For many North Carolinians, Sunday mornings and church go hand in hand. But times are changing.
Church attendance has steadily declined over the last decade. One group in particular is leaving at what some believe is an alarming rate: Millennials.
Church leaders around the country and right here in the Triad are working to stop the bleeding.
“Right now I’m religious and spiritual,” said Jamel Womack, a Millennial. “I won’t say I’m in limbo but just praying about some things and seeking some guidance.”
Jamel Womack is part of a group that is growing by the year.
According to a Gallup poll, 42% of Americans attended a religious service weekly in 2008. That number dropped to 38% last year. One study looked at Millennials specifically and found only two out of 10 believe church attendance is important.
“Generationally, I think Millennials, we have a distrust of big institutions and the church — the big ‘C’ Church — has gotten a lot of things wrong lately,” said Johnathan Enoch.
“I think the reason why people are, especially my age, are leaving church is because people are not honest enough,” added Rochelle Mesubed. “There are too many cliques, and at the same time people don`t want to tell the truth.”
For this story, we created a survey for Millennials to share their experiences.
One respondent said she was closely connected to church when she was younger, but she became an atheist when she started college. She researched all religions and they boiled down to indoctrinating you to believe in an imaginary sky being and she came to the understanding that people just need religion to tell them right from wrong.
Another says he loves Jesus and identifies as a Christian but doesn’t necessarily agree with all the things the church has taught us we had to also believe if we wanted Jesus. He went on to say many people, especially Millennials, have rejected cookie-cutter Christianity and are looking for transparency and authenticity.
And another says she was connected to a faith community a great deal when was younger, but she stepped away because of judgment and rigid ideologies.
She says she feels the “Christian” label comes with so much negative connotation and she doesn’t believe everything they believe. She said she attends her childhood church sometimes because she misses the people, but she doesn’t go to be fed. She has her own beliefs and the church doesn’t line up with them.
“Just doing some research on my own and studying some thing and pretty much just challenging some things that I wouldn’t say don’t make sense … but when it comes to biblical principles it doesn’t line up,” Womack said.
Rochelle Mesubed is a member of Daystar Church in Greensboro.
“What keeps me coming back is the environment they provide,” Mesubed said. “The moment you walk through the doors you really feel the love of Christ and I think that`s really keeps calling me back here.”
And right now, pastors say their challenges are creating that atmosphere for a population that is steadily evolving.
“The truth is, right now in Guilford County, there are far more people not in church every week than are in church,” said Daystar Church Pastor Allen Holmes. “It`s not even close.”
Pastor Allen says a lot of people left churches because of church hurt when they were younger. In his experience, once they get older and start families, they’re looking to get back to their roots.
“Because of that, they’re looking for something different because often they associate the pain that they experienced in a previous church experience with that style or that tradition or that denomination. So, if they can find something that feels different, they’re more likely to give it another chance,” Allen said.
“The world has changed since I’ve been pastoring,” added Pastor Otis Lockett Jr. “In 2012, believe it or not, there was no Periscope. There was no Facebook Live.
“That has changed the whole face of the way we do church because now you actually have a cyber church of people that don’t physically attend your services but are yet connected to the ministry.”
Pastor Otis Lockett Jr. leads two congregations: Zion Place Church is made up totally of Millennials, and Evangel Fellowship where every generation is represented.
“So it`s important that you make every generation in the ministry feel significant and special in order to get maximum production and build and environment where everyone can grow,” Lockett said.
Both agree that as priorities change, churches have to change as well.