July 31, 2015

A Sacramental Yearning That Millennials Are Craving

It is reported millennials are leaving evangelical churches and joining Anglican, Orthodox and the Catholic Churches across America.  So, why the shift?

Some speculate it is the result of a generation tired of attending “PowerPoint churches” where pastors try too hard to be cool.  Their pastoral uniform appears predictable at best, complete with skinny jeans, a V-neck t-shirt, and hipster glasses.  Others cite unease with fog machines used during worship to create a concert-like experience for church attendees.   Aside from the superficial reasons, it seems many agree millennials are hungering for stability, tradition and liturgy over signs of modernity.

In 2007, respondents to a Pew Research Poll claimed that 16.1% were unaffiliated with any church.  By 2014, that number had climbed to 22.8% of respondents.  In the latest poll, 35% of millennials do not claim any religious affiliation (claiming they are either agnostic, atheist or “nothing in particular”).  Furthermore, in 2007, 78.4% claimed Christianity as their religion; today that number has dropped to 70.6% of the population.

It is encouraging to remember the United States remains the most Christian nation in the world.  After all, 7 out of 10 Americans claim some to follow some form of Christianity.  Even better, two-out-of-three Americans believe Jesus was the Son of God and rose from the dead.  Yet, it is important to note that overall, older generations of Christians are not effectively passing on their faith to the next generation.

However, for those who are young and looking for a new church – they seem to be looking for a church grounded in tradition.  In a 2010 address to the Anglican Congress, Archbishop Robert Duncan put a name to it and called it “Anglican fever,” much to the delight of attendees.  The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) officially began in 2009, after a split with the Episcopal Church over more liberal theology.   Perhaps younger generations are attracted to Anglicanism for its sense of authenticity.  After all, many Anglican churches stood up for their beliefs and lost their buildings as a result.

It appears young people are appreciating the sacraments and interactive liturgical prayers offered in more traditional churches. Many speculate millennials are attracted to Orthodox churches because they offer a clear set of beliefs, doctrine and dogma about what it means to live a full Christian life.  It is also worth noting that there simply is not a plethora of data available to support this widely reported trend among Christians.

Whatever the cause of these ruminations – next time a young person asks for a church recommendation – consider directing them towards a church with greater orthodoxy – it may be just what they are looking for.


15 Responses to A Sacramental Yearning That Millennials Are Craving

  1. Dan says:

    Don’t forget the LCMS in your list. It is orthodox, sacramental, and liturgical. My congregation’s pastors even vest for our contemporary service, and while the music is more contemporary than for the traditional service, the liturgy is still solidly orthodox, as is the preaching.

    • Grandmere says:

      Nice Mendelbrot avatar. Makes me think about God.

    • Thersander says:

      Some LCMS churches are liturgical but a great many are not. You are just as likely to find praise band contemporary services as you would find a church using a hymnal. Plus, those LCMS churches that are liturgical have 5 different ones to choose from: one is the old common service frim the TLH, another is the Deutsche Messe of Luther and three more were “created” for use, with hardly any pedigree in the history of the Lutheran church. And given the congregations’ and/or pastor’s freedom to do what they/he want(s) on a given day, there is no uniformity in complete abeyance to the Lutheran confessions. Hymns can range from the loftiest chorales to the dull platitudes of evangelicalism. In short, the LCMS is in a liturgical potpourri mess. I am not advocating for ELCA, but really, the best bet is to find a Catholic parish that celebrates according to the Extraordinary Rite or an Orthodox Church.

      • Dan says:

        You are right that there are various versions of the Divine Liturgy in the LCMS hymnal. I guess our congregation is blessed that our pastor keeps it very traditional – growing up in TEC and knowing the 1928 BCP by heart it has surprised me that our pastor uses selections from the 1928 BCP for many of the collects. Also, we are blessed to have to fantastic organist/choir director who not only is very traditional (think lots of Bach and Mozart), but also writes his own preludes and postludes on occasion. Typically, at least half the congregation stays in their pew to hear all of his postlude before leaving. I have no experience with ELCA but their theological and social stances put them right there with PCUSA and TEC so I would avoid them at all costs for that reason.

