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.