For years, Christian leaders have lamented the immense number of millennials who have left their churches. Concurrently, they’re saddened because millennials also seem to be one of the most troubled generations. Its members seem to be more prone to giving in to despair, compared to previous generations of young adults.
But despite some tragic statistics, hope springs eternal. A recent report entitled “Reviving Evangelism” by Barna, in partnership with Alpha USA, reveals that non-Christian millennials are more interested in learning about Christianity than older non-Christians. The study found that the millennials surveyed were almost twice as likely (26 percent versus 16 percent) to express an interest in Christianity.
While this finding and other encouraging slivers of light don’t show a monumental trend that these young adults are returning to Christianity, they offer hope and call to mind a well-known story about starfish. In the original story “The Star Thrower” by philosopher Loren Eiseley, the narrator encounters a man throwing beached starfish back into the sea. One by one, the man saves as many as he can, even though he knows that he can’t save the majority. But while the act may seem futile to many, the man knows how much it matters to each one he saves. The narrator joins him and feels confident that others will follow.
Thankfully, despite various negative trends, there are many Christian faith leaders and devout Christians of various denominations who are calling millennials – sometimes one by one – back to faith. Here are seven things that are restoring the faith of some of these young adults.
1. Dynamic Cultural Influence
The vast cultural influence that celebrities have on our society is undeniable. And it makes sense that millennials are more apt to be influenced by famous young adults who they can relate to or aspire to be like. So, when popular millennial celebrities, like Selena Gomez and Naomi Scott, make the bold choice to share their faith either through their talent or through being open about their Christian beliefs, amazing and wonderful things can happen.
One of the foremost millennial celebrities who has been enriching/reviving the faith of many of her young adult peers is Lauren Daigle. The Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter shares her devout Christian faith through her talent. But her success has reached far beyond Christian music fans. Born in 1991, she’s recorded songs that have been pop crossover sensations. “You Say,” one of the most popular songs she has recorded, is such a beautiful, soul-stirring, encouraging song that it has the ability to uplift people in powerful ways.
Each of us can only accomplish so much by ourselves. Together, we can have a greater impact on the world. We also need to feel like we belong to a group of people that we can relate to in some way that matters. For both of these reasons and more, millennials are seeking communities just as much as other generations. And virtual communities found in social media and online gaming aren’t the same as IRL (in real life) connections and shared activities.
Jason Jimenez, a pastor and the founder of Stand Strong Ministries – which helps Christians to become “grounded disciples of Christ with a solid biblical worldview” – has ministered to families for over 20 years, and he has been particularly dedicated to helping nourish/restore the faith of millennials. The co-author – with Alex McFarland – of the bestselling book “Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home,” he said that community plays an important role in bringing millennials back to faith. He said, “As millennials age, they come to realize that faith and fellowship offers the most genuine form of community.”
3. Relationships With Jesus
While being part of communities is important for everyone, having meaningful relationships is equally vital. It’s natural to want to develop close relationships with family, friends and romantic partners. But it’s also natural for Christians (lapsed or not) to want to develop a relationship with Jesus.
Peter Nguyen is a missionary for the college outreach group known as FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), which has more than 730 missionaries serving 164 campuses and 8 parishes throughout the United States and Europe and has been viewed by members of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy as a sign of hope that more young Catholics will return to or embrace Catholicism. Nguyen, who leads the FOCUS team at Harvard University, believes that relationships with God and with the Catholic Church are keys to bringing millennials back to practicing their faith.
“Christ Himself shared His Love through encountering those marginalized, those who were hurting in the Gospels,” Nguyen said. “When we, who bear Christ's image in our hearts through Baptism, encounter those around us and share the Gospel with them, Christ Himself moves their hearts to deeper conversion. When the faith is lived from a relationship, nothing is a burden. There is only a desire to seek deeper communion and relationship with Love, who is a person.”
Many millennials are driven towards and equipped for success in the secular world. There’s no doubt that they can accomplish great things. However, how many of them have a dedicated, solid purpose for achieving those accomplishments? Practicing Christians will never lack purpose. Every Christian is here to build the Kingdom of God by following His Commandments, especially, exactly as Jesus teaches, through loving God with all of our hearts, souls, strength and minds and by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Stand Strong Ministries’ Jimenez believes that the human desire to find a higher purpose in life is another thing that is calling millennials back to faith. “Church is a gathering place that focuses on a greater purpose to honor God with your life, and fosters a community of like-minded believers who have a heart to serve the needs of others,” Jimenez said. “This purpose is only found in the church, and more and more millennials are flocking to it.”
5. Bible Study
The Holy Bible is a lifeline and beyond for Christians. It contains answers to questions that perplex most people, guidance on how to live our faith and wisdom that inspires us in infinite ways. It can also give us strength and hope if we embrace it. But we can’t truly embrace something that we don’t understand. Studying The Holy Bible is one way that everyone can gain a better understanding of the mystery of faith that is contained within its pages.
Stand Strong Ministries’ Jimenez has found that this quest for a profound understanding of The Holy Bible is just as or more important to millennials as it is for other generations. “One of the main reasons is their desire to get clarity on what the Bible is really all about,” Jimenez said. “Millennials are seeking out churches that stick to preaching and teaching the Bible. When they find a Bible-based church with a high regard for biblical theology, they are way more likely to stay and serve.”
6. Curiosity About Christian Spirituality
Although many people in the secular world identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” it’s obvious to many that the two are not mutually exclusive. While it’s possible to be spiritual but not religious, it’s not possible to be a faith-filled, devout, practicing religious Christian without being spiritual. And for people who are both, their religious practices nurture their spiritual beliefs, and their spiritual beliefs strengthen their religious practices.
Because people who are “spiritual but not religious” are essentially missing half the equation, it makes sense that some millennials would be curious about what it means to embrace both religion and spirituality. And the Barna “Reviving Evangelism” report seems to show that non-Christian millennials are actually more curious than older non-Christians. The 2019 study found that 70 percent of non-Christian millennials indicated that they have had one or more conversations about religion and beliefs with a close friend or family member, compared to 52 percent of older non-Christians.
7. The Word of God
Devout, faith-filled Christians firmly believe that the Word of God is true, trustworthy and far superior to the words of any human. As Christians, we believe that Jesus loves us unconditionally, and He suffered and died out of love for us. We believe that He gave us the chance for redemption and salvation through His blood on the Cross. And because we believe that He did all this for our sake, we also believe that His teachings are meant to help us. In John 10, Jesus says “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Based at the Harvard University campus, FOCUS missionary Nguyen believes the Word of God is also bringing millennials back to Christianity. “Being bold in sharing the Gospel is also crucial; we should not be afraid to speak the Gospel and allow the truth of those words to affect those around us,” Nguyen said. “However, without a relationship, there can be a scattering of the seeds on hard ground, where they could be lost. Therefore, in effective evangelization, the Gospel needs to be shared in the context of a relationship and with the utmost charity."When people lose something that’s as precious and vital as faith, it’s easy to see how their hope can be replaced by despair and how their drive and determination to overcome overwhelming struggles and obstacles in life can be tremendously depleted. But, fortunately, there is an eternal, unconditional, guiding love that remains. Every sheep is precious to the Good Shepherd. And when even just one millennial finds the faith that once was lost, it’s cause for great celebration!