What follows is based on a response I made to a post on the Patheos blog network, in regards to a book that tries to list the top 7 things that will get young people back into the churches they are leaving in droves.
I've not read the book. :-D Check out the link above if you want to see a summary of what the 7 things they listed were.
I am a Millennial, and I left the church when I left my parents' house, and I haven't been back since. If I was to make a list of the 7 things that would get me back into a church, it would look like this:
1) Quit preaching hate. I got so tired of hearing about all the sins and sinners I was supposed to not associate with or participate in. Half of them seemed arbitrary, none of them seemed logical or helpful to living in a pluralistic society.
2) Respect women. Some faiths are better than others with this one. But pretty much any religion that wants me to take back seat, second seat, or any seat other than an equal one, is never going to get a second of my time or a cent of my money. I'm also not interested in hearing how some random part of my body is sinful and should be covered up. Neck, shoulders, ankles, knees, face, elbows, breasts... bah. They are no more sinful than my ears or my knuckles or my forearms.
3) Can you revise the bible? I know, it's supposed to be the "word of god." But, let's be honest, it's not. It was written by men, translated by men, revised by men. Update it for the new millennium already! Drop the bronze age anachronisms, nobody cares about tattoos, seafood or mixed fiber clothing anymore. It would be nice if there were more women's voices in it, telling their stories, perhaps even stories where the women are something other than a whore or a virgin or the "wife of man #3." Some nice warrior women, leader types would more closely match what I strive for in my life.
4) Be more open to those of us who question. I don't believe in deities anymore. But, that in and of itself, is not a part of why I don't go to church. I would still go if it were a welcoming community that accepted me AND my disbelief. I like helping my neighbors, I like living a life of service and kindness and sharing. I like singing songs with my neighbors and celebrating life's milestones together. Can you divorce all of that from the Thou Must Believe bit? I certainly don't want to go to a church for the community aspects and lie about it, I'm not a liar.
5) Yes to the local point. I'm not going to drive a long distance to get to a church I like. There is a Unitarian church I feel like I might be happy at, but it's an hour drive away, so it's a no go. Every church within walking distance is .... well.. not meeting my criteria.
6) Work to build up the wall of separation between church and state. I'm not interested in living in a theocracy. Not of any stripe. Churches don't pay taxes to the state, so they should have no say in the governing of the state. Period. "Leave unto Caesar" and all that. Quit sending money to PACs that work to implement
7) This is an addendum to the "be local" point. Support locally. Keep service projects local. Mission trips to 3rd world countries look great in the church bulletins, but they aren't really great at helping people. Time and time again, the missionaries leave and the super great technology that they installed works for a while, then breaks and with no who knows how to service or fix it, the people of that village go back to whatever unsanitary, dangerous or inefficient thing they were doing before. There are plenty of people who need help in every community. Young families who could use help with child care, elders in need of food, vets in need of someone to talk to, new comers in need of a friend or a meal, kids in need of a big brother/sister or adopted grandparent. It's not as flashy and exciting, but it would be of more actual help if the church focused locally first.
Non-belief is growing rapidly in my generation. If the only young people you're interested in adding to your church are the ones that already agree 100% with your faith and your rules, you may find those numbers dwindling, no matter how many big fancy worship concerts you plan. You should maybe look at the actual beliefs of those who are leaving, and ask how you can better align your church with what they actually need and actually believe in.
Just don't kid yourselves when the numbers of "Nones" keeps growing and the average age of your congregants continues to rise, while their numbers fall. The Nones are not confused, misguided or "lost souls." We're sick and tired and fed up with the churches.
If you want to find me on Sunday morning, I'll be in my vegetable garden, happy and content, free of divisiveness, free of arbitrary rules, wearing what I like, and making my own decisions, although maybe a little lonely. All you have to do is match that experience, minus the lonely and you could get me back into a church. Will you?
My bet is no.