Calling All Millennials

MillennialThe most interesting talk at UVU’s just-completed Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance Conference was by Jana Riess: “Mormon Millennials: Assimilation or Retrenchment?” Jana gave a preliminary report of research she is doing for a new book on the subject. She defined the Millennial generation as those born in the 80s or 90s. Others define it as those born between 1982 and 2004. Are you a Millennial? Glad you’re here. Hope you stay.

Here are a couple of relevant points from the talk. Jana referenced the Christian Smith book Soul Searching (see here for an earlier discussion) for general commentary on the religious views and practices of Millennials. They are less inclined to affiliate with a religion, with the data showing a significant rise in those who self-define as atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated. More recent Pew data shows declines in affiliation by Millennial Mormons (64% retain their Mormon affiliation as they become young adults, down from prior generations) but better retention than most other denominations. The factoid that really stands out: Most who exit Mormonism tend to leave organized religion altogether. Perhaps the One True Church mentality is so strongly emphasized to LDS youth that young doubters move more easily to a No True Church mentality rather than attempt the challenging task of developing a broader Christian faith and finding a church to attend that supports that different faith orientation. [Or another religious faith apart from Christianity — same principle.]

At the end of the talk, Jana offered some preliminary observations on what the Church is doing right and what it could improve on to retain more Millennials. One thing she mentioned as a good thing is the nicely mapped plan for moving LDS teens to young adulthood as active, participating Mormons. She noted single adult wards in particular (this is apparently just a Mormon thing) but seminary, a mission, and institute are part of that plan as well. Young LDS get lots of participation, responsibility, and leadership opportunities. They feel wanted.

On the needs improvement side of the ledger, Jana noted that there is no institutional mechanism within the Church for young adults to be heard or listened to. I would add that there is really no mechanism for anyone to be heard or listened to within the Church, but that’s not really the point. She noted that Millennials see peers giving talks at the ward on Sunday and at stake conference, but in General Conference they see only speakers who are peers with their grandparents and even great-grandparents. Their generation doesn’t get a voice at General Conference. What a great idea: have a returned missionary or two speak at every General Conference. That’s a simple way to get the attention of our Millennials — while they are still listening. Glad you’re here. Hope you stay.

45 comments for “Calling All Millennials

  1. I’m not sure if I agree with her on what they’re doing right (singles wards) and what they can do better (social media). But I agree that the stats were v interesting.

    PS I’m an X/Millennial

  2. I don’t think that having a GC speaker be a millennial would make much of a difference (unless the speaker is able to address issues that are causing millennials to leave, which I doubt would get approval). As a millennial myself, I hope we’ve got more substance than to pick a religion based on the age of a bi-annual speaker. Besides, Bernie seems to be doing well despite his age! Slightly off topic – but one way to shake things up at GC would be to have a “wildcard” talk, say, by allowing people to submit proposed talks, the GAs picking the best one, and the speaker then delivering it. It’d allow the GAs to retain some control over the message, but also inject fresh blood into the addresses.

  3. One thing I worry about is that in attempting to stop the flow of people into the Nones (which gets larger with each generation) we miss the key issue that most of what is important in organized religion is being rejected. That is constraints that are bigger than ones personal likes or comforts. I’m not sure it is possible to make an organized religion that is challenging (in the sense of moving us out of our comfort zone) that would attract a significant group of these people.

    Now perhaps many people do and always have tended towards religions that confirm their basic approaches to life. That or they stay simply because of social inertia as they were raised within those faiths.

    The second thing I’d note that doesn’t get discussed as much is the rise of quasi-religious groups organized more on political rather than religious lines. (The Nones themselves tend to be less socially involved, but it does seem that those who are involved may be moving to these new organizations) Put an other way if your main issues are political, not religious, why would you go to a more politically liberal religion rather than a social or political group that better focuses in on those concerns.

    Religion, especially Christianity, traditionally focused on a solution to being lost or sinful. Yet it’s those concerns of sin and alienation from God that also just don’t seem to be a drive with more and more people. What’s so interesting to me isn’t that we are losing people (especially when all faiths are) but that we are losing so few. Our own religion basically emphasizes issues like authority or lost truths that don’t even matter much to people in most of Christianity let alone the population at large. (Thus the rise of Evangelicalism as becoming the more dominate form of Christianity)

    None of this is to deny that there are changes I suspect could make a difference. (Meetings that seem to feel more like a duty than something people necessarily feel like they’ve got a lot out of contrasted with say a lot of innovation in terms of church service by Evangelicals) But at the same time I am pretty skeptical there’s a silver bullet to solve a lot of these problems.

  4. First, could you please provide a link for the Pew data showing 64% of Millennial Mormons figure? Thanks.

    Second, I’m a millennial (by some definitions, 35yo) who has left the church mentally (but still attends sacrament meeting with my wife) and who self-defines as agnostic. I began questioning at the age of 28. I experimented with becoming a liberal Mormon at first, but liberal Mormonism appeared to contradict what the church leaders were emphasizing as what was to be believed. Then I experimented with the idea of becoming Christian, but when I attended other Christian churches (liberal Christian, there was no way I could consider Evangelical Christianity), I felt a lot of the uncomfortable parallels with Mormonism. There was still the social pressure not to question a core set of beliefs and engage in seemingly bizarre rituals (albeit less bizarre than those of Mormonism). Logically speaking, secular humanism appealed to me the most.

