Is Singleness The Unspoken, Unstudied Reason The Millennials Aren’t In Church

For the last several years we’ve been hearing from all sorts of places about how millennials are leaving or have left the church.  In reality at some level church membership and attendance is down across all generations.

This gallup report shows a lot of interesting statistics about church membership.  The bottom line however is that it has dropped significantly over the last 20 years.  Not only that, but when we look at millennials (those born from 1980-2000 – those aged 19-39), they have lower numbers than previous generations had at their age.  Only 42% of millennials are church members.

While the number of millennials who claim a religion at all is lower at 68% than the average of all Americans (77%) their church membership is even lower.

Now we could list a lot of reasons for the drop in church membership – not only for the millennials but for the country as a whole.  But there is one reason that I’ve tried to hammer here over and over and yet no one seems to recognize it.  That is, that single people, by and large, don’t go to church.

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Ministry To Singles Vs. Singles Groups

One of the debates that I’ve seen in churches and even among singles in churches is should we or should we not have singles groups. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches in my over 20 years as an adult single. I’d like today to offer a few practical thoughts on this.

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The Church Needs Single Men To Stay

So last week while I was writing some thoughts about what we as singles could maybe do about being angry with the church, Donald Miller was writing about how he doesn’t go to church, and then some people responded – ok a lot of people.

So I thought since I’m on a roll with singles and church, I’d offer a couple of thoughts.

First, two quick points that don’t have anything to do with singleness, but I have to say them.  1. What planet were all these people on that they were surprised that Miller doesn’t regularly attend church?  I mean when I see people say they love his books but were disappointed by him sharing that he doesn’t often attend church . . . what the H . . . are you sure you read the books?  2. I always find it mildly entertaining when protestant people in denominations (or “non-denominations”) younger than me try to drop the authority of the church angle on people like Miller.  Yeah that’s consistent.

Ok, just had to get that off my chest.  Moving on.

Miller shared a lot of thoughts, many of which I agree with even if I don’t agree with his conclusion (although to be fair, he was only making that conclusion for himself).  But one of the things that I think he left out, but I would think that he has experienced as I know I have, is that is church is hard as a single person – especially once you hit your late twenties.

Miller like myself lived his thirties as a single man.  And I would say that a thirty something man is in the most awkward spot in all of the church.

Here’s the reality that evangelicals refuse to deal with.  Single people (and especially single men) don’t go to church.  This isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch.  At least in my lifetime all the research has always pointed to the fact that people in their twenties go to church less than any other group.  What would happen essentially is that people would leave, but then when they got married, or at least when they had kids, they’d come back. Because the Church is the “family place“.

The problem is, that when you don’t have that family or even get married, you don’t come back.  A funny thing is that whether you keep following Jesus or not, you get used to not going.  The longer you’re out there, the less likely you are coming back.

When I was in my earlier twenties I never thought twice about it.  Church was fine, everyone around me trusted my leadership as a young man and we all thought I just hadn’t met the one yet.  But as I grew older, that view, both mine and others, changed.

What’s ironic is, in a lot of churches, including many led by the people attacking (lovingly challenging in their words) Miller, he would actually have been limited in what he could be a part of there.  In many churches singles aren’t really allowed to lead.  So we should go, God only works through his local church, we can’t have real community without it, but we shouldn’t have access to it all until we get married.  Yeah that’s a good sell.

Add to this the stereotypes and messages that are sent to single men (men are bad, non committal, only care about sex, are more immature than women, is he gay, etc) and you’ve got a recipe for single men leaving the church.

Single men are the most watched, judged and ostracized people group in the evangelical congregation.

But this is where I want to circle back to what I said last week. For the sake of the body of Christ, we need to not run from the church.  Whether they like it or not, the church needs it’s single brothers to hang in there.  While understanding that the church will not change for us, perhaps we could impact the church for the men that come behind us.

Let me be totally honest with you.  For seven years I rarely, and I mean rarely, attended Church.  It wasn’t all because of the singleness issue, but it played a significant role.  Like Miller, I had just as good of community then as I do now.  I did stuff in the kingdom, even though I wasn’t “plugged in” to a church.  So why did I come back?  Why for the last eight years have I stayed?

For starters, I found a church that didn’t care as much that I was single (they do exist).  For the most part, they treated me as an equal.  But more than that I realized that there were bigger issues at play than my comfort level.  It was for me, more about communion than community.  In other words, while I can get community, teaching, and impact outside of the church, I can’t get communion and that particular connection to the larger body there. Secondly, I had a role to play.  If I invested, eventually I could have impact, not only in how I was viewed but in how singles that come behind me will be viewed – and there are a lot of them coming.  I will not abandon them.

Bottom line to this post as well as last week’s posts is this:  If we all leave, it won’t change.