Why are Millennials leaving the church?

Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

Pastors and priests seeking to fill their pews with young churchgoers have a tough task ahead. According to a newly released survey, even before they move out of their childhood homes, many younger Millennials have already moved away from the religion in which they were raised, mostly joining the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

The 2012 Millennial Values Survey, conducted jointly by Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, shows that college-age Millennials (ages 18-24) are more likely than the general population to be religiously unaffiliated (25 percent vs. 19 percent in the general population). Moreover, they report significant movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood: Only 11 percent of Millennials were raised religiously unaffiliated, but one-quarter (25 percent) identify as religiously unaffiliated today, an increase of 14 points.

These findings have profound implications for the future of religious denominations that have, in the past, dominated American religious life. Of those who are currently unaffiliated, around 1-in-5 were raised white mainline Protestant (21 percent) or Catholic (23 percent), the two denominations that saw the largest net losses due to Millennials’ shifts in religious identity. Among Millennials who were raised white mainline Protestant, only 59 percent continue to identify with their childhood faith, while nearly 3-in-10 (29 percent) identify as unaffiliated. Similarly, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Millennials who were raised Catholic remain within the fold, while one-quarter (25 percent) now identify as unaffiliated.

In addition to the increase in religious disaffiliation, younger Millennials report low levels of religious engagement across the board. Only one-quarter (25 percent) of Millennials say they attend religious services at least once a week, while 3-in-10 (30 percent) say they attend occasionally. More than 4-in-10 say they seldom (16 percent) or never (27 percent) attend. Similarly, while one-third (33 percent) of Millennials say that they pray at least daily, nearly 4-in-10 (37 percent) say they seldom or never pray. Notably, despite the fact that nearly half (48 percent) of younger Millennials report that they are living at home with their parents, Millennials who live at home are not more likely to attend religious services than Millennials overall.

The survey also offers some clues to why many Millennials are breaking away from their childhood faith, at least if they come from a Christian tradition. Younger Millennials’ feelings about Christianity are decidedly mixed. Three-quarters (76 percent) agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” and 63 percent believe that Christianity “consistently shows love for other people.” On the other hand, strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

Notably, the perception that Christianity is “anti-gay”-an attribute that strong majorities of both Christian Millennials (58 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Millennials (79 percent) agree describes present-day Christianity well-may be driving some of Millennials’ estrangement from organized religion. Last fall, for example, a PRRI survey found that nearly seven-in-ten (69 percent) 18-29 year-old Millennials agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

This early adult drift away from Millennials’ childhood religion highlights a particular challenge for religious leaders, and not just in the short term. In some ways, this is not a new problem; it’s not uncommon for younger American adults to be less religiously affiliated than older Americans. However, the Millennial generation’s rate of disaffiliation is higher than previous generations at comparable points in their life cycle. It’s probable that fewer Millennials than previous generations will reliably return to congregations when they are older, settled, and raising children.

If religious leaders – -particularly in Catholic and white mainline Protestant churches – aren’t content to wait for the return of this generation’s prodigals, they are faced with a challenging task. The balancing act of whether and how to reshape present-day congregations to connect with a generation that remains receptive to — but also highly critical of — traditional forms of religiosity.

Robert P. Jones
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  • XVIIHailSkins

    The moment the internet came to life, it was the death knell of religious rhetoric in America. The first time a subversive or critical thought enters the mind of a child being indoctrinated into a religion, all it takes to confirm the suspicion is a quick google search or wikipedia article. This was not the case twenty years ago, and as with all things involving the internet, the growth of this phenomenon will be exponential.

  • arensb

    The Internet, and also the increasing willingness of atheists and others to speak out, have served to level the playing field, forcing religions to defend their claims the same way as everybody else, from Bigfoot hunters to particle physicists.

    What we’re seeing is that religious ideas can’t survive in a fair environment.

  • Rubovitch

    Religion is superstition, plain and simple. Anyone who is superstitious is a fool.

