The other day, a friend of mine brought an interesting Barna poll to my attention. Conducted in 2022, it explored the state of the American church before, after, and during the COVID pandemic.
When it comes to faith, religion, and church these days, there seems to be only bad news. Religious “nones” are on the rise, we’re told, and many no longer seem to have room for God in their lives.
But the Barna poll told a more encouraging story in some respects, at least with regard to the younger generations and their church attendance. Before the pandemic, weekly church attendance by those in the Boomer, Millennial, and Gen X generations hovered around 20 to 25 percent. Attendance experienced a slight surge in 2020, and then a drop in 2021 across all age groups.
Thus far, the Boomers have not recovered from this slump. The real eye-catcher, though, is that Millennial and Gen X attendance is surging:
Although Millennials (and, emerging behind them, Gen Z) are known for declines in religiosity, data show that, since 2019, the percentage of Millennials reporting weekly church attendance has increased from 21 percent to 39 percent. Among Gen X, attendance has increased 8 percentage points (24% to 32%). While Boomers show an increase in their attendance during the pandemic in 2020 (31% weekly), recent numbers show a decrease in attendance (25% in 2022).
I was pretty surprised by these numbers, and honestly, I would have thought the reverse to be true—that Boomer attendance would be surging while Gen X and Millennial attendance would be dropping. But in fact, Boomers lead the way with 22 percent of them saying they have stopped attending church entirely and 22 percent saying they primarily attend online.
How to interpret these numbers?
On the one hand, the numbers of the younger generation are encouraging. They seem to reflect a sense among this cohort that all is not right in the world—in fact, something is terribly wrong—and it’s time to seek answers, turning to God and the fellowship of a church community to solve their problems. That’s good, and a very big step in the right direction.
The more troubling thing, however, is that the older generation appears to be losing the faith. They are giving up and withdrawing rather than choosing to fight and be an example and encouragement to the next generation.
While pondering this development, I happened to stumble upon the following quote from Richard Weaver’s book, Ideas Have Consequences:
The sin of egotism always takes the form of withdrawal. When personal advantage becomes paramount, the individual passes out of the community. We do not mean the state, with its apparatus of coercion, but the spiritual community, where men are related on the plane of sentiment and sympathy and where, conscious of their oneness, they maintain a unity not always commensurable with their external unification. [Emphasis added.]
Weaver goes on to say that this withdrawal “is pulverizing modern society,” creating a blight which negatively affects our relationships with one another and encourages selfishness. And “he who is cognizant mainly of self suffers an actual derangement,” Weaver explains.
But self is not what church is designed for. Church is meant to provide fellowship with other like-minded individuals, a community which draws the individual out of isolation, lifting and encouraging his spirits and pointing him to truth. Most importantly, church directs our eyes away from ourselves and puts them back on God, the One whose justice, grace, and mercy are the only things that enable us to face another day.
Lest you think I’m just picking on the Boomers here, let me assure you I am not. The fact is, we’re all prone to withdrawal, a looking inward which tells ourselves that nobody, not even God, cares about us or our problems.
But that’s simply a lie from the devil. And we can choose to believe him, withdrawing from worshiping God and spending time in a community of believers, or we can reject his lies and do exactly what he doesn’t want us to do, namely, go to church and deepen our relationship with God and others.
My encouragement to you? Don’t give into that lie. Join the Millennial and Gen X generations—regardless of your age—reject withdrawal, and get involved in a good, local church, either once again or for the first time. That’s the first little step in giving our country hope and getting it back on the right track.
Image credit: Flickr-Carol Von Canon, CC BY-NC-ND 2.07 comments