Photo from flickr by Elizabeth Hahn (CC BY 2.0).

Finding God elsewhere

Millennials look beyond the Church in their search for meaning

My search for God began in 2006 on a web forum for interfaith dialogue. I was 18.

Hosted by the United Church of Canada, this café drew all sorts of strange beasts: Wiccans, spiritual seekers, hardcore evangelicals, jaded Catholics, atheists and polite Satanists from around the globe.

While my dorm mates spent their nights blissfully lost in Toronto’s humming downtown core, I was plugged into this online pantheon, doggedly searching for something true and lasting through the endless internet discourse on philosophy, morals and transcendence.

Call me strange, but I searched for God in an online community long before I ever set foot in a church community. Not only me, but most millennials trust the internet as the starting point for their most important searches. Especially quiet ones like me.

I’m not the first person to point out millennials are leaving the evangelical church in droves to find deeper and more authentic Christianity. We are pilgrims in a world more accessible than ever, with the internet as one of our main guides.

Yet our generation is not the first. We only need to consider online publications like patheos.com to see that evangelicals have nothing more than an equal share of the intellectual playing field with atheists, Buddhists and pagans. Meanwhile, the stories from hubs like Onbeing.org tell me more people are moving beyond any one particular religious ideology, creed or denomination as they grow spiritually. Diversity and non-duality inform our understanding of God and the world.

Perhaps even closer to home, we see influential creatives like author Donald Miller who quietly walked out on the Sunday service like he would a predictable movie. We see more creative, entrepreneurial out-of-the-box thinkers responding to evangelicalism this way, slipping out of the pews to follow Jesus in a way that speaks to them, creating their own communities along the way.

No amount of elderly chiding is going to turn this ship around: times are changing, and millennials are leaving churches that can’t or won’t adapt.

Going to a church that doesn’t have a category for open and thoughtful discussion of sexuality and doubt feels a bit like culture shock. Worse still are those too squeamish to sit with suffering and too theologically rigid to uphold the legacies of Christian contemplatives and the Desert Fathers. When people hunger for Jesus, they are willing to venture beyond the confines of their own denomination.

Millennials are breaking the silence online, where we feel permission to be discontented, confrontational, emotive, and most of all, “real.” But I think we are no different from the majority of believers today whose longing for transformation transcends what their faith tradition has to offer.

I think if millennials really are finding God outside the church, then we should rejoice that they’re finding God. That shouldn’t mean the crippling of organizational church.

If millennials are to return to church, it will be to a church that understands and leverages their strong need for ownership over their faith. They will return to churches who are courageous enough to adapt to the chaos and unpredictable nature of life, and committed to helping them realize the presence of Christ in their life and the world around them.

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About the author

Amy is a copywriter and freelance author. She holds a master's degree from Tyndale Seminary and has been writing professionally since 2013. Her work is featured in Bedlam, Relevant and RelevantU magazines. Amy grew up in “beautiful Burlington” and now calls Toronto home.

  • Walt Longmire

    “My search for God began in 2006 on a web forum…,” begins this article. It took no more than that initial topic sentence to reveal to me that the person did not “find” God, nor were they seeking Him, for He is easily found to the heart that desires Him. Here is what the Scriptures say about this notion of “searching for God”;

    “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS AFTER GOD.”

    The very notion that we seek God is a faulty notion, false on its face. The author may have been searching for meaning, but she was not seeking God, for had she so intended, she would have “found” Him immediately. More to the point, I suspect that she may have heard about God, but learned that you cannot come to God except through REPENTANCE, and to do that one must recognize their total sinfulness and inability to save themselves. Secondly, even repentance is not all that is required but a surrendering of the heart, soul and mind to Jesus Christ, who said Himself,

    “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me DRAWS him; and I will raise him/her up at the last day.”

    Later, He doubled down on this when He said:

    “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him/her by My Father.”

    Sorry, young lady, but your story might be of interest to others, but for me it is profoundly mistaken.