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    “The world is my country and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine

    It really is that simple. Not doctrine, no dogma and no superstition.

  • p438

    “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

    1) “To the Chief Musician. [A Psalm] of David. The fool has said in his heart, “[There is] no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.
    2) The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
    3) They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; [There is] none who does good, No, not one.” (Psalm 14:1-3)

    Christianity is pro science.

    “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

    “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 18:15)

    In regards to salvation:

    13) “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
    14) For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

    Here’s one more.

    “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5:39)

  • Rongoklunk

    In the UK a recent survey called the British Social Attitudes Survey showed that 50% of Brits are nonbelievers, and nonbelievers have a retention rate of 94%.
    Retention rates refers to those people who remain believers in their childhood faith throughout adulthood. This is what it showed;

    Protestants and Anglicans were at a mere 49%.
    Catholics were a little better with 62% staying in their religion.
    Muslims and Hindus etc were at a scary 87%
    Nonbelievers were at 94%

    It states that the loss of those folks in the religious columns, go to the nonbelief group. In Europe the situation is similar, if not worse for the religious group.

    It’s inevitable. This is the age of science and commonsense, and supernaturalism doesn’t cut it anymore. We know now that all the gods were invented by incredibly superstitious people, who didn’t know any better. We know better. God worship is hundreds of years past its best-before-date.

  • Rongoklunk

    Don’t you see that the Bible is one long commercial for goddism?
    It’s every word is an attempt to persuade others to believe in this great imaginary god. It’s a sales pitch to holler that the fool in his heart says there is no god. The smart guy in his brain knows that gods were invented by the ancients to explain what they did not understand. And they did not understand much except how to hunt, gather, and procreate. We are infinitely more knowledgeable than the ancients were, and we know now that gods are – by definition, mythical. And it’s time we put aside childish thoughts, and grew up.

  • xexon

    You’re not going to burn in hell for giving up on organized religion. If anything, you’re helping the world rid itself of a major headache.

    And the fact the youth are turning away from organized religion will certainly help the political climate in countries where religion plays a major role. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, ….and the United States.

    And the children shall lead…


  • jade_alpha

    You make extraordinary claims and provide no evidence to support them. What kind of seeker of knowledge would accept such claims as true?

  • p438

    How do you know that God is not real? It would make things pretty convenient in the short term if there were no God. First off, I could worship any god I wanted to like money or science or family or even myself. I prefer to worship what is real like the God of the Bible.

    The first thing a Christian asks (or should ask) is “how do I know the Bible is accurate and true?” Well, archaeological findings and other documents dated to be written at the same period back up the settings of the Bible. The fact that the Bible is written over a long period of time and is filled with a great deal of prophesy, which was fulfilled backs it up. Common sense backs up the usefulness and wisdom of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls show how the Bible has remained unaltered in 2000 years give or take.

    It is pretty easy to say Christianity is dead or about to die. There are countless people who want to hear just that and will believe you even if you give no proof at all, but Christianity will never die even if it is made a crime punishable by death and torture.

    “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

    “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

    “For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, (Romans 1:20)

    Great chapter in the Bible to read by the way.

    I encourage you to do the research on your own to see if what I have said is true and to prove whether or not I am taking the Bible references out of context.

  • hebaber

    Agony, agony, agony. I LOVE religion. It will die out–though not in my lifetime–and I find this unbearable.

    What is religion? Cult, ceremony, ritual and an interest in the supernatural. I’m not, or course, confininced that an of this is true, but it’s interesting speculation and I enjoy it. I don’t buy the ethics. I don’t have any interest in the Bible. I care about churchiness, the fancy rituals, and the frisson of the supernatural. When religion dies that will disappear and that’s a loss.

  • catatonicjones

    Why do you have to worship anything? You seem to think it’s like oxygen, a fundamental requirement of existence. Well, you’re wrong.

  • peterschamberlain

    I have been following the question of persons raised Christian falling away, etc., for well over fifty years and since before the “millennial” generation. For diverse reasons, I have spent much of my life in college and university towns. I was Pennsylvania state editor of a once more vital mainline denomination’s student division for two years in the early sixties, moved watched several mainline denominations spend a six-figure sum trying, and failing, to reach apartment dwellers in Dallas a few years later, quit attending for a period of time, became affiliated with a large, conservative congregation, including its college division where my younger fiancée and wife attended under, but more conservative, and vital, than its other mainline denomination in the eighties, and then moved to another university town and became affiliated with a more conservative congregation for the last several years. This downward trend and questions about it have been around for a long time before the whole “gay,” lesbian, etc., issue including “gay marriage” was ever heard of outside of that then-closeted community. I also had heard almost nothing about abortion as an issue, much less a Constitutional right, in church or as a practicing lawyer, before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision which arose in Dallas where I was living.

    I do not know of any churches that have the kind of successful outreach to people who had been caught up in the “gay” lifestyle, world, or whatever word you prefer that St. Paul wrote about existing in the early Christian church. Most people I know leave any church whose denomination or pastor dares speak about any manner of sin in which they are and continue to be involved.

    I have had attorney-client and other privileged and confidential relationships, and other dealings, with “gay” and lesbian individuals, some of whom identified them publicly and others, including politicians of both parties, who I learned were “gay” while they maintained a pub

  • p438

    Worship is what you value above all else. How can you not worship anything? It is impossible.

    More importantly, what I say is not really of any value unless we can agree on the validity of scripture. If we don’t you will just reject what I have to say no matter how intelligent or eloquent my responses.

  • Chip_M

    Spot on. I decided I wasn’t a believer when I was very young, but I never met another atheist (that I knew of) or was really exposed to people with very different backgrounds from mine until I was in college. 30-40 years ago most kids outside of major cities grew up in cultural and ideological bubbles.That’s just not the way it is anymore and it’s a wonderful thing. Those bubbles are a lot harder to maintain now.

  • catatonicjones

    Why are we not seeing the usual crowd of believers coming here to deny this?

  • hebaber

    Here I am from the usual crowd of believers. What exactly is it that I’m supposed to be denying?

  • JDale_123

    Well its usually reality.

  • dcrswm

    We will agree on scripture when you can provide scientific evidence of it’s relevance .


    Trent Reznor CDs help, too. “Heresy” spawned tens of thousands of singalong atheists.

  • hugh7

    And John Lennon singing “Imagine no religion…”

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Seeing as the religionsts seem to be avoiding this thread, can we take the opportunity to agree that the terms ‘atheist’ or ‘secularist’ are utterly useless and counterproductive to the spread of rationality. These ‘isms’ play directly into the hands of religious apologists simply because they sounds like religions. There is absolutely no need for a term to describe people that reject superstition. Anyone that takes part in a rally, protest, or seminar that labels itself as atheistic convicts themselves of the same type of dogmatism that they are likely lobbying against. Stop calling yourself an atheist, because if you reject religious delusion you are simply a proponent of intellectual honesty.

  • hugh7

    Common sense backs up the usefulness and wisdom of the bible?

    That the world was created 6000 years ago by a jealous (and proud of it) petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully? (Thanks to Richard Dawkins)

    Who incidentally is not physical, but is infinite in all dimensions including power, yet fails to prevent a single natural disaster or plague befalling the species he is reported to love most of all?

    Who moreover transformed himself into a cosmic Jewish zombie (who is also his own son) who can make you live forever if you eat his flesh symbolically and tell him telepathically you want him as your Master, so that he can take the evil from your spiritual essence
    that is there in every human since a talking snake persuaded
    a nude rib-created woman to consume and give her partner
    good-from-bad-revealing fruit from off a magical fruit tree?

    THAT is common sense?

  • XVIIHailSkins

    Let’s not forget the luminaries that made anti-dogmatic statements at the risk of their own personal safety in earlier centuries. I’m talking about Jefferson, Democritus, Locke, Epicurus, Freud, Galileo, and Socrates. I’d like to see a society one day that reveres the preachments of these men as opposed to our own, in which demagoguery is still alive and well.


