By Aaron Earls
“Christianity is only one generation away from extinction.”
When considering the eternal scope of the church and the promises Christ has made, that famous line may not be true, but American Christianity has reached the generation in which it is no longer the majority.
In America, at least two-thirds of Generation X (67%), Baby Boomers (76%), and the Silent Generation (84%) say they’re Christian, according to new analysis from Pew Research.
Among millennials, however, slightly less than half (49%) identify as Christian. A similar number say they’re not Christian.
Around 1 in 10 (9%) claim to be part of a non-Christian faith, while 40% are religiously unaffiliated.
The unaffiliated number is well above previous generations.
Only 10% of the Silent Generation is unaffiliated with any religion. That climbs to 17% of Baby Boomers and 25% of Generation X.
Religious service attendance has similar generational shifts.
Today, as many millennials say they never attend a religious service (22%) as say they attend weekly or more (22%).
Including those who attend once or twice a month, 35% of millennials say they regularly attend religious services. Almost twice as many attend infrequently or never (64%).
In previous generations, church and religious service attendance is much more common.
Among the Silent Generation, regular attenders (61%) outnumber irregular and non-attenders (37%). Only 12% say they never attend, while 50% attend weekly or more.
Baby Boomers (49% regular attenders, 50% not) and Generation X (46% and 53%) are fairly even split.
Few Boomers (14%) and Gen Xers (15%) say they never attend, while around a third of each say they attend weekly or more.
The General Social Survey has tracked a similar increase across age demographics in those who say they never attend.
The young adults have historically been group most likely to say they never attend church, but the growth in those numbers has been dramatic in the last few decades.
Through the 1970s and 80s, the percentage of Americans who said they never attended religious services remained steady, with the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds hovering around 15%.
The percentage steadily increased over the next three decades. In 2018, the percentage of Americans who never attend religious services reached 30% for the first time.
Among 18- to 34-year-olds, it climbed to an all-time high of 35%.
In many ways, millennials and other groups who aren’t at regularly at church have stayed away because the church has not demonstrated they value and welcome them.
There are some steps churches can take to draw younger generations.
By using social media and a website, you can reach people around the world any time, including the young adult who lives down the street from your church building and just Googled your church name to see what you are all about.
Invest outside your walls.
For younger generations, the community is not a pool of prospects, but a place for service.
They want to see the church actively involved in helping make the community and the lives of those in it better.
Young adults don’t want Christianity presented to them through a fake, plastic smile.
They want authenticity and integrity. They want to know how to live a faithful Christian life in a messy, complicated world.
Reach outside your comfort zone.
The younger the age group, the more demographically diverse they are. If your church wants to reach young adults, they’d better be ready to reach an ethnically diverse demographic.
Be open to institutional change.
This is not a matter of changing the gospel or historically Christian teachings, but rather the methodology in which it is presented.
Allow young adults to have a voice at the table when discussing the way you structure and conduct church.
This should be an easy way for churches to connect with younger relational generations, but too often congregations miss out.
Younger generations want to invest their lives in and with others. Churches that provide an avenue for this will connect with them.
In every generation, every person needs to hear the gospel and be taught the Bible. But for many young adults, even those that grew up in church, they’ve never really heard it before.
Don’t assume a biblical foundation. Preach Christ for the younger generation and everyone else.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.