Why Creative Young Adults Are Abandoning the Church (and What We Can Do About It)
I want you to consider two realities:
A) Millennials and Generation Z are routinely defined as more creative minded and arts oriented than previous generations.
B) Millennials and Gen Z are abandoning the Church at higher rates than ever before.
Now ask yourself this question: is there any connection between these two realities? According to several recent studies and books (including You Lost Me by David Kinnaman and Meet Generation Z by James Emery White), the answer is yes. Young adults are abandoning the Church at alarming rates, and the creative minded—the creatives—make up a substantial portion of this exile.
Why Are They Leaving?
There is no single reason why so many creative young adults are leaving the Church any more than there is a solitary reason why Americans love to watch football. To speak about a certain “generation” is always to speak about a mass of individuals, each with unique and personal stories. However, from working with young people—particularly with the creatives— and by studying much of the current resources available, I’ve notice three general trends.
1. They are Bored
Contrary to popular assumptions, the majority of young adults who leave the Church are not necessarily doctrinally opposed to Christianity or angry at the Church. Statistically, most do so simply because they are bored with it (31% of churched 18-29-year-olds describe the Church as “boring”). Creatives are naturally among the dissatisfied, as a typical church service is generally conducted with a left-brained mentality that appeals to rationality and knowledge rather than emotion or imagination.
2. They Feel Restricted
More than 13% of 18-29-year-olds express that the Church does not provide opportunities for creative people. This statistic represents all types of young adults—jocks, scientists, mathematicians, etc. When limited to the young adults most affected by the issue—the creatives themselves—that number skyrockets. In fact, after surveying thousands of young adults, David Kinnaman—president of the Barna Group— concluded that there is a widespread consensus among young adults that the Church is a “creativity killer.” When the arts—or at least music—are present in church worship, it is often seen as lacking innovation (we sing the same song for 10 years) and listless. While the budding young creatives are usually willing to volunteer, rarely—if ever—do they find their participation artistically challenging or fulfilling.
3. They Feel Out of Place
Creatives are naturally disposed to wander. Art has always invited the exploration of new ideas and questioning of the status quo. Artists regularly live on the front lines of their culture, which means they are also often among the first casualties. Yet, many churched creatives feel isolated. As many as 1 in 4 young adults bemoan that the Church is overly negative or unaccepting of the importance of the creative arts and, by extension, of them. In other words, creative young Christians are among the most likely candidates to be seduced by the world while also among the least discipled by or plugged into the Church.
What Can the Church Do About It?
1. Stimulate Them
The Church needs to do a better job of engaging its creatives in ways that stimulate them on an emotional, imaginative, and artistic level. Creativity is a core aspect of the emerging generation’s identity. It is not just something they do; it is something they are. This creative compulsion craves an avenue of expression and engagement. If the Church cannot provide this avenue —worst yet, if the Church represses or prohibits it—then creatives will inevitably search elsewhere. Christians cannot allow the secular world to act as better stewards of our young adults’ God-given gifts than the church is.
2. Disciple Them
The Church should disciple creatives as creatives, helping them grow both in their faith and in their craft. Many creative young people drift away from the Church because they want to use their talents to make a positive difference in the world, and the Church doesn’t always foster that desire. We need to instill in them an understanding that their gifts are valuable beyond weekly participation on a praise band. The Church needs to raise up its creatives as vital contributors and disciples, missionaries commissioned and sent out into a crucial and predominantly secular area of culture. Too often, however, we are merely content to let them volunteer once a week to strum simple guitar chords for a few worship songs. If we want to keep creatives in church, we must challenge them with a bigger vision, disciple them until they have the faith and character to handle that challenge, and then provide the support they need to pursue it wholeheartedly.
3. Love Them
Let’s be honest. Creatives are a strange breed. They can be quirky and difficult to understand. But the Church cannot afford to give up on them. J. R. R. Tolkien famously wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” Creatives might confuse us or act in ways that seems strange, but they are family, and the family bond transcends personality types or dispositions. Seek out the creatives in your church. Find ways to love them and support their creative calling. It is easy to walk away from a church. It is much harder to walk away from a loving family.
The Church should not become an art gallery; the sermon should not be delivered as a hip-hop dance and the meditative invitational song does not require a blazing Zeppelin-esque guitar solo. But the Church must be a place where young artists, hip-hop dancers, and electric guitar players are active and contributing members of the family. God created the human brain with a right and left hemisphere, and the body cannot function as fully intended without both present and operating. So too with the body of the Church. To be a fully functioning church, we need our young creatives, and the first step to achieving this objective is to do whatever it takes to keep them from leaving.