    The bible means nothing and bible quotes are simply shorthand for “I’m too b*ll-less and ignorant to try and shove my prejudices and desires to dominate others down peoples’ throats so I’ll use this fake source of imaginary authority.”

  • Catken1

    I suspect this is partially because Muslims and Hindus in England tend to be recent immigrants, and England is not generally as good at assimilating immigrants into the “mainstream” as we are.

  • sandohio1

    No surprises here. The pedophilia priests scandal in the Catholi c Church certainly turned a lot of us off the Catholic Church. We still have a relationship with God, but the CHURCH and their attitudes towards gays and women priests and married priests is still in the 15th century.

  • catatonicjones

    So is believing in gods.

  • Counterww

    Reality as defined by you? Laughable.

  • Counterww

    Coming from a avid anti religionists like yourself it comes down to – consider the source. Atheist so want to think believers and religionists will die off but it will never happen.


    It’s because Tinky Winky is gay.

  • Counterww

    Actually the smart guy should know that the ancients may have known more than they want to presently give them credit for. It’s just an excuse to do your own thing and not confront who we are as humans, created beings….the ancients at least many of them realized this and weere conduits trough which the creator spoke. Sad so many are so deluded they cannot fathom that.

  • Counterww

    Father of our country.s comments – Washington

    Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

    It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?

    I will take want he has to say over theis strange Frenchman you seem to admire anyday.

  • Rongoklunk

    We can only hope that the children of Muslims in the UK will grow up to be less religious than their parents. Trouble is they raise their kids to believe in Allah the moment they open their eyes. They may grow up in a country that’s pretty liberal and not particularly religious, but most Muslims keep indoctrinating their kids anyway; it’s difficult to avoid it.
    But you’re right, they do seem to fit in better in the States. Perhaps because the States is a much more religious country than the UK, or than any European country.

  • Rongoklunk

    I’d like to agree with a fellow nonbeliever but 9/11 and all these columns “On Faith” tell me that it’s time to stand up and be counted. These wacky superstitionists need to know that there are those who think they’re wacky superstitionists. And we’re called atheists, or nonbelievers, or nonsuperstionists, or realists, or rationalists, or materialists, or freethinkers, or humanists, or secular-humanists. We are the opposition to this madness. We are the ones who escaped the indoctrination, or saw through it before it was too late.
    Our opposition to religion is working. Stats show our side is winning. The trend is moving away from religion and towards nonbelief. We’re all getting too educated to keep believing in ancient superstitions. This is the great age of science right now. Maybe in fifty years we can stop identifying as atheists. All the theists should be gone by then. Hopefully.

  • catatonicjones

    You take all sorts of crap from all sorts of Morons. This wasn’t for you anyway, why not just keep feeling those beads and nodding your head and leave the real thinking to the real thinkers.


    Rongoklunk, I don’t think that is going to happen. Islam is primarily theocratic and was intended from the get-go to permeate all aspects of society – immigrants bring it with them just to maintain a kind of cultural “surface tension”, to maintain some identity in the face of an overwhelming external culture.

    It won’t happen in England until the third generation, but it will probably blow up first.

  • itsthedax

    Religion satisfies some basic emotional needs. It provides a community focues, it assists some people in coping with fear, and it allows some people to cope with uncertainty. When a society develops its own mechanisms for accomplishing these things, religion becomes and unnecessary drain on resources.

  • Counterww

    Yes, the elitists comes out , rearing its ugly head. Unlike atheism, Christianity calls all to come to to Jesus and realize the love of God. Atheism offers nothing but fool’s gold- a belief in nothing, in somehow man can overcome without a moral compass outside of themselves. You did not even read the paragraphs I posted.

    By the way, this is a PUBLIC forum. Try thinking outside of the physical and about forces such as LOVE, HOPE and FAITH, which are real attributes that every person needs in this world.

