According to Richard Beck, a professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University,
So what happened? Why didn’t Gen X leave the church while the Millennials [also known as Generation Y] are leaving in droves?
The difference between Generations X and Y isn’t in their views of the church. It’s about those cellphones. It’s about relationships and connectivity. Most Gen X’ers didn’t have cell phones, text messaging or Facebook. These things were creeping in during their college years but the explosive onset of mobile devices and social computing had yet to truly take off.
So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans (“Let’s get together for dinner this week!”). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. Particularly with the loss of “third places” in America.
But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don’t need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don’t need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.
So, Beck argues, church worked in the past, despite its flaws, because it met a real, deeply felt social need. But since that need is now being met with technology, many young people will leave the church (or never join).
Do you remember all the sermons about Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community? The argument was that Americans are lonely people and the church should market itself as a great place to make friends (and, indeed, it is). Seems this was a shortsighted theory. Market the church as a place to make friends, then the church has to compete with other ways to make friends.
So, dear readers, how do we dig ourselves out of this hole we’re in? Or is Beck mistaken?