    The challenge with Mormonism is the requirement (or least the pressure, if you don’t think that it is a requirement) to profess belief in lots of seemingly hard-to-believe miracles on top of the hard-to-believe ones in the Bible, such as virgin birth and resurrection. In fact, the survival of Mormonism depends on its leaders continuing to stress belief in lots of different core miracles. If the leaders repudiate something as peripheral as many of the Old Testament miracles, it could lead to chaos in the ranks. The Book of Abraham is much harder to get around. Repudiation of the Book of Mormon as a historical text would spell almost immediate collapse. While leaders can sidestep those issues to an extent, their standard works are so central to the religious experience created in the chapels that they can’t help but regularly make historicity issues (even if just indirectly) a key piece of Mormon identity and experience.

    I don’t see hope for much growth among millennials in the US. The LDS church will linger on among some of them for a while longer, but the current trend among millennials is non-religion and it is culturally becoming the norm. The LDS church’s future may lie in South America where we see a growing middle class (who can serve as the basis for the local leadership) and greater cultural inclination toward religion in general. Plus, people there tend not to either know English well or read much in English online and are less likely to come under the influence of people and sites who challenge the LDS church’s truth claims and cause them to have faith crises.

  5. To add Dave, while more Mormons leave to become Nones than the prior Pew poll, that increase tends to be affecting most religions. Unfortunately the data from Pew on switching hasn’t all been released yet. What I’m most intrigued by will be the forthcoming new ARIS data. Among Millenials for instance only 27% regularly attend religious meetings. That’s a big shift and almost certainly means that the doctrine of “one true church” likely isn’t the main issue. I do think the tendency of Christian religions to be politically conservative is a big cause though. Those who are politically liberal are becoming more and more alienated from religion for a variety of reasons. (I suspect it’s partially an effect of how political peers view religion combined with thinking the religious are plain wrong on numerous issues and thus immoral from this view) Once you divorce ethics and normative behavior from religion then any conflict will drive people away from religion. (I’d add that any such divorce also eliminates much of the practical point of religion)

  6. Interesting article, Ben S. I wonder if that will change when/if a Republican takes the white house. I wonder if millennials naturally gravitate toward more anti-government sentiments (libertarianism, socialism, and the like) and tend towards the party who is less in control of the government. I remember during the Bush years that the Democrats were quite popular with the younger crowd and that self-proclaimed Democrats were also quite vocally anti-government. Noam Chomsky, a libertarian socialist, appeared to be particularly influential among them.

  7. I question what constitutes “retaining their Mormon affiliation” and whether or not the drop to 64% is meaningful, when Sacrament Meeting attendance has historically a significantly lower percentage than those who retain their Mormon affiliation. Perhaps all that has happened is that millennials are more willing to publicly step away from the LDS Church, whereas prior generations didn’t. Having lived in Orem for 20 years after growing up in Southern California, it has long been my assertion that more than a few of my neighbors wouldn’t attend church if they were living in the “mission field.” I don’t think LDS millennials are that much different at their core than my generation (I am a parent of 6 millennials) or my parents’ generation. Some of my aunts & uncles, and my siblings have left the Church and some of my children are “less active.” Each circumstance is different.

    I suppose the “participation trophy” aspect of the millennials’ generation might play into the desire to be heard or catered to, more than in prior generations. Or the “What’s in it for me?” approach to Church membership. I don’t have the answers, nor do I feel that Jana does either.

  8. My argument is that at least a substantial part of the Nones are what we’d call nominal members. That is people who are members of whatever religious group they identify with in name only but not in terms of active participation. That said, I think there are broader trends as well as real substantial shifts take place, albeit perhaps not at the rate the rise of the Nones suggests.

    The relationship between self-identification and “activity” in the more LDS sense is actually tighter than most suspect. Pew gives it in the high 70’s as people who attend weekly. (Which is probably an overly restrictive sense of activity)

  9. There are many support communities for Millennials stepping away from Mormonism. These didn’t exist when I started to seriously question Mormonism’s truth claims. I suspect these communities will only get stronger, with limits. I don’t see post-Mormon communities developing any formal rituals, and I suspect they’re limited to therapeutic value: friendships while transitioning out of Mormonism, companionship.

    I’m interested to see what the “nones” do instead of organized religion. These are people just like everyone else and they have needs that their parents and grandparents satisfied within church. What takes the place of organized religion? What is really needed for a stable community? Can a secular community meet the needs of its members as religious communities have done in the past?

    (If anyone has book recommendations, I’m very interested.)

  10. I am a millennial. There is a lot of talk about catering to millennials and figuring out how to retain us as members. I think some of those ideas are interesting; others superficial. But less talked about is what I consider to be the bigger obligation: That we, as a generation, also need to change ourselves and our values to better fit into religion in general or in the LDS church in particular. I see too much arrogance in my peers (and in myself too) to think that changing things for us is really a positive thing.

  11. I think the number of millennials who become nones and the higher percentage of LDS millennials who are Republican are deeply connected. I know a lot of people between 30 and 40 who have left the church during the past three years or so. None of them–not one–is Republican. Some are moderates. Some are liberal.

    I think a lot (although certainly not all) of our wards are unfortunately becoming toxic environments for anyone to the left of Mitt Romney. So millennials who aren’t Republican leave, driving up the number of millennials who leave and also driving up the percentage of LDS millennials who are Republican.

  12. Tim, I worry about that a great deal, although there are also wards where conservatives don’t necessarily feel a part. (I’ve had friends mention this to me) I’d hope we’d be more open to different views. While I’m conservative I’d be the first to acknowledge there is a balancing of values at play. Most people I know who are democrats or farther left and are Mormons do so out of a sincere sense of religious duty and analysis.

    As I mentioned, a lot of Pew’s analysis of the Nones sees the movement tied to a political divide. (It’s a large movement so any analysis just captures a portion and never the whole) There is a strong sense that there’s a polarization going on somewhat akin to the political polarization that took place nationally in the 90’s and naughts. I hope that’s not true.

  13. One fact that I believe strongly influences the culture of Millennials (I’m 28) is the fact that our economy works much harder than it did before the 70s just to stay afloat.
    Everyone, not just Millenials, work harder without seeing the benefits of it. But we lack the years of experience which seemed to be required to get any job anymore.This has lead to a stark loss in purchasing power among younger generations. Every YSA I know WANTS to be married. We want children. It baffles me to be hear talks at church admonishing us to just “get on with our lives” as if the that thought hadn’t occurred to us. Most members I know in their twenties are trying to balance the mental and physical stress of simply getting a middle-class career, a social life, and church and family duties. I know of only a handful of people in my YSA ward in Oregon who make more than $30000 a year. Starting a family seems like a bad idea when you work 45 hours a week and can’t afford your own place.
    Apologies in advance for being all “Boohoo! Millenials have it so hard!” but I feel like we don’t address the factors enough when discussing Millennials at church.

  14. Even though I am a millennial who was raised in the church but then left the church, I’m not exactly sure if I’m representative of other millennials in the same boat (I have always been agnostic atheist, but only realized that much later that that was why people were looking askew at me when I would bear my testimony: [yeah, it never clicked that saying, “I don’t really believe in this, but it has practical value in my life” was an open admission of atheism, LOL]), but to respond to something Observer mentioned in comment 10…I don’t really see myself as having needs that need to be fulfilled by a church.

    Maybe part of this is demographic — I don’t have kids, and like most of my friends, I don’t plan on having any anytime soon — but I think that is not necessarily something where millennials are going to go back to religion for (because a lot of folks actively think that the morality taught by religion is harmful and immoral.) I mean, among my (admittedly never-Mormon, but still millennial, and also “none”) friends, religion just seems to be irrelevant at best, but backward at worst.

    What I mean by “irrelevant” is that it doesn’t seem like we’re leaving conservative religions to replace it for a liberal religion or a secular quasi-religion. It’s not just a question of replacing an institution with values we disagree with for institutions with values we agree with. Rather the institutions themselves seem unnecessary. (Maybe the political quasi-religion point is perceived as more necessary…but I dunno? Most of us aren’t doing organized political engagement on a weekly basis, even if we have strong political opinions.)

    Ideology, we don’t really see ourselves as fundamentally flawed/broken/sinful people in need of salvation. I don’t really know what seeing myself as a “child of God” is supposed to practically mean. We may have problems or issues, but they don’t seem like issues in need of divine assistance. It seems like issues we can work out among ourselves. I will admit that we live very privileged and perhaps even sheltered lives, so that could be part of it. Yet, even when we think there are areas for us to improve in, it’s often not the areas that religion wants us to improve at. (Like, to speak personally, I feel like I definitely need to learn to more patient, loving, etc., in my relationship — but Mormonism cannot or does not help me in these realms because it would rather insist that I should just *not* be in a relationship because it’s not heterosexual. And I’m not begrudging it’s prerogative to set sexual ethics how it wants to…just saying that doesn’t seem relevant to me.)

    Maybe any of these things could change as my friends or I change, but that’s what I’m noticing.

    It seems ultimately that what will be decisive is whether or not Mormonism can inculcate its value and values to youth before they internalize values from the external culture. I think that if you can’t get people to buy that they are sinful and in need of salvation, then I don’t see that you’re going to be able to keep them. I like Clark Goble’s point in comment 4 — I really do believe that the basic, key points of organized religions are being rejected. And I really have marveled at this when I’ve been in conversation with more faithful (especially conservative) religious folks. I come at religion from a perspective of, “How can I grow and how is this religion helping me accomplish that?” (where the answer is not really great in religion’s favor), but I’ve noted that conservative folks tend to come at it from the angle closer to, “What are God’s obligations of me, and how do I live up to those?”

    So, this runs through so many of the other issues. I look at the church’s teaching on sexual ethics, and see that they don’t really help me to grow, so it’s not relevant to me. But a conservative member looks at its teachings as obligatory — regardless of how they personally feel about it — and so they figure out how to align with it even when they don’t like it. And you know: I tried that, and that gave me a lot of anxiety and depression, and it was when I let go of all that that my life instantly became a whole lot more positive.

    I know I’ve read other people who have argued similarly. I know Jeff G at New Cool Thang and Millennial Star has written several posts summarizing faith crises precisely as the result of people bringing in foreign values into Mormonism.

    The challenge I see and have brought up to Jeff and others is that Mormon youth are not cloistered off from the rest of society. My argument would be that it’s difficult to establish where Mormonism ends and the rest of culture begins. I think everyone raised in the church has a collection of values — some which mesh with Mormonism and some which don’t — and yet they think they are Mormon through and through…but some of those values cause some profound mismatches and get people into faith troubles later on.

    It’s common to look at this from the liberal perspective, but I don’t think it’s that simple. In other words, I don’t think we can say “Well, Mormonism is politically conservative, so politically liberal values represent an intrusion of secular values.” Rather, I think that perhaps there has been an intrusion of politically conservative values that some people identify as core to Mormonism, and that’s as alienating as any intrusion of politically liberal values.

  15. Andrew I think you touch on exactly the points I see. It’s hard to find much to disagree with what you write even though we likely disagree on how we view religion.

    I think for most prior generations religion gave a set of answers and a set of responsibilities. More and more people aren’t seeking those sorts of answers and don’t see religion offering responsibilities. Rather religion or quasi-religious movements either offer aids to individual aims or desires or else aid in more secularized ethical stances.

    In some way the tension over “liberal” (I put that in quotes because I think the term is pretty misleading relative to religion) conflict is over this conflict between what is more fundamental: secular ethical demands or religious ethical demands. While it’s clearly not an either/or situation I do think in some ways there’s not an easy way out.

    I’m far from convinced the US is becoming like Europe only delayed by a few decades. There are enough differences in the trend to suspect something else is going on. However in terms of growth, there really are some big generational divides. And at least part of what is developing within the Nones is very much like the particular kind of secularism we saw develop in Europe in the 60’s and 70’s.

  16. Millennial checking in. I am convert to the church, who joined about a decade ago, and went to other churches before joining, and continue to go to an evangelical church with non-member family sometimes, so I have the benefit of something to contrast and compare things to.

    My Mormon millennial peers and I often share our frustrations together, and I’ll attempt to summarize those below. Keep in mind that these are not disaffected folks; they include two Primary presidents, a Sunday School president, and a bishopric member. They’re very faithful, and love the gospel, there are just some things about church culture that frustrate them. None are thinking about going inactive, but they do have moments where they feel it’s tough to stay active. I don’t know how representative we are, so this is just anecdotal, but here are the things we talk about.

    • A dislike of our church services. Some even say they “hate” the services. Long, boring, dreary, rote, and unedifying. The moms are often wrestling with kids during sacrament and end up roaming the halls, and feel like they’re not getting any nourishment there. Then they go to Primary, and don’t feel like they’re being spiritually fed there. Which brings me to
    • Not feeling spiritually nourished. As pointed out above, the church has a ton of programs to spiritually feed the youth, but once you become an adult, you’re expected to mostly feed others. Outside of Sunday services (which can be dreary), there are no church-sponsored spiritual experience in which to take part. But Millennials want to be fed too. Maybe this is our generation’s narcissism that gets talked about so much, but there’s a feeling of “what’s there for me beyond working and serving? How do I feed others, if I don’t have much spirituality myself?”
    • Too many meetings and bureaucracy. There’s definitely a generational gap when it comes to leadership and meetings. Millennials feel like “We could do most of this through a few emails” and have just the occasional meeting, while the older generation wants to meet face to face for everything, and have a lot of meetings.
    • Feeling overwhelmed with callings. A Mormon dad 30 years ago, was mostly the provider, and the priesthood holder while parenting was left to mom. Millennial fathers want to be involved and hands-on with their kids (and they need to be because their wives often work). Now dads have to try to balance work, church calling, and being an involved dad. It’s a tough balance. But women seem to feel the most overwhelmed. Even if they’re stay-at-home moms, if they have a big calling, they feel like there’s too much on their plate. Maybe this is because my generation was “coddled” as they say, but I think there is the passing of a certain kind of Mormon woman, the one who shouldered everything with a smile and without a complaint, who was able to multi-task, and took it all in stride as a matter of duty.
    • Lonely. Millennials like to be social and do things in groups. The church doesn’t value friendship. It’s all about spending time with family, and you don’t have too much free time because you’re serving. There isn’t much socializing that goes on with members. You’re supposed to become friends while serving together, which can happen, but people want more regular hang-out — groups where they can be more comfortable and open with each other, rather than the face one puts on at church.

    Other notes:

    — I don’t think gay marriage and rights is as big of an issue as many in the bloggernacle make it out to be. A few Mormon millennials I know are bothered by it, but most are fine with it. It’s the issues above they struggle with more.

    — They like weirdness. I heard a Millennial religious thinker on a podcast recently who joined the Catholic church and talked about how excited he was about the church’s amazing history of saints and social justice and whatnot. And he observed that the people he went to church with though, didn’t know about that history at all. He posited that Millennials aren’t anti-institution entirely, they’re actually frustrated that the institutions aren’t living up to their potential. I think this is true of the LDS church as well. Mormon millennials I know want more of the distinctive stuff, even the weird stuff. They all actually thought the whole revealing of the seer stone thing was cool. More of that and less correlated blandishments.

    Yes, there’s a growing number of nones, but there are some churches that are thriving. Look up “Life Church” — they have several dozen “campuses” around the country, and keep adding more. In paying them a visit, I was cynically expecting it to be some watered down, overly commercial operation. But I was so thoroughly impressed by what they’re doing. It’s a wonderful experience — so welcoming, so inspiring. Great childcare (your kids get watched during the service!), great music, great sermon. And they’re attracting many, many people who otherwise would never go to church, and many, many millennials. If millennials are not going to be nones, they’re going to go to a church like this.

    The LDS church is never going to be a rock n’roll megachurch obviously, but there are tons of cues we can take from a successful church like this and incorporate in our own way. 50 years ago, LDS services were much like those of other denominations — pews and hymns and fairly dry sermons. Now we’re on radically divergent paths. It’s going to be hard to attract converts, when the other option is so much more accommodating.

    Sure, people have to mold their values to suit the church, rather than the church entirely molding itself to meet the values of people. But there hasn’t to be a balance, doesn’t there? We may lament what’s seen as the flaws of the rising generation, and their emphasis on experience and the desire that things meet their needs, but it’s also the reality we’re dealing with. And either the church can change to better meet those needs, and grow its membership roll, or we can consign ourselves to being a very small church for only the “elite” few who are able to make themselves a part of a culture that feels very foreign.

    Finally, I disagree with Clark who says you can’t have a growing church and a challenging one. You simply have to let go of the idea that it’s the role of the institution to make things challenging for believers. Believers should be the ones who rise to greater and greater challenges of their own free will and choice. In the Mormon church you’re either all in or all out, but it’s possible to provide different levels and opportunities for people who are in different places in their lives.

