The term “Millennials” refers to those born from the early 1980s to the 2000’s. This generation is hard to define in most ways save one: They are not very religious. According to a Huffington Post survey of Canadian millennials, 51% of respondents said they had NEVER attended a religious institution, and only 12% said they attend weekly – highest at 23% in Central Canada, and lowest with only 3% in Quebec.
Most churchgoers will not be surprised by these statistics as the obvious decline in church attendance among millennials (and most other demographics) has been well documented for years now.
But what can we do? A popular blog by the newly Episcopalian convert Rachel Held Evans is provocatively titled “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.’” The article employs statistics from Barna to generalize Ms. Held Evans’ experience of transitioning from American Evangelicalism to Episcopalianism. Citing the widespread disillusionment in specific critiques that Christianity is “judgmental” (87% of non-Christians polled), and “hypocritical” (85%), Ms Held Evans suggests that congregations that practice their faith in an “authentic” and “inclusive” way can be a home for disaffected Evangelicals like her. She cites a separate Barna poll where only 8% say they don’t attend because the church is “out of date” which undercuts “the notion that all churches need to do for Millennials is to make worship ‘cooler.’”
Reading this blog I found myself simultaneously affirmed and frustrated. I am one of these “millennials” who has found a home in the mainline. I wear cassocks, not skinny jeans, my Sundays contain more Latin than powerpoint, and you are more likely to leave our church on a Sunday smelling of incense than having won an iPad. I was affirmed by Rachel Held Evans’ encouragement not to throw out the baby of tradition with the bathwater of “we’ve always done it that way” in order to attract younger people. But therein lies the problem. Mainline churches in Canada – for the most part – have not succumbed to the flashy, electric-guitar blaring, coffee holders and comfy chair worship in the attractional model of American Evangelicalism. It is the American model that has failed for millennials but it seems to me that Ms Held Evans has simply generalized her own experience in reaction to attractional Evangelicalism of her past and suggested a different kind of attractional Episcopalianism of her present.
If that sounds like too harsh a criticism, consider our mainline church in Canada. For the most part we have resisted the kind of American “cool” churches that Ms Held Evans rightly criticizes. Despite our failure to succumb to pandering to “coolness,” despite a good and growing emphasis on “authenticity” and “inclusivity,” the numbers of millennials who stay in churches from childhood in the mainline are as low as 1 in 10 in Canada. If Ms Held Evans was right about tradition, inclusivity and authenticity, we should not be seeing the “hemorrhage” of faith that we are in Canada. But we are seeing an alarming exodus from our places of worship. Is Rachel Held Evans right and will we see growth among millennials if we just get better at authenticity and inclusivity? Or do we have a different problem and is there a different solution?
Simon Davis +
 https://www.barna.org/barna-update/teens-nextgen/94 a-new-generation-expresses-its-skepticism-and-frustration-with-christianity#.VVyeutJVhBd
 see 2012’s excellent report Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Young Candians are Leaving, Staying and Returning to the Church from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada