How to Retain Millennial Membership

The millennial generation overall has shown to be less religious than previous generations, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by church leadership.

When asked earlier this year, the newly appointed First Presidency shared their thoughts on millennials and how they plan to both retain and bolster millennial membership. President Nelson responds first that it is crucial that leaders “help [millennials] understand how precious their [lives are],” which is a nice sentiment, but really should be something that is already happening. Eyring followed up that, in his experience with current missionaries, he has noticed immense strength. This is really kind of him, but also doesn’t particularly answer the question. Oaks spoke last, saying that marriage is important to this conversation, claiming that “the young man and the young woman are stronger when they marry,” that “many things the world cites as problems with millennials disappear” once they marry, and that “partnership is the secret.”

As a millennial listening to this message, especially as one with many questions and doubts, I felt a little disheartened. I do not find comfort in the fact that the one solid recommendation to retain my membership in the church is to get me married. Last time I checked, married people can have doubts and can choose to leave. It’s not a cure-all. And even more concerning to me, it seemed as though church leaders may be approaching the issue of millennial membership without actually talking to the very millennials they are trying to hold on to.

So I took it upon myself to do some research, asking my own twitter followers¹ the following question: What aspects of the church/gospel keep you around, what things could the church do to maintain that, and/or what things would make you leave?

I received around a hundred responses and will do my best to share what I found along with some of my own thoughts. (You can also read the whole thread here)

What is pushing millennials out

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I want to start here because this feels like a “bad news first” type of situation. While each responder had their own experiences, common themes did appear in their answers. Many people highlighted how church “culture” was a part of what would (or already did) push them away from the church. Now, I recognize that this is an obscure construct, but the other themes I noticed seem to clear this up. Millennials also note that issues with sexism, homophobia, racism, hyper-conservatism, and the judgmental environment often found in congregations would also contribute to their choice to leave. One responder noted that the homophobia has done so much damage that she does not think she could ever come back.

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We cannot ignore the damaging effects that our culture and teachings can have on members. While some people can easily parse out the difference between culture and doctrine, it can be difficult for many. I fall towards the latter end of the spectrum myself. Often, the culture we’ve created is rooted in gospel doctrine and principles, even if some is lost in translation. Homophobia can come from the church stance on gay marriage, sexism is found in the institutional structure of the church, racism in our problematic history, etc. And as a result, we have created a culture of judgment. We judge those outside of the church who have different beliefs and we judge those within our wards and stakes for acting against what we deem to be right. We nitpick the behavior of others as if to make ourselves feel better about our own shortcomings. And this judgment, hatred, and various -isms are pushing people away.

What real life millennials say will help retain their membership

For as many reasons there are for millennials to be pushed out of the church, there are plenty that are keeping us around. I think it’s important to note here that in all of the responses I got when I posed the original question, this aspect of the question was the most addressed. Though millennials have lots of concerns and doubts, we also have a lot of faith. Don’t count us out yet.

For me, sticking around comes down to my own relationship and understanding of my Heavenly Parents, Christ, and the Spirit. This appears to be common among the millennials that responded to me as well. Common themes in their answers were a personal relationship with God, belief in the core doctrine and principles of the gospel, and a sense of community. I don’t think my own words can do justice to the things others said, so you can read some of their own words below.

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Aspects of the church and gospel that retain millennial membership

I chose this to be the last aspect of my original question to address because I think it’s good to end on suggestions for improvements.

Once again, this aspect of my question lead to some common themes among the answers. Millennials, especially those still attending YSA wards, expressed a desire for a refocus on Christ. We want more space for women, LGBTQ* individuals, and other marginalized groups. We want to feel like full-fledged members of the church, even when we are single. We want the church to be more transparent in their acknowledgment of institutional shortcomings, both historical and modern.

Refocus on Christ

Something I have noticed recently in my own church attendance, especially while I was still attending BYU student wards, is that it is not entirely uncommon to sit through an entire three hour block of church without hearing about Christ. And when Christ is noted as being a strong aspect of our testimonies, it is natural that millennials have a strong desire for a church-wide, or at least YSA-wide, refocus on His life and teachings.

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To me, this seems like an easy fix. When we center our talks and lessons on Christ, our lives will be more centered on Him as well. I think we lose this focus when we get hung up on policy and behavior-specific doctrine. The two most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors. Often our behaviors, our lessons, and our faith are not centered on these things and thus we fall short of our potential. A refocus on Christ and His love would not only retain millennial membership, but would strengthen all of our communities.

Singleness

It is important to note, that many millennials are already married, so some of the following suggestions may not be relevant to the entire demographic. But for those of us who remain single, it can be hard to feel like we really have a place in the church as a whole. Of course, YSA wards and stakes provide a community for us, but even some feel as though these communities fail to be anything more than a marriage factory.

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message from anonymous

 

Being single in a church that is built for the family can be frustrating. And the truth of the matter is that many of us, especially women, won’t have the opportunity to be married in this life. We need more from the church in regard to our place in the Plan when we are not given the opportunity to start a family.

Roles for women

As a millennial woman in the church, it can be difficult to parse out what my role is meant to be. It can feel at times like it is my duty to pump out babies and be quiet while the men do the work. I want my divine ability to create (an ability that not all women even have, mind you) to be on par with my ability to inspire and lead. As women in the church we are often preached to about the importance of our voices without the follow through to uplift us.

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There are women in local and general leadership, but it is not a question that there is a disparity between female and male leadership. It would appear that the priesthood is the qualifier for leadership responsibility. Yet, if we are going to claim the narrative that women operate with priesthood authority in their current leadership positions, what is keeping us from allowing women in more spaces? We are ready to lead. We know the value of our perspectives. We just need to be given the opportunity to contribute.

Space for LGBTQ* members²

I cannot speak for the experience of LGBTQ* members other than to say that I have seen their pain. We preach love and acceptance, but we are fixated on a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality that does more damage than good. When we tell them they are “struggling with same sex attraction,” we are ignoring their identities.

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(message from @erkj72

I would imagine that Christ would not fixate on what people they are attracted to, but He would sit with them, administer to them, and love them. They need the same from their congregations. We need to love them, accept them, and not label them as sinners.

Spaces for racial and ethnic minorities²

First, when discussing racial issues in the church it is important for me to note that my experience and the experience of many of the responders is from a westernized perspective, specifically within the US. I must also note that I cannot speak for the experiences of these brothers and sisters outside of witnessing their pain and exclusion.

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message from anonymous

It is past denial that the church has a racist history. This has bled into the present as well. Just as general leadership is largely male, it is also largely white. Representation is so important, even in bodies of leadership that largely rely on revelation. We need a variety of perspectives.

Transparency

We recognize that the church is going to have flaws. We want the church itself to recognize and address this as well. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, in fact this is inherent to mortality. Yet, the church as an institution seems ignore its flaws, even when they are being exposed by other sources.

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message from @daleknado

When members raise concerns