Why I'm staying: replying to CNN's 'Why millennials are leaving the church'

By Sarah Shumway, For From DC to BC

Published: Tue, July 30, 2013, 12:00 p.m. MDT

Editor's note: This post by Sarah Shumway originally appeared on her blog, From DC to BC. It has been shared here with the author's permission.

As a part of the "millennial" generation, I read CNN's religion blog post "Why millennials are leaving the church" with great interest. The author explains how churches are trying to appeal to my generation through casual services, pastors in skinny jeans, and coffee shops in the meetinghouses — at the cost of teaching what constitutes the heart of Christianity. With the ongoing cultural wars, pretentiousness, and seeming exclusivity, young people my age are struggling to find Jesus when they go to church.

Reading this article made me think carefully about how my faith, the Mormon church, is instituted. While I admit that our church leaders have their own struggles in retaining some who are my age, I think that the Mormon institution solves many of the problems that other millennials experience when attending church. This is my list so far, though it is hardly exhaustive:

1. We are taught to view our fellow members as our brothers and sisters.

Just as we don't choose who our siblings are, neither do we choose whom we will worship with (it's all contingent on location). In fact, the first feature a visitor to a Mormon congregation may notice is that we address our fellow members as "brother" and "sister." This practice consciously reminds us that we should love and accept others in our faith as part of an extended family — regardless of socioeconomic background, political affiliations, race, etc. To partially accomplish this, our bishop (our congregational leader) assigns each member to visit fellow members at least once a month to share a spiritual message, as well as watch over their spiritual and physical welfare. Moreover, we feel a sense of responsibility in helping our fellow members who may be experiencing health difficulties, family crises or just need an extra hand with housework. I believe that this setup has taught me to be more loving and accepting towards others, as well as emulate Christ's behavior in my life.

2. We are asked to participate in a given capacity to help the congregation.

Every member is given a "calling" or responsibility to help sustain the congregation's needs. While being a member, for example, I have had callings that range from directing the ward choir, planning monthly activities for more than 200 people and arranging musical numbers for church meetings. It has not always been easy balancing these callings while pursuing graduate studies and working part time. But I believe that my personal efforts to assist my congregation has reminded me that religiosity is far more than simply attending church; it requires sacrifice on my end. Moreover, since Christ spent his life serving others without worry of "purse or script," I am grateful that I can learn to become more like my Savior through serving his children.

3. Having an unpaid clergy, our church leaders are refreshingly sincere.*

Being a bishop or a Mormon church leader can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Without monetary gain, however, I know that my leaders are serving me because they genuinely care for my well-being. I don't expect my church leaders to be perfect (see my previous post on this), but their efforts to do the best they can for my sake makes me greatly appreciative of them in my life.

4. We are taught to ask questions.

Joseph Smith's first vision (and subsequent visions) occurred because he had a question to ask God. One of our books of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants, is a collection of revelations based on someone's question. Moreover, we are taught to seek for personal revelation from God, through asking God questions in our prayers, or through searching for answers in our scriptures. In some ways, I would argue that the heart of Mormonism is asking questions. I would also say that my faith has helped me answer the deepest yearnings of my soul.

5. Our doctrine is not a laundry list of what we can and cannot do.

Ultimately, we believe that we are on this earth to return back to God, who is our Heavenly Father. While our faith, actions, as well as certain ceremonies play a significant role in our salvation, God ultimately judges us by our hearts. Our church, then, strongly emphasizes a gospel that is based on becoming like Jesus Christ.

These are my thoughts so far. Please respond as to why you are staying in your faith either on my blog or on social media, using the hashtag #whyimstaying.

*In no way did I mean to offend those of other faiths who have paid clergy. I have definitely seen exemplary leaders of other faiths show genuine sincerity to their congregations. I am only speaking from my own experience. For me, knowing that my leaders are working for my sake without any thought for monetary gain is a strong indicator of their sincerity.

1. atl134
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 30, 2013

"5. Our doctrine is not a laundry list of what we can and cannot do."

Then why do I always see posts from members saying that people who leave the church generally just couldn't/wouldn't deal with following the commandments that comes with being part of a church with higher standards for living than other churches?

I'd accept the argument that the doctrine is about much more than that but then that would apply to just about every other church as well.

2. Brave Sir Robin
San Diego, CA,
July 30, 2013

I can answer CNN's question in three sentences.

Going to church means holding one's self to a higher standard, taking on more voluntary responsibility, and giving one's self more work do to while getting nothing in return (in the worldly sense). Going to church is harder than not going to church. And speaking in general, millennials (of which I am one) are lazy and tend to look for the easiest path through life.

3. atl134
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 30, 2013

@Brave Sir Robin
The CNN post actually gave the answer to that based on survey results. The issues they found included...
1. too political
2. too exclusive
3. old-fashioned
4. unconcerned with social justice
5. hostile towards the LGBT community

Or you know, we could just call them lazy and dismiss their concerns. Either/or.

4. milojthatch
Sandy, UT,
July 30, 2013

I fully agree with Brave Sir Robin. Truly being religious means holding yourself to a higher standard, and that is something society is not ok with.

5. Church member
North Salt Lake, UT,
July 30, 2013

I really enjoyed reading this article. I do have to disagree with point #4 in the article though. When I was questioning the church I would often ask hard and difficult questions, both in church and to my family members. I was told many times to not question and to just have more faith. I don't think the church creates a good environment to ask difficult questions. But that might just be my experience. Good article though.