20-something, miserable, and missing from church

Rachel Jones | September 8th 2016

I’m 24, and if the media is to be believed—I’m part of a miserable generation.

Barely a week goes by without another article appearing which bemoans the bleak state of affairs facing 20-35 year olds.

The media shorthand for this unhappy generation? The rather heroic and positive sounding label: “Millennials”.

“Student load debt hits a new high as millennials take ‘poverty-wage’ jobs”
“One in five millennials lives in poverty, report finds”
“Baby Boomers versus the Millennials is the battle of our time”
“More young adults in 20s and 30s living with parents than in past 20 years”

I wondered whether these stereotypes could possibly all be true—so I did a quick straw poll of some school friends and asked if they identified.

Turns out… they do.

One commented: “Life for our generation is terrifying. We might as well not have aspirations as we can barely achieve them.” Another said: “Our parents and grandparent’s generation think we’re lazy and incompetent because we like mobile phones and the internet—they blame that for us all having a quarter life crisis when it’s them who ruined the job and housing market for us.”


The “millennial mindset” fluctuates from malaise to rage. Most of the time this manifests itself as a quiet anxiety that we’re not getting adult life quite right. Other times it’s expressed in caustic pessimism and cynical humour. Then occasionally, it’s an explosive anger at a generation that has “taken” something from us. In the UK, the recent outrage over brexit (where there was a stark divide between those older people who voted “out” and those younger people who voted “in”) was merely the tip of a big ol’ iceburg of frustration.

What’s the diagnosis behind this generational discontent? Nate Morgan Locke, Youth Evangelist with Christianity Explored Ministries, explains:

“[Millennials are] a group of people who throughout childhood, throughout adolescence were told: ‘You are special, you’ve got so much going for you’. Now we’ve sort of crept into adulthood, and we’re feeling massively ill-equipped. 'I’m not ready for this, I don’t feel like a grown-up, all these things that were supposed to be amazing turn out to just be disappointing.'”

Missing from church?

But it’s not just the secular media pundits fretting about young adults—the Christian ones are too: Why are young people leaving the church? How to reach them? Is it because they’ve had enough of bigoted fundamentalism? Is it because they’ve had enough of woolly liberalism?

The statistics seem to back up the concerns. A recent study by the Pew Research Center in the US found that millennials are much less likely to be religious than older Americans. And in the UK, four in ten of those who describe themselves as having “no religion” are under 25, according to the Office of National Statistics.

A unique opportunity

The statistics are stark—but according to Nate, they also represent an opportunity to present the gospel to a generation that is hungry for something more:

“To that group of people, the gospel of Jesus Christ says: ‘There is hope’. You’ve been told some lies along the way. You are special but not in the way you understand. The gospel is something that allows us to reframe the conversation for you as you think about your own life and re-evaluate the things that are important—which is desperately needed.”

Alongside Barry Cooper, Nate is an author and presenter of Life Explored—a new outreach resource touted to reach the missing “millennial generation” with the gospel. But as Barry explains, the key is not a new technique but letting the Spirit of God work through the word of God:

“Where the focus has been unrelentingly on themselves, it’s liberating to be able to say to people, as Tim Keller does: ‘the Bible is not about you.’ To be able to see who the Bible is about is a little bit like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon—it draws you out of yourself. You see something bigger, and regardless of how old or how young you are, we all need that.”

Commenting on recent research conducted by George Barna on why young adults are leaving the church, Barry Cooper explains why God’s word will always be key to evangelism in any generation:

“The reason … given by all of these people is that [they] are just crying out for an experience of God; they want to feel like they’ve actually met him. And of course that’s why we open the Bible with people. As A W Tozer has said, the Bible is not an end in itself, it’s a means by which people can experience the sweetness of knowing our Triune creator.”

Life Explored is an exciting new way to share the gospel in today's highly visual culture. Developed by Christianity Explored Ministries, the seven interactive sessions are based on stunning videos shot all over the globe. Find out more here.

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Rachel Jones

Rachel Jones is the author of Is This It? and the award-winning Five Things to Pray series, and an editor at The Good Book Company. She leads Bible studies for young adults and helps teach kids at her church, Chessington Evangelical Church, in Surrey, UK. Rachel studied History at Manchester University before joining TGBC.

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