I am saddened by the wickedness of my generation. Three weeks ago – before the Coronavirus quarantine – I returned to the YSA ward that I attended in college. I noticed a man sitting by himself on a pew. I didn’t remember his name, but I did remember him. He sat by himself on that same pew seven years ago. Seven years sitting alone at church.
If this was an isolated incident, I would not be so despondent. But this was not isolated. A few weeks before, a young man visited my New York YSA ward. He was new to the city, an actor, and a return missionary. After I introduced myself, I had to leave for a blessing.
As I left the chapel, I looked back. He was surrounded by several groups of friends that each talked among themselves. They did not make eye contact with him. He dropped his eyes to his phone, obviously wanting someone to talk with. No one introduced themselves. He did not come to the second hour.
A month earlier, our YSA ward struggled to get people to help with church cleaning. In the end, only four people came: two members of the Bishopric – who took time away from their families – the person called to be the building coordinator, and me. Later that evening, twenty-five people showed up to a Valentine’s day speed dating event with free food.
The last time my YSA ward did a service activity was over a year ago. We went to a homeless shelter. Three people showed up: the Bishop, one woman from the ward, and me. We have not made any service plans since then.
According to Pew, as of 2016, U.S. Millennial retention rates were just 46%, well below 72% for Boomers. For U.S. YSAs, it’s probably closer to 30%. The Church is aware of its retention problems but does not appear to understand the root problem. We are treating the symptoms, but are unable to diagnose the disease.
Millennials aren’t leaving the Church because of its stance on LGBTQ+ issues, though that certainly hasn’t helped. Nor are we leaving because of greater access to early Church history, though that probably has not helped either.
The main reason we are leaving the Church is because we do not feel that we are becoming more like Jesus Christ. In part, we are right. YSAs are stunted in their spiritual growth. At least until parenthood forces us to be more outwardly focused (and often not even then), we tend to be as equally self-centered and un-Christ-like as our secular counterparts. We do not welcome the stranger. We do not feed the hungry. We do not visit the afflicted. Church is a reliable way to make friends and search for a spouse. If we can fill those needs elsewhere, we will.
Our mission as a Church is to bring people unto Christ. Most of my generation still want to come to Him. Then why do we feel like we are not? We are teaching the correct principles, but we are not applying them. We read Matthew 25 in Sunday School but rarely reach out to those we are called to minister.
My generation needs to be called to repentance with “boldness of speech.” Particularly the YSA, who are idling away the days of their probation, need to organize and carry out activities to help people in their communities. If nothing else, they can volunteer their time to help babysit for married couples with small children, who are often over stretched and over burdened.
I wish we did not need drastic action. I wish we could be trusted to follow the personal revelation of the Holy Ghost. But 11 years in YSA wards has convinced me that my generation will not become more like Christ without dramatic intervention. This is what the YSA of my generation need:
- Frequent service opportunities. Stern admonitions against refusing to give service.
- To apply the gospel together. For ministering interviews, minister with the interviewee if they are struggling. It’s not enough to talk about ministering.
- Help getting to know the names and faces of everyone in the ward. One of the main reasons people don’t talk with each other is that they don’t know each other’s names and are too afraid to ask. One of the main reasons visitors are not greeted is because members don’t know everyone in the ward and they don’t want to assume that someone is new.
- If necessary, occasional use of hours allotted to church on Sunday for direct service, as is done during times of natural disasters.
- Frequent, stern and specific admonitions against destructive internet habits, especially overuse of streaming, social media, and aimless browsing. Time freed from these habits can easily be put to use elsewhere.
- Frequent discussions about how to serve fellow family members.
- Discussions on charitable giving. YSAs need to establish patterns of research and giving that they will use as they grow older.
When my generation once again feels that coming to church is bringing them closer to Jesus Christ, they will keep coming. They will also come back in droves. They will bring friends, who are desperate for stoic admonishment and gospel truths in an era of coddling and self-centered consumerist entitlement.
One day, this or a future generation will be called upon to meet the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming. My generation is not prepared for that day. If we do not repent, we never will be. Help us to come unto Christ.
 See Moroni 10:32, See also Chapter 1 of Preach My Gospel
 Jacob 2:7
 See Matthew 25