  17. Greg, don’t think I quite meant that. I actually agree with everything you say. By challenging I was more thinking of what Nones want and that challenging aspect just isn’t part. But while more Millennials are Nones than ever before, they still only make up a little more than ? of Millennials. All the focus on Nones tends to obscure the majority who aren’t Nones.

  18. (Sorry comments don’t like unicode. That should say “they still only make up a little more than 1/3 of Millennials.)

  19. Thanks for the long comment, Greg — you should print it and mail it to the COB. I reformatted your list a bit to highlight your points.

  20. Wondering about what is unique to Millennials, rather than a standard complaint that a 57-year-old could also make (or could have made when he was 27), I think the e-mails vs. meetings idea seems to hit on it. I was talking to a friend who owns a couple fast-food franchises about why I usually avoid drive-through windows; I dislike interfacing through the speaker, and getting out of the car to walk in seems like a strange thing to consider a burden to be avoided. He said this was a well-known generational difference: Young people dislike dealing face-to-face with others and prefer having a choice that avoids that.

  21. “Ideology, we don’t really see ourselves as fundamentally flawed/broken/sinful people in need of salvation. ”

    Andrew S. I think this is a fundamental insight into 21st century Western people, millennial or not. Christianity in general and Mormonism in particular seem to be addressing perceived problems that no longer exist in the minds of many people. I think Elder Nelson’s talk in the most recent priesthood session of conference illustrates this. It was built on the Christian theme that people desperately need salvation and the LDS theme that only we have the true authority to provide all of those ordinances that are necessary. But as I’ve said a few times in comments on LDS blogs, I don’t see any of the people I work with every day being concerned with this at all. I can’t imagine any of them losing sleep at night pondering who has the authority to baptize their children.

  22. Re: people not feeling like they need salvation.

    There is a great quote on this subject in the book How (Not) to Be Secular (which is a great book overall) that sums this up well (he’s talking to Christians here):

    “You came with what you thought were all the answers to the unanswered question these “secular” people had. But it didn’t take long for you to realize that the questions weren’t just unanswered; they were unasked. And they weren’t questions. That is, your “secular” neighbors aren’t looking for “answers” — for some bit of information that is missing from their mental maps. To the contrary, they have completely different maps. You’ve realized that instead of nagging questions about God or the afterlife, your neighbors are oriented by all sorts of longings and “projects” and quests for significance. There doesn’t seem to be anything “missing” from their lives — so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their “God-shaped hole.” They don’t have any sense that the “secular” lives they’ve constructed are missing a second floor. In many ways, they have constructed webs of meaning that provide almost all the significance they need in their lives (though a lot hinges on that ‘almost).”

  23. Andrew,
    I love that idea that millennials aren’t looking for salvation and that we don’t feel we are flawed/broken/sinful people. I am a millennial (though admittedly at the older end of the spectrum). My whole life I’ve always believed that everyone would go to the celestial kingdom (except maybe serial killers and Hitler and such, but maybe even them, who am I to judge?) I honestly believed that God wanted all of his children to become like him and that life was part of that progression and we would all make it. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that isn’t really a Mormon belief. It’s been only in the past few years that I’ve realized that a lot of the things I love about Mormon theology aren’t Mormon theology. I was just projecting.

    Anyway, for me and many of the millennials I know, church is difficult because it hinges on an appeal to authority. I grew up with little to no respect for authority just for authority’s sake. Even if you are in a position of authority, respect must still be earned. That is a huge hang up. When a GA says, “obey me because I have the authority from God.” That just doesn’t really mean very much to me. I can buy, “obey me because I truly have your best interest at heart and I have a good track record for making good decisions.” But that isn’t the message.

    Also, as a female millennial with a daughter, sexism in our core theology is the number one issue!

    I’m not sure these issues can be fixed without making so many changes that the church as I know it today ceases to exist.

  24. After reading Greg’s comments, I’ve decided that I’m a Millennial, and I’m 60. Maybe this isn’t just a Millennial thing.

  25. EBK,

    Your comments on authority are very relevant. Sometimes we get hung up on “God’s authority” and the notion that only we have it. But the question nobody seems to ask is where did God get his authority. That may sound a bit heretical, but it isn’t, not if you take Joseph Smith seriously. The standard Christian view of God’s authority is simply that he created everything, including us, so he can do what he darn well pleases with us (and with everything else). But Joseph seemed to be teaching something entirely different. Toward the end of his life, he taught several times that spirits cannot be created, and neither can intelligence (which is scriptural, D&C 93:29). Joseph’s teachings seem to point to the notion that God came to us and offered to be our “Father” and help us along the path to where he had already arrived. If this is the case, then there are only two alternatives: either he conducted a hostile takeover of our spirits (or intelligences, if you prefer that term) or he gave us the choice to accept him as our Father. The second option seems more in line with the LDS view of agency. So . . . if God is our Father because we chose that relationship with him, then his authority over us has one source and one source only—us. God has authority over us because we granted it to him, the same way the president of the United States has authority over us (because we granted it to him by our vote). The only other alternatives are either that he created our consciousness and therefore owns us or that he conducted that hostile takeover. Neither of these alternatives really square with where Joseph Smith was heading before he died.

    What this means is that we really need to rethink the whole authority thing. If God’s authority over us comes ultimately from us, then what does that mean about how we should exercise it or who gets it or what it really is? Sometimes, I believe, we make assumptions that have no basis other than tradition, and we fail to ask the right questions. One question we really need to answer is whether we are going to accept the traditional Christian notion of a God who created everything out of either nothing (ex nihilo) or out of himself (ex deo) or whether we accept what Joseph Smith was teaching about the nature of God (that he wasn’t always God and wasn’t always our Father). Right now we’re trying to have it both ways, which is impossible. If we take Joseph seriously, we need to ask how God became our Father, because the answer will determine the nature of our relationship to him and the nature of his authority over us.