    • Amy

      Hi Walt,
      I’m glad my article sparked such a robust response!
      I hope you’ll forgive my use of the word “search;” I say that because from my vantage point, it felt like I was searching. In reality, you’re right, God was very present and active in my life – I just wasn’t fully aware or perhaps able to articulate that.
      Seeking God is a real thing we find referenced in Scripture, as I’m sure you know: Deuteronomy 4:29, Matthew 7:7/Luke 11:9 to name a few. I searched because I deeply desired. Was I really searching, or merely responding to the Father’s calling? Probably the latter.
      You don’t know my back story, or me personally, and it’s hard to fit all the details of my story into 500 words or so. I was raised in an amazing Christian home and a healthy church community. But when I moved out, I went through an identity crisis, and felt very disoriented. I learned a ton about repentance in those first couple years on my own, for sure.
      Take care,
      Amy

      • Walt Longmire

        Thanks for the thoughtful response to my “robust” comment. 🙂 Those who know me would not have though that it was robust, but rather unusually terse and short. One person who knows me says that I can take 40 minutes to introduce myself. I try to resist that propensity when responding to article online.

        I was chagrined to note that the texts mentioned in your response were taken out of context. Yes, I am fully aware that there are texts which mention “searching” and “seeking” after God. But more often than not, those texts are actually negative texts, connoting a kind of “seeking” and “searching” that is carnal in nature, not spiritual. A lot of criminal offenders “seek God” in that sense. If you worked in criminal justice at all, you would be familiar with “jailhouse conversions,” for nothing causes criminals to “seek God” more than getting caught and going to prison! [I am not accusing you of this at all, Amy.]

        Instead of spending any time on our differences in how we look at God’s work in our lives, I will share with you that I think that what you experienced when you left the confines of your home/family and church is very common to Christian students who go off to college or military. They are almost immediately confronted with the reality that they are “strangers” in that land. And if they are not well grounded in the faith, they quite often succumb to the myriad of temptations with which they are tempted.

        But some (many?) were never Christians at all. To grow up in a Christian home or go to a good church does NOT make one a Christian: the new birth does. And that new birth is not a decision that people make to believe on Jesus Christ. The decisions to repent and believe are the RESULTS, the CONSEQUENCES of the new birth. In that sense the Apostly Paul says that none, not a single soul in creation, seeks after God. God is sovereign in whom He chooses to regenerate, as laid out quite clearly in Romans 9, a chapter of the scriptures that your church, if they are like most, skipped over in Sunday School, along with Ephesians 1 and two – not to mention the sixth chapter of John which I quoted in my response.

        You seem to think, in your response that since millennials are leaving the church that the church is losing them because they are not adapting to the millennial’s [your’s, perhaps?] way of thinking. No, the problem lies with their unbelief, not with the church or God’s word. They are sinners and unbelievers who want even God to fit into their lives, no matter has ungodly and perverse their lifestyle may be. It is here that you seriously err.

        Christians who leave home and become adults should never suffer any “identity crisis.” If they do, it is due to one of two things. First, they are not regenerate believers at all, but decisionists who pose as Christians. Or second, their churches were woefully negligent in preparing their people for the vicissitudes of life. Homeschooling and private Christian schools are guilty of this more often than not. Such activities are mostly designed for the comfort of the parents, not the training of the kids to encounter life as it truly is.

        In your article you skirt around the issue of homosexuality as if to mention the word would be somehow mean spirited or something. In fact, homosexuality is not the new black, as some have put it, but a sexual perversion that has existed since the dawn of man. The Scriptures are crystal clear on God’s hatred of such corrupting sins. If you are a Christian, you already know that. Your job as a Christian young person in the world is to warn, reason, argue, and challenge those who engage in this perversion, calling them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ — nothing less. To do less is to assure their ultimate destruction. If Christianity has been remiss [it has not been, properly defined], it has been that they have not be as aggressive as it should have been in calling such sinners to repentance. Here, by the word repentance, I mean that repentance that expresses itself as a turning from sin with sorrow and shame, and turn TO Christ, in humble faith awaiting His healing. If you have had any dealings with homosexuals, you know that they are not apt to be in that mode of thinking or acting.