  • Catken1

    And Christians don’t try to indoctrinate their kids? Jews, either?

    Of course parents try to indoctrinate their kids with their values. But American Muslim immigrants get more and more “mainstream” with every generation, just like most other groups of immigrants. The difference in Europe is that immigrants are more often pushed into enclaves and isolated from the mainstream, which ends up reinforcing their “differences” and separating them from the rest of the country’s culture.

  • Catken1

    “Unlike atheism, Christianity calls all to come to to Jesus and realize the love of God”

    And says that anyone who doesn’t, for whatever reason, deserves to burn and be tortured forever and ever, in agony, no matter how otherwise good and decent they were, while the Christians watch and clap and cheer and praise the torturer. Yep, that’s LOVE.

    “Atheism offers nothing but fool’s gold- a belief in nothing, in somehow man can overcome without a moral compass outside of themselves.”

    Waaah! Atheism doesn’t give me shiny happy promises of a petted world where I can be the pampered child and smugly watch my brothers and sisters burn forever for being WRONG! Atheism doesn’t give me a neat, tidy instruction book that tells me all the rules! Atheism doesn’t make me feel superior, or more moral than thou, and it doesn’t let me expect pretty presents from my big loving parent in the sky!

    Newsflash – just because religion is more attractive and promises you more pie in the sky when you die doesn’t make it true. Anyone can promise you shiny goodies for believing what they tell you to believe – it’s the delivering that ends up being the problem.

    Love is not shown by a religion which views only coreligionists as worthy of “salvation”, nor is it particularly hopeful to look forward to a future of eternal existence without change, or to the eternal torture of most of humanity for not believing as you do. As for faith, faith is simply believing in things you have no reason to believe. Why is that a virtue?

  • vzepijdu

    What you talkin’ bout Willis ?


    If a christian who gets a lot of publicity comes out and states such an obvious and ridiculous bold-faced lie, even the youngest of teenagers is going to see that their whole religion is based on such lies.

    Jerry Falwell stated that Tinky Winky was gay in 1999. Kids who were 10 then, the very definition of a “millennial”, are 23 now and they SEE these lies, and subsequent lies, and are rejecting them wholesale and the faiths that make such lying so profitable.

    As christians continue to issue such

  • PhilyJimi

    Religion the best business in the world. Promise everything, deliver nothing but hope and reap all the tax free profits!

  • billsecure

    I think an obvious point, time, is being missed. Particularly for the Millennials, time is a very valuable resource. Why spend the time getting ready for church, getting to church, sitting there for music, readings and homilies that may be unattractive and seem not relevant when… they could be sleeping longer, engaged in activities such as sports, or making breakfast for their significant other.

    Come on everybody, these are younger people living very active lives.

  • saudi1

    Yeah too active for Jesus and God who grants each day our daily bread. Wow

  • jumbo_bruce

    Excuse me, but it just so happens that I don’t find the preaching boring at all. And you guys call the music boring? How so? These music are contemporary and it should appeal to people. As for sitting there for music, we don’t do that. People usually arrive 20 minutes earlier than when it starts and we get into music in 20 minutes. Everyone seems very into it, I don’t know about you, but i like it. Maybe things have changed since you last went. Newer churches have newer methods of worship, right? As for hypocrisy, I don’t see it in any of the people that I know at church who also attends my school. Sometimes I try to inquire from others how they treat them and they all respond okay to it. I know a few who share the same belief as me and he’s pretty nice and gentle. I’m not trying to persuade anyone to think like me, i mean it’s up to you. I just felt the need to speak.

  • jumbo_bruce

    Well i think the music is alright and the preaching is very thought-provoking. We sometimes need to be reminded of certain things, like forgiveness. It’s okay if you disagree with me. The music doesn’t take long to start and people stand up and worship. Everyone seems very into it. There are other people who attend my school and I ask others how they are treating nonchristians and they all have a good opinion about them. They’re not hypocrites or homophobes; some may be, but not all of us are.