  26. Andrew (15) by quasi-religious I mean less organized weekly meetings than simply loose groups with enforced moral codes. You see this especially in marxist groups or more recently with the rise of identity groups with strong speech and behavior codes. I think the organized aspect is less significant, although clearly that is a factor. However even among Christian religion Evangelicals have long been less inclined to formal organized religion. So Mormons are getting hit by the double whammy of competing movements and a disinclination towards authority/organization as significant.

    However again let me emphasize this only represents one part of the Nones. An other subgroup isn’t attracted to any group participation. A lot of studies have noted that those who move to the Nones simply are less interested in social participation in general. There’s a certain disengageness that relates to participation in politics, sports teams, extra-curricular activities and so forth. Whether that’s tied to the internet allows those tendencies to be manifest in a different fashion or not isn’t clear.

    One big problem of how Millennials are talked about in the press is to paint with too broad a brush. (This happened previously with Gen-X too) There’s a lot of diversity within a generation in a country as large as the US. We can talk about differences in aggregate but few fit the generalizations exactly.

    Regarding Greg’s (17) point about meetings, I think a lot of people have reacted like that. And there definitely are generational gaps there. The last time I was in an EQ presidency though we did everything with email, texting, and Google Docs. It reduces a lot of meetings. Also the Church has long advocated having as few meetings as possible. (Elder Packer gave quite a few talks on this) It’s just that some individuals seem to love meandering meetings.

    While the Church could definitely do better, I actually think it’s provided quite a few amazing resources in the past few years to reduce meetings and make things more efficient. I notice in our ward that nearly everyone under 50 uses tablets or phones for their scriptures, to use LDS Tools and so forth. Having internet in most chapels helps tremendously.

    I just wish we’d get some more significant meeting reform since I think the current system just isn’t terribly ideal. I’d love shorter sacrament meetings and perhaps a change in how Sunday School/Primary is done.

  27. Millenial here (born 1982). I’m a BYU grad, married in the temple, have a couple of kids–basically the type who would historically be likely to remain an active Mormon. Yet, ibfind myself drifting more towards inactivity. I think this is likely due to a number of factors:

    1) the church experience doesn’t seem meaningful or especially useful. The kids like nursery, but they would be just as happy to play at the park. Hearing members give well-intentioned but often boring sermons doesn’t provide much value. Nor does babysitting other memebers’ children in nursery or primary. We seem to have better, happier, and more fulfilling days on the Sunday’s we ditch church for other activities.

    2) the church’s concerns (social issues and political concerns) just don’t resonate with my family. Our world view is just different.

    3) I have serious doubts that leadership has any special insight into god’s mind. And without that, it can be struggle to regularly attend meetings that often fail to address issues that matter to us.

    4) the things that really keeps us coming back are a) the kids seem to like it, and b) we have friends at church. If it weren’t for those things, we’d probably be gone.

  28. Chris, I would be interested in hearing more about the family values you have that don’t seem to resonate at church or how your world view seems different.

  29. Hey Rob,

    Many of the church’s values do resonate with us, at least in the abstract. It’s the implementation and culture that often do not resonate. And since implementation and culture seem to drive weekly services, they can greatly affect the perceived value of active participation.

    For example, family is important to us. And I believe our theology is potentially expansive enough to include all types of families. But we don’t. Instead, we often treat families that differ from the 1950s era model as worthy of less respect and dignity, and I think doing so is immoral. As is the exclusion of some families that don’t fit our definition of family from meaningful (or any) participation in the church. Hearing repeated veiled and not so veiled attacks against gay marriage and the like, gets old fast. And it’s not something I feel comfortable teaching my children

    We teach that our women are daughters of God with divine potential. Yet, our culture (and depending on how literally you take some of our scriptures and teachings, perhaps our doctrine) often treats women as somehow lesser than men. I don’t want my daughter to learn, either through explicit teachings or implicitly through church culture, that she limited or less than her brother. I want her to understand that she can go as far as her talents and work ethic will take her. And I don’t want my son to learn he is inherently better than any woman because he happens to be male. I want him to respect women, to be able to work with women, and see them as his equal.

    We also teach of the importance of caring for the poor and the need to come together to create Zion. Yet, at least in most places I have lived, there is a strong conservative political bent at the ward level. As a result, lessons are often peppered with the comments regarding the godliness of naked capitalism and the dangers of those who advocate for anything to left of mitt Romney. To those of us left of center, this rhetoric can be less than welcoming.

    We care about meaningful Sunday services. Our scripture and history could make for seriously interesting lessons. But most teachers have neither the time nor knowledge to really prepare such lessons. They do the best they can, with varying degrees of success.

    I suppose this is a long winded way of saying we often feel the benfit of weekly attendance is pretty meager. And often, the costs, can be significant.

  30. What I got out of this: Millennials are lazy, self-important, anti-social, know it all’s who don’t take personal responsibility. Sorry Greg as the one who most put things into words, but your list doesn’t reflect badly on the Church for me. It reflects badly on the generation claiming the status of Millennials. Here are a few reasons why:

    1 and 2, Not the Church’s fault at this point (other than the mommy part that I can understand better) since the wards and stakes by birth year indicate more than half the local leadership consist of millennials. By the logic of the bullet points, millennials now have been passed the ball and they are dropping it while still blaming those who gave it to them. Besides “feeding others” is how we “feed ourselves” in the Church. There is no individual spiritual nourishment without service in Mormon theology. This gets into the whole selfish thing that the “self-help” and “find yourself” false doctrines have produced.

    3. Not sure where to go with this one. I think the Church has recognized this and there has been a few General Conference talks about too many meetings without substance. But I am afraid what the Church has prioritized to replace them will not satisfy the narcissist “what about me” generation.

    4. The feeling overwhelmed with callings is nothing new. Was around with my parents and probably been around since Joseph Smith sent the first Quorum of the Twelve off on missions. However, your explanation of family dynamics seems an awful lot like self-imposed problems. The Church warned of working mothers and it was quickly dismissed. There wasn’t even a shift (in the equality department) to maybe working mother and stay at home father. Nope, both genders had to be working to find some kind of status or satisfaction. I understand the difficulties of modern economics, but that isn’t the Church’s fault. Even the stay at home moms usually have resources available to alleviate some of the stress if they weren’t so darn stubborn and independent minded.

    5. A Church built on social interaction not valuing friendship is laughable. Again, its the millennials fault they can’t make social connections with everyday situations. They need “clubs” or “hang-outs,” where they can be the life of the party or among the popular folks. It used to be introverts had trouble remaining members and now its extroverts. I just can’t get my head around so many contradictions.

    When I was a teenager my interpretation of Scripture brought me to believe that my generation was the last one before the punishments of the last days leading to the Second Coming. Growing out of that I recognized so many unfulfilled prophecies that needed to happen first. Now, I look around at today’s society and quickly believe there is maybe one more generation left. The gentiles are going down a path that isn’t pleasant.

  31. Some things – like simple coordination – can done through email, other things not so much. Any process where people are allowed to participate in making decisions cannot effectively be done through email. For that you need an actual meeting of some kind.

    There are members who feel frustrated that the opinions of members of the RS and priesthood quorums simply do not matter. For better or worse, leaders make command decisions about matters which do not implicate the fundamental doctrines of the church without even asking the opinion of those who will be directly affected. There is no consultative or deliberative process in the church. The church is run by dictates, and the opinions of members – no matter how worthy or how faithful – simply do not count.

    Although we still have a vestige of common consent and congregationalism in the church, in practice there is no such thing. So why exactly do we have meetings of priesthood “quorum” or a relief “society” if the opinions of the members of the quorum or the society are never sought out? Or the quorums or the societies never asked to give their consent to anything except as an empty formality?

    Although there are serious potential issues with subsidiarity, congregationalism, or common consent in a church, the opposite has serious downsides too. It makes members feel like they are not members, but rather more like subjects or volunteers. Subjects whose opinions are not heard tend to resent their superiors. Volunteers whose opinions are not heard tend to walk away. To be a member in any meaningful sense of the term your opinion must actually matter.

    Nowhere is this more than obvious when members refer to “the church” as an administrative organization separate and distinct from its own members. Clearly the body of Christ has a head, but it is the body of Christ that is the church and household of God. The body has members, and it seems like a pretty dim version of eternity to consider exaltation and membership in the kingdom of heaven as absolute subjection to what might for lack of a better term be considered an inspired despotism. At what point along the way is a member’s opinion going to actually matter? The perfect day, and not before?

  32. “millennials now have been passed the ball and they are dropping it while still blaming those who gave it to them.”

    Much of what could make Sunday services more spiritual and edifying would need to involve macro structural changes that can only come from the top down. Even smaller ward changes would need to come from the bishop, and very few Millennials are now in the highest positions in wards and in the church.

    “‘feeding others’ is how we ‘feed ourselves’ in the Church.”

    Our youth program contradicts this statement. Between Sunday lessons, seminary, Wednesday activities, girls camp, youth conference, institute, and so on, youth are surrounded by opportunities that are designed to feed them and provide them spiritual experiences. And yet they are asked to do little to nothing in return. They are fed without feeding.

    Once one becomes a Latter-Day Saint adult, you’re supposed to not need any of these spiritual experiences anymore, and turn entirely from the fed to the feeder. But it’s not a coincidence that most people’s most spiritual experiences happened in their youth. They shouldn’t have to feed on those vapors for the next 50 years. The need for spiritual experiences continues until you die. (And yes, you can create them for yourself, but something special happens in communal activities.) As a friend once put it, “Institute is wasted on the young.”

    “A Church built on social interaction not valuing friendship is laughable.”

    This statement is laughable. Let’s look at the structure of services — you go to Sacrament meeting, and need to keep quiet while listening to speaker; you go to Sunday school and need to keep quiet (besides making comments about the lesson) in order to listen to the teacher; you go to Priesthood/RS, where you need to keep quiet (except for making comments about the lesson); then you go home. There’s a few minutes of socializing between meetings (which many say is their favorite part of church), but that’s it for Sunday. On Wednesday nights you’re busy executing activities for the youth. Otherwise there’s socializing at the occasional ward activity, and a few minutes interspersed into your leadership meetings. But about 90% of church is not built on socializing at all. It is ancillary at best.

    To feel a hunger for friendship and socialization that extends beyond passing and stolen moments isn’t hard to wrap one’s mind around. It’s a fundamental human need. Nearly every other church provides opportunities to meet together in Wednesday evening Bible studies and dinner groups, or morning prayer groups, while our church has no such spiritual/social opportunities. I feel most bad for men; men in other churches often have close groups where they can feel the power of fraternity and support. The idea (though its potential is baked into our theology) is foreign to Mormon men, who feel they must spend all their free time with family. As I once heard someone put it, “Mormon men are the loneliest men I’ve ever known.”

  33. I’m glad the church as currently organized works for you. It doesn’t for many. But thanks for he condescending comment. Always good to know we can count on members to blame young people for dating to voice concern over certain aspects of church life.

