Millennials, Religion, and a Reason for Hope

My son Art posted the Millennial infographic you see below on his website. One of the stats in the infographic states Millennials are "the least religious generation in American history." This was not surprising. My son, Jess, and I found the same result when we conducted the research for our book The Millennials.

On first glance, one might be discouraged by this statistic. However, I would like to note that there is a hope to be found in the Millennials. While I would not suggest the present-day Millennial Generation is preparing for another experience of Pentecost, I do see some parallels worth noting.

First, the Millennial Christians are relatively few in number. Again, I am reticent to estimate with any claim of precision, but I have suggested that the number of Christians in this generation is 15 percent of their total. In round numbers, let's just say there are twelve million Millennial Christians.

You're right. Twelve million is a lot more than 120 (the number present at Pentecost). But in the context of 300 million U.S. residents or a world population of nearly seven billion, the number is small.

But what I learned about this relatively small number of Millennial Christians is that they are passionate about their faith. They have no patience for business as usual. They see the urgent need to share the gospel and to start new churches. And they will not wait on tired, established churches to get the work done.

"I'm not antichurch," Leslie explained to me. Leslie grew up in a Christian home. She appreciates her parents' clear convictions and sacrificial service in the church where they continue today. "But so much of what takes place in my parents' church is just keeping the doors open. Pay the staff. Keep the building nice. And give 10 percent or more of the church's income for someone else to do missions," she told us almost breathlessly.

"But that's plodding Christianity," she continued. "It has no urgency about it. It's more concerned about the people in the church than those outside the church. It breaks my heart that people are going to hell each day while so many churches have members who argue about Roberts Rules of Order or which members will serve on the personnel committee. We just don't have time for such foolishness."

Though some of their fervency may need some wise guidance, the Millennial Christians have a burning fire within them that can revolutionize churches to make a kingdom difference. How will churches in America respond? Will they embrace the energy and zeal of the Millennials, or will they disregard this generation and force these young people to venues of ministry beyond existing churches?

What will it take for churches today to embrace the Millennials and to capture their passion for reaching their neighborhoods and for reaching the nations? What will it take for churches to reach the rest of the nearly seventy-eight million Millennials who are not Christians? I know that the statistics on the American church are dismal and have been so for nearly half a century.

I see the presence of the Millennial Generation as a great opportunity offering much hope for the coming years. But the American church cannot do business as usual. Many changes are sorely needed.

There is indeed hope.

Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.