        My experience with a number of congregations in the ACNA ranges from censing things at every opportunity to strict 1928 BCP liturgy to what I call streamlined Eucharist with contemporary music. I guess there is a lot to be said for using a 1500 year old liturgy like the Orthodox church.

  2. Namyriah says:

    They don’t like churches with fog machines, so they choose churches with incense.

    For some reason the word “shallow” comes to mind.

    • Gregg says:

      “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”

      Ps 141:2

      • Namyriah says:

        I have no quarrel with incense (or fog machines) per se, it just struck me as funny to exchange one for the other.

        • Gregg says:

          It seems like the longer the contemporary evangelical movement goes on, the more high church they become – well, high church rituals without the vestments

    • RJ says:

      Unfortunately many Anglican churches do not use incense. The sense of smell is very important. When I walk into a church where incense has been used (even if it has not been used recently) it has a very dramatic effect. Genuine beeswax candles have a similar effect. It smells like church, and puts me in the mindset for prayer and worship. The cotton candy smell of fog machines does not have a similar effect on me. Perhaps it does on others.

      • unknown says:

        RJ in my travels over the past 30 years I have seen incense used considerably in Anglican, Episcopal and on occasion High Church Lutheran , and yes it does create a strong feeling of sincere spirituality and God’s presence

        • RJ says:

          I have seen it in a few Episcopal and Anglican churches. At the seminary I attended, the goal was to get the altar to disappear in the cloud of incense. That was a bit much. I see it less often than I used to. That might be because I’ve been in low church dioceses for too long.

    • Thersander says:

      Incense definitely gives you the feel that this is a place for the worship of God whereas a fog machine conjures up a concert hall.

  3. tomb lair says:

    This article speaks to something I feel like I’ve seen coming for years. Progress is slow…too slow..but I know this is coming.
    Sooner or later young American gentiles will realize they have to come home. This world is getting very hostile and lonely to the churchless. I went from atheism in college to an evangelical church to the Episcopal church and finally to a traditional Anglican Church. And I feel that I am at home now, for good.

  4. apriluser says:

    My husband and I are not millennials but baby boomers. Just a year ago, after serving United Methodist churches for 20 years and growing up Assemblies of God, we found ourselves in an Anglican church. We love the liturgy and find the interactive prayers deeply meaningful and moving. And we happened to be the second to the oldest in the church. Many of the younger adults were trained at YWAM or Intervarsity.

  5. Kenneth Bolin says:

    This is not a new trend, as noted, so thank you for bringing this up, as it’s not something I’ve seen hit the web recently. I guess I’m a millennial, born in ’74, though I feel more like a boomer; I don’t really know for sure. I started out ELCA Lutheran in the Midwest farm country, then went non-denom Evangelical during college and after. As noted in the article, I and others like me were looking for more. I would say we were looking for more than just an emotional manipulation – something that engages us as whole people. I became an Evangelical pastor, later becoming an Anglican priest. Once you dive into those older traditions and writings, though, things can happen that you never saw coming. For me, the Canterbury Trail (the late Robert Webber’s “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” was very helpful for me) didn’t stop, and the more I read, the more I continued to search and shift. Unbeknownst to me, the Canterbury Trail became the Road to Rome, and I am now a married Catholic priest with children.
    Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman said it – “to steep oneself in history is to cease to be Protestant.”
    What even some in traditional faith group circles (Anglican, Catholic, etc.) don’t yet seem to understand, though, is that their growth is coming from young people looking for older tradition, not older people coming back to recent traditions. I face that with even some Catholic clergy, and it can create internal conflict even between us. When people come to these traditional groups, they do so looking for something inherently different than what they can get anywhere else. Be what you are! Be what this great tradition has been throughout the centuries!
    Sorry, but this can become a soapbox, and I don’t want to go there; this is a battle even being fought internally within the Catholic Church.

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