Young Christians Are Skipping Church But Keeping The Faith
Up until the age of 23, the church was my safe place. I went to the same church for 16 years, a small local church a bus away from my family home. That church gave me more than a sense of community, they were family, and it was perfect – until it wasn’t.
Church for many people is a place where you can find comfort, peace, community, and a shared understanding. It can also be a place where you find pain, hurt, betrayal, and abuse.
As I got older and more involved in church leadership, I saw the somewhat ugly side of the church: politics. In this case, many Black leaders were blocked from senior positions purely because they were Black. There was also gossiping and abuse of power.
But it wasn’t until I went to a new church after university that things really got dark. My family and I left our family church, and I sought to find my own Christian community that I could call home. A friend invited me to a new church and at first, everything felt normal. After a few weeks of attending, things started to get intense – I was being guilt-tripped to attend multiple church services on Sundays and bible studies during the week.
I was forced to practice ‘spiritual gifts’ such as speaking in tongues, and I felt a sense of doing things for God out of duty, rather than love. Eventually, when I did leave, multiple churchgoers somehow found my address and came to my house unannounced to persuade me to go back to the church.
After that experience, I went to other churches here and there, but nothing felt right, and now I have doubts about joining a new place of worship.
I’m not the only Christian with reservations about joining a new church.
*Louise, 29, a nurse from London, was born into a Christian family as both of her parents are pastors.
“Church was really a key place of community for me, it was where I felt grounded, where I could find support and belonging, it’s where I could go deeper into my faith. I loved communal worship especially,” she tells HuffPost UK.
As she got older, she started deconstructing her faith and coming to terms with what Christianity meant for her as a Black, queer woman.
“I regularly asked my parents and my elders questions about things like the authenticity of the bible, doctrine on women in leadership, doctrine on homosexuality, queer identity. I read loads, spoke to people from all walks of life, prayed and deeply interrogated my beliefs.”
Although she had questions, she continued going to church as she believed “it was somewhere I could be at home without necessarily agreeing with everything.”
After years of church hopping she eventually found a church in her mid-twenties.
“I made amazing friendships there and was really supported through challenging times and really grew in my faith,” she says.
This remained true until she confided in a fellow church member about someone she was dating, and that she was in a sexual relationship with this person. Her friend then took it upon themselves to inform the church leadership
“I remember I was due to become an official member of the church that Sunday when I received a call saying that they didn’t think it was appropriate, given what they had heard,” she recalls.
Since then, she hasn’t been back.
*Patricia, 18, who is a student from East London went to church with both her parents and grandparents for 13 years. However, she left after her grandmother passed away after doing a 50-day fast prompted by the church.
”Although she wasn’t directly pressured to do the fast, the church told members that they would be rewarded by God for partaking in the fast.”
Her grandmother suffered from high blood pressure and two weeks after doing the fast, she sadly passed away.
“My family didn’t understand why I left at first because I was so young and they thought it was just a phase,” she says.
“But as I got older they realised that I was very adamant about not going and that I would make excuse after excuse as to why I couldn’t go.”
Patricia doesn’t see herself joining a church anytime soon.
“I feel like I can pray at home and build a tighter relationship with God myself,” she says.
*Hannah, a 27-year-old accounts specialist from South London, stopped going to her church as she saw hypocrisy within the leadership and what she calls “moral flexibility.”
“The church I was a member of was no longer a safe space for me,” Hannah says.
She feels like the church has its merits but a lot of churches insist on framing themselves to members as a family, rather than an organisation.
“Given how unregulated the family is, compared to other social structures, I feel like there’s a great deal of harm that can be done when this is mindset is in place,” Hannah says.
She adds that “people who leave the church are much more likely to labelled as the problem, which is often intellectually dishonest.”
She continues: “However, this also means that the system gets to continue as is without much accountability while causing harm to people who are left to recover from the damage in isolation.”
When asked if she would consider joining a new church Hannah isn’t so sure.
“I definitely worry about being sucked into church life too quickly or being caught up in unhealthy church dynamics,” she says.
“And at the same time, I fear being judged for wanting to take things slowly rather than rush into serving or getting involved immediately.”
Woman reading bible.
Emmanuel Akinfenwa who is the pastor of City Worship London thinks there are many reasons why people have left the church, but the key factors are: “a lack of churches catering to the needs of members (spiritually, physically and emotionally), traumatic experiences in a church setting, high profile scandals and a lack of engagement in community and wider society.”
Christians are now a minority in England and Wales. 46.2 percent of the population (27.5 million people) described themselves as ‘Christian’ in 2021. This has dropped from 59.3 percent (33.3 million people) in 2011.
“Though there are stats that show that Millennials are walking away from the church at an alarming rate, it’s interesting to also note that Gen-Z is actually quite keen on growing in the area of spirituality,” Akinfenwa says.
Akinfenwa understands why Christians are walking away from the church and expresses a sincere apology to anyone who has lost their faith. However, he still believes in the importance of the church for Christians.
“As you may not be in the right space to attend a local church (which is fine), the church is still God’s best strategy for representing His kingdom in the world today.”
“There are countless churches that are Christ-loving, Holy spirit-filled, Bible-believing churches that have healthy communities,” he adds.
If you’re open to looking for a new church, Akinfenwa says there are things you should look out for.
“Their doctrine (what they believe about God & The Bible), their community (how people treat each other, conduct and values), their leaders (how they behave, how they treat people, do they reflect the heart of Christ?”
“Accountability (who is the church accountable to). I will lastly say that it’s important you pray. Ask God to lead you as you look to join a new church,” Akinfenwa adds.