  34. I can only give anecdotal evidence about my own experience as a millennial (age 27) and my husband’s (age 30). In my case, I struggle with the idea of absolute truth. I grew up in a post-modern world where “truth” is contextual or grey at best. Sometimes it’s appropriate to use Einstein’s theory of relativity when solving a math problem, sometimes it’s not. By the same token, approaches to spirituality are sometimes right, sometimes they’re not, depending on the situation or the person. I don’t understand this “one way only.” I also struggle with the place of women in LDS society. At my work, I am able to be a leader and I see a way to progress my skills and my understanding while adding responsibility and my coworkers treat me this way as well. At church there is no such thing. Any responsibility and growth available for women comes through bearing and raising children, of which I have none.

    For my spouse, he has issues with historicity claims and not finding church as a community-minded or service-oriented institution to belong to. He feels there is not a significant emphasis on Christ and a heavy emphasis on preserving the institution for the institution’s sake.

    As evidenced by mine and my husband’s situation, there are many and varied reasons why religiosity may be declining among my generation.

  35. Agreed.

    I’d probably add general attitudes about “authority” and the accompanying fundamentalism and literalism, and teachings about LGBT individuals.

    This was a significant factor for me: One of my children or grandchildren could be LGBT. I view LDS thought and culture as toxic to LGBT teens. I’m willing to step outside of the faith, if only to provide a safe path out for any friends or family who also need to take that road.

    I write that without any animus at all. These are my genuine thoughts on the topic.

  36. I’m a millennial. I was raised in a very active home and looked forward to one day having a family and being entrenched in church life. My parent’s complete social circle was their ward. My mom was always busy with things like road shows and my dad had meetings constantly. I saw my parents as being busy and fulfilled in church life. Fast forward 20 years and millennials just don’t socialize like that. We are more likely to move around, change jobs, keep in touch with old friends who don’t live by us and find support from them. We have several different social circles we run around in. Our kids are not taught morals simply by contrasting “the world” with “zion”, but have to navigate the nuances among various social circles with Mormon being just one of them.
    When I first moved into a highly Mormon area with two young kids I tried so hard to engrain myself in my ward expecting Mormonism to be my world, my religion, and also my support system. I quickly learned that it just isn’t like that. My support systems are not the people I go to church with, it’s the moms in my kids preschool and the moms I volunteer with in the community. There is very little overlap with the people in my ward. I had a very elevated view of the church growing up, I saw it fulfilling more needs than a religion can, but now that I have brought it down to the way social groups work among millennials, I see church for what it is, a religion – a set of theological beliefs and rituals that help pass those beliefs on to the next generation. It is a lot easier for me to see the shortcomings of the church in this light. I see how my daughters get subtle messages about boys programs being more important than theirs and I see how they are taught that they should aspire to being stay at home moms. I also see the “one true church” message harped on and I know it’s not going to make sense to my kids in the culture they are growing up in. At the end of the day I’m Mormon, I love the theology and I’m not going anywhere, but I long for those good old days when all the moms stayed home and raised each other’s kids and carpooled to Wednesday Primary and all the neighborhood kids did the same sports and ran between houses coming home just for dinner. That kind of tribe just doesn’t exist in today’s fast paced world. Take away the tribe (through no fault of the church, that’s just how millennials work) and you are going to lose some folks.

  37. Again I’m far from convinced this is a millennial thing. I think it’s often been true especially in wards where some people don’t really “click” with others. A very long problem is that a significant number of wards just are as socially outgoing as they could be. Yet in other wards you see everyone engaging with informal support systems – often now leveraging social media like Facebook or the like.

    When you grow up in wards where the boundaries are large – often spanning metropolitan areas – then you simply get a different dynamic than say the Wasatch Front where wards are a few blocks and you simply see other people from your ward daily. The dynamic shifts. For instance where I grew up I was the only Mormon in a student body of 1200 kids. How on earth would there be the dynamic compared to a ward where most of the kids go to the same school and same extracurricular activities?

  38. Jettboy,
    “What I got out of this: Millennials are lazy, self-important, anti-social, know it all’s who don’t take personal responsibility.”
    Your screed was awesome! It deserves a spot in the museum of natural history but those are obsolete so no one would visit your exhibit after age 8. It is not that you are wrong, it is just that the words you use don’t really have a meaning. Is being self-important bad? Is personal responsibility different from responsibility? Is it anti-social to text all day? Do you have a lazy-boy?

  39. Perhaps I’m just relating millennials to secularism, but I don’t think it has as much to do with how social or outgoing a ward is as much as it is the attitude that millennials bring to socializing. Millienials social circles are more and more niche. They are more easily able to find groups to geek out with in their random hobbies and so wether or not they “click” with people in their ward is starting to be less relevant. Millennials also compartmentalize their social groups more frequently and easily. This contributes to a compartmentalization of Mormon social activity from religious experience. This also contributes to a “pickier” attitude for lack of a better word. There are so many options to choose from that they can be choosey. While secularism affects all ages in that it gives everyone the option of even thinking that they have a choice, millennials, having grown up with this choice, are finding it easier to act on the choice.

    I’m not sure how this attitude applies to more or less densely populated Mormon areas. But from my own experience, when I lived in the midwest and was in young women’s, Mormonism played a much bigger role socially in that it took up a lot more of my time. Going to a Wednesday activity took 2 hours longer since girls from all around needed to be picked up and dropped off, they couldn’t just carpool with each other. Gathering at church actually filled a Mormon social void because it was the only place we saw other Mormons. In my current area with lots of Mormons there is a huge push to makes stakes and wards smaller. I’m curious to see how this plays out and if it exacerbates or relieves some of these issues.

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