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It is being widely reported that Millennials and Gen Z are shying away from religion. As churches and various church leaders look at the data, their primary response tends to be to try and figure out what can be done to attract these generations. As a result, we have people innovating by incorporating “contemporary” music and worship styles into their church services, moving their services to places they believe these people will enjoy, changing the name of their churches to seem “less offensive,” putting more emphasis on addressing social issues, tweaking the way they do small group Bible study and fellowship opportunities, and the like.
It is certainly true, according to various polling organizations (and it seems accurate just observing what is going on in society), that these generations are shying away from religious practice as it has been traditionally practiced in America. Certainly a lower percentage of them attend church, and more identify as “nones” (not having any religious affiliation).
But that is not the same as shying away from religion. The truth is, Millennials and Gen Z may self-identify as not having any religious affiliation, but they are very deeply religious. It is impossible not to be. It is just that they follow a different religion.
I have had numerous conversations with people of this ilk, and almost without exception they claim to be Atheists, or at least Agnostic (which is just a way of living as an Atheist without having to take responsibility for it). And also almost without exception, they claim that a “lack of belief cannot constitute religious belief.”
Here is the problem with that. Saying you “don’t believe in God” is a negative statement about what one doesn’t believe, but says nothing about what one “does” believe. And EVERYONE does believe something – even if they can’t consciously identify or articulate what it is.
Genuine Atheists may not believe in God, but almost all of them do believe that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. Now while it is impossible to dispute what a person says they don’t believe, once you get past that to find out what they do believe, that can be evaluated.
So, at that point, we can ask a question: How do you know that the natural universe operating by natural laws is all that exists?
When asked that question, most respond by somehow pointing to science. There are two problems here. First, science is not a belief system, it is a methodology. You can believe that the scientific method is a valid way to study the natural world, but you can’t believe in it as a belief system. Second, there is no science that has ever shown, or ever can show, that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. That claim is a religious statement. It is a statement of faith made by people who simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of God. They have no scientific reason for that belief, they just believe it.
This gets us back to our original point. Millennials and Gen Z do not shy away from religion. All they have done is to adopt a different religious faith.
So where does that leave Christians trying to reach out to them? It leaves us in the same position we are in when we try to share our faith with anyone who holds a different religious faith.
If we want to be able to effectively share our faith, the first thing we need to know are the essential beliefs of our own faith. This is not only the first step in having confidence that our belief in Christ is true, but constitutes the gospel message itself. It is what another person must grasp in order to invite Christ into their life.
Second, we need to know what the other person believes, and “why” what they believe is not true. People are not going to give up what they believe is true unless and until they realize that their own beliefs are not true.
So, when it comes to the Millennials and Gen Zers who claim to be “nones,” contrary to popular opinion, they are not shying away from religion. Rather, they are following a different religious faith. They are simply lost without Christ and need to know how to receive Him.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
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