “First of all, I’m sorry I’m a woman.” Second of all, one of The best church services I’ve ever been in my entire life was in San Francisco, which is a very unchurched place.
Megan: They did the entire worship in pitch black.
Megan: You could not see any production. You could not see anybody. There was worship. They were doing it acoustic. And that was like, “Oh my God. This is what it feels like to actually have worship with God.”
Jon: Yeah. Stripped down. Yeah.
Megan: Stripped down. You can’t be distracted. I think about that service all the time. And I think my question, or what I would ask is, “Everything you do, is it truly, truly, truly pointing to their relationship with Jesus? Or is it pointing to what you’re getting out of it?”
Megan: The clout, the more tithers.
Jon: Sure. Sure.
Megan: And money.
Megan: All of that stuff. Is it really pointing to Jesus and cultivating that relationship for that person to come? And then feel like super rejuvenated to go and do more and not just always take.
Megan: But to give.
Jon: Yeah. I think it’s like you guys have been saying, a shift, and it may take another decade or two to get there.
Jon: But I think there is this, what’s that old song? When the music fades and all is stripped away.
Jon: And there’s simply, like there’s this hunger, and I think it’s a righteous, beautiful thing that’s happening where, listen, my church still has the lights. My church still has all of the attractive things.
Megan: And that’s not wrong.
Jon: But I do sense something happening. And I talk to a lot of pastors of some of the largest churches in America who are sensing the same thing, where there’s this, and I think we’re all excited about it, because no more do we have to perform. No more do we have to-
Josh: Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Megan: Be on all the time.
Jon: Oh my gosh.
Jon: And so, I think maybe production companies with LED walls and lighting might need to start getting nervous.
Megan: They need to shift into concerts.
Jon: Because I think there is a real purification happening. I don’t know if that’s the word for it.
Jon: Where people are just, they’re “I don’t want to just hear about God anymore. I want to experience it.”
Jon: And so, man, thank you guys so much for your time and your vulnerability and your honesty and, really, the healthy way that you approached it. Because what we don’t want this podcast to be is a bash session.
Jon: That is not what it will ever be. And that’s why we say, we’ll say it all the time, “It’s a healthy conversation about the local church.” And as long as the church is around, it’ll be messed up. There’ll be people involved. We will mess stuff up, we’ll do stuff wrong.
Jon: One of my mentors told me when I first became a senior pastor, I had no idea what I was doing. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. And I was stepping into a church that had just gone through a really bad moral failure, good size church, and didn’t know what to do. And I called this guy who if anybody in the world would know what to do, it’d be this guy. And I said, “Man, Pastor, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing.” And you know, what he could have said was, “Oh, yes, you do. You’re anointed. God’s appointed you and approved you and stamped you.” He could have given me this motivational speech. And really he said the best thing he could’ve ever said to me, he said, “Man, Jon, neither do I. We’re all just a bunch of broken people.”
Jon: “Trying our best to bring people to Jesus.”
Jon: “And let them experience Jesus through these broken vessels of ours.”
Jon: And so, I think we always have to approach church that way. And when we look at it that way we’re less likely to be offended, to be hurt. It’s easier to process through the pains. So, again, thank you so much for being a part of this podcast. Listener, thank you for listening today. If you would, man, subscribe to this podcast? Would you post it on social media for us and tell us that it’s a good podcast, and tell your friends listened to it? Would you text it to your friend and say, “Man, you got to check this podcast out.” We’re excited about this podcast and what God’s going to do through it, where we are going to continually gather and have a healthy conversation about the local church. Thanks so much for listening.