        To put my overall view about your article into some perspective, I see it as revealing a conservative person becoming more and more liberal as they encounter what seems to be real life. But let me tell you, Amy, the real real life was that from which you came, not the one you are seeing now.

        Well, that was not as long as when I introduce myself, but it will suffice for now.

        Now, as sincerely as I can do so, I will pray that God will bless you and give you what the Apostle Paul asked God to grant those Ephesians:

        “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for me and all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, the the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that you may know what is the hope of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ Jesus when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places…”

        With the love that Christ has shown me, I in the same way love you.

        [I am not Walt Longmire, the star character of the excellent Netflix series, but Victor Edwards, retired Baptist pastor who has served the Lord since He converted my soul in 1964 as a young man in the US Air Force. I have a back story too. :-)]

        • Arachne646

          Homosexuality, has existed since the beginning, but what is described in Scripture is quite different from the scientific understanding of sexual and romantic orientation which we have today. Texts which are often cited to “prove” that same-sex relations are never anything but sinful, are translated ineptly from the original languages, and interpreted badly for their purpose and meaning relative to the culture in which Paul was living and travelling, teaching and evangelizing. Jesus was welcoming to all, even those members of the community who were of the lowest social class, or utter outcasts, like Romans and Samaritans. He would not have excluded LGBTQ people for the way his Father made them!!! Saying homosexuals are somehow created more sinful than heterosexuals are, is silly. Why would God do that, throughout nature?

          • Walt Longmire

            I am not a Greek scholar, but I am proficient at the language of the New Testament, and you err greatly when you say that the translation of the text is faulty. You seem to not know anything about the language, but I will gladly take up the discussion if you outline your argument [not just your silly opinion] from the original language.

            The teaching of Scripture are not “culturally relative,” but firmly established as permanent, even eternal. Homosexuality is by its very nature an abomination, unnatural, perverse and filthy, and that view is consistent from Genesis to Revelation, Alpha to Omega. You are dreaming that your perversion can be morphed into acceptability by mere talk. Nature screams out against it, but God’s condemnation is far more sure than natures.

            Of course Christ went about among the poor and infirm. But the Scriptures are clear that He did not approve of sinful behaviors in any class, and His blessings were conditioned upon repentance and faith in Him. When he cured one person, a poor person, Christ said to him, “Go, and sin no more, lest something worse should befall you.”

            And, once again, you put forward the stupid notion that homosexuals/sodomites were created by God, that homosexuality is somehow genetic. You know better, frankly, unless you are completely ignorant of the debate on that claim. Homosexuality is not genetic at all, but it is BEHAVIORS, behaviors that are willful, chosen and pursued by those who have “vile affections.” There is not a scintilla of evidence that homosexuality is genetically determined – not one iota, to use a Greek term.

            So stop spreading this silly ignorant pseudo-science. It is nothing of the sort. Homosexuals are homosexuals because they WAND AND WILL to be. And they are fully responsible for their choices/actions/behaviors.

    • Rob

      Do you think Rom3:11 was written after Acts 15? :
      Act 15:16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
      Act 15:17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.

      • Walt Longmire

        If you think this text refers to the human ability of an unregenerate person to actively seek the Lord, you are nuts. There is no such ability in fallen man. Why do you add your own meaning to the text? Try to be objective. This text is related to another text in Romans, and in no way does it connote some innate ability of man to seek after God. What it DOES support is the notion that no one can know/seek after/believe in Christ unless there are preachers who go forth with the Gospel:

        Romans 10:14

        “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom the have not heard? And how shall they hear unless they are sent?”

        God has chosen to call His own through the “foolishness” of Gospel preaching. No one is saved outside the knowledge of the Gospel by magic or incantation. It is by and via the preached word of God in the Gospel. God has sent His preachers throughout the world to make salvation and seeking after God possible.

        Try again on your silly interpretation of the Acts text. You probably also believe in the literal rebuilding of David’s temple/tabernacle, eh?

        • Matthew Lee Hopkins

          You shut them down, Walt. I am FAAAARRR from where I need to be, but man, that was some good Truth.