We are an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us.

We are the children who learned fake smiles too early, who found all the right answers dissatisfying, who know what it’s like to sit in a pew with our hearts a thousand miles away. For us, Sunday morning is the loneliest hour of the week.

When I think of “Millennials leaving the church”, these are the voices I hear. If you haven’t left the church, please just listen. Listen closely.

You know my heart, if you’ve been here before. I don’t share these stories to disparage the church. I love the church. I want you to love it too, someday. But if you don’t, that’s ok. You aren’t alone. Just listen.

These are our stories:

Stale. Rows of vacant eyes and people half-asleep, half-dead maybe looking up at me like zombies. My mind turns to the random thought that Jesus was kind of a zombie, too, raised from the dead but that’s neither here nor there as my fingers turn the pages of the hymnal looking for the song that marches on like a funeral dirge. I can’t help but wonder why that Something felt like it was constantly missing. Left church because I wanted to find a place where people went to be alive and not hide behind an idolatry of doctrine or poorly exegeted Scripture passages.

• •

The Bible and God were twisted into something ugly and frightening. Most of the time, people just wanted to step on us, to grind their Christian truth into us with their heel. I was so disgusted by the hate radiating from Christians, from churches. It made me sick. And if that’s what being a Christian was, what God was, I wanted nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with it.

• •

I left because I could no longer hear the voice of the True Shepherd among all the bleating sheep. They were quick to remind me that walking away from relationship with them equated walking away from the Shepherd for good. In leaving, I was labeled rebellious, a heretic, discordant, immature and emotional. I thought I would never hear the Shepherd’s voice again. What would He want to do with me? I became the wounded lamb who wandered from the ninety-nine. Much to my surprise, the Shepherd has pursued me. I’m far from returning to the fold, but in the meantime I’m getting to know the heart of the true Shepherd.

• •

I’d spent my entire life being drug to church by the ear. It meant being fussed at each Sunday morning, trying to scrimp together an outfit that would suit my mother’s tastes, then sitting for several hours having to listen to a sermon that I didn’t understand. When I got into college, mom took it upon herself to call me every Sunday at precisely noon to make sure I had gone to church and hadn’t given into temptation by skipping and sleeping in. She would even grill me on what sermon had been preached and if I’d been taking notes. When I started going to a mission-oriented church that gathered in a coffeehouse on campus on Sunday nights, she said it wasn’t a “real” church and I would have to start going somewhere on Sunday mornings.

• •

I left because the pressure to be perfect created an atmosphere of judgment. I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to go back. I miss the familiarity but not the nauseating atmosphere of lies.

• •

I left because my youth pastor lied to me. I shared things with him that he said would “be between us and God.” A week later half the congregation knew what I had told him.

• •

I was born and raised in the church, baptized, confirmed, married in it, had our kids baptized and confirmed in it, and I practically lived, breathed, ate, and slept “church.” Then our pastor sexually harassed me. My husband and I had to go through so many hoops (even with hard proof) to have anything done that it revealed an ugly, ugly underbelly at the highest leadership levels. We left that denomination for another, and within a half-year, that pastor resigned due to clergy sexual misconduct. Wagons were circled. The truth was silenced. The victim (who had hard proof of the abuse) and her family was slandered and cast out. Many sided with the “poor” pastor, who refused therapy. It’s darned near impossible for me to trust a faith leader.

• •

I stopped going to church after growing up going to literally hundreds of them and then going on to Bible college to get my degree in theology. After graduating, I managed to keep attending for another nine months or so, but eventually, I couldn’t live with the cognitive dissonance anymore. It made me angry.

• •

The priest said “We stand ready in the love of Christ, to welcome back to the fold all of the fallen away. The one true church, with outstretched arms. Asking to have back the worst of the sinners. Adulterers. Murderers. Thieves. Whoremongers. Homosexuals…” A parishioner interruped, “Wait, what do you mean homosexuals? That’s a mortal sin. They’re never invited back and I’ll never accept them.” I didn’t hear much after that. There may have been some discussion about how the Church needed to guide us through “our struggle” with “the sin” along with the other degenerates, but at that point, I didn’t want to hear.

• •

Church became more about the program than about the actual living out of the gospel. Then I was lied to on numerous occasions by those in leadership. I’ve recently thought about finding my way back, only to have my family punished because I used a four-letter word in a post. (Not for theatrics but to simply express the rawness of what I was feeling.) Not any of the people who were offended by the word I used even asked if we were ok or if there was something they could do. We didn’t find any grace or compassion, only worry for what it looked like and how it would affect the church. Do I want to go back now? Hell no!

• •

One of the biggest reasons I left the organized church was the fact that we, as a church, were simply maintaining our own club/clubhouse. We tithed to pay the costs to operate the organization. I guess since there were no widows, orphans or hungry people around we were able to justify keeping it all in-house.

• •

Even though I haven’t technically left, I clocked out emotionally and just do the movements with the other attenders. I am there to worship my God, but all of the blood, sweat, and tears I gave has long been forgotten by those whom I trusted the most. I even trusted them with my salvation! Now, they are just faces. Not a single one was there for me and my son when we needed them. I’m already saved, so why bother with me now? They are too busy saving others and spending their time with the lost. I shared that vision, but now it all seems to be a masquerade. Every Sunday I know it’s just show time. “Ok, Camera 2 – Go wide. Camera 1 – Get me a close-up of the lead singer. Camera 2 – Give me a slow push towards the stage. In 5,4,3,2…..it’s show time.”

• •

We have tried to find another community of people who would accept us for who we are and have failed. We’re tired of trying. It seems so pointless and church seems fake. Questioning is not allowed. Don’t forget to tithe so God will bless you! Stop gay marriage! Isn’t our worship team the best? We long for a faith community, but after almost two years of looking I don’t think we’ll find it within the four walls of “church”. I don’t know how we’ll find it. I threw my heart and soul into the last church for two years, only to be betrayed and rejected and kicked to the curb. I don’t feel like repeating that right now.

• •

The hardest part is that I feel like I have to do all this searching and seeking alone. I have questions that I’m terrified to ask because I don’t want to just be slapped over the head with a Bible and have various verses spewed at me. I can’t speak for the rest of my generation, but when it comes to church I just want to feel safe. It’s not always about rebelling, and I wish older generations could recognize and understand that.

• •

I am tired of having to hide what I believe in a culture that prides itself on being welcoming, accepting, and real. When the tagline on so many churches is “come as you are” but they don’t really mean it, I’m done.

• •

We were both raised in Christian homes – he is the son of a pastor, both of us went to Christian schools and Christian colleges. We have 7 children and I can’t find a way back to the institution right now for their sake. I don’t want them confused with all the half-truths that I still wrestle with. The process has been incredibly freeing though. Chains have been broken that I didn’t know existed when we started this journey.

• •

While I haven’t cut off my relationship with the church, I keep her at arm’s length and don’t trust her. We dance, but it’s a tango and I’ve got my eye on the door. Because an institution holds power, and power has killed the Gospel for me once too often. I don’t belong, and I know it too well. I feel like my welcome in a church is a conditional thing, dependent on my best behavior.

• •

My lifetime of church experience drove me away from Jesus. In the wilderness alone I really experienced him. Religion was found in the church. All man-made junk, and little of Jesus. I wanted Jesus, and found him.

• •

I just moved 500 miles and had to find a new church. Trying churches has by far been the scariest part of moving. I literally shake as I drive into parking lots. Attending a bad church hurt me, it is hard to search for a new, safe place.

• •

I was so sick and tired of the agenda-driven services. It was never about relationship – it was about numbers. I was tired of being called too spiritual or not spiritual enough. I was tired of the numerous amounts of sermons about why I shouldn’t have sex before marriage as a young adult; I heard more about sex than I did about Jesus. I left the church because I was “welcomed” but I wasn’t received. I attended my church for five years and still people would ask me if Sunday was my first day, even though I helped, served and volunteered in various different ways. I was tired of the masks, the facades, and the show. All I wanted, all I wished for, was to be a part of a community of people to be able to give what I had been given and receive what I lacked. I left the church because the church broke my heart. But I’m realizing real church is the only thing that will help bring healing to this brokenness.

These stories are collected from my friends via social media – those I have met and those I haven’t met yet. They are not intended to be a statistically accurate sample. They have been edited for length and clarity. But each one is true.

We are not a statistic, a headline, an issue, a problem to be solved. We are not a theological debate. We are flesh and blood. So don’t say that we left because we didn’t want to follow Jesus, or because we’re too consumeristic, or too selfish, or too sinful. I remember what it’s like to be facedown on the carpet praying to a God you barely believe in; the self-righteous assumptions and finger-pointing are a kick in the ribs to those already paralyzed by fear and aching doubt. Please don’t do that.

If you want to argue about the definition of “church”, read this post. If you want to question the decisions that have been made in our journeys, or tell us that we’ve been wrong, just don’t. I’ll delete those comments.

If you want to share your story, of how you left the church or how you came back, I’m listening. You are not alone. And you are loved.

[ image: Steven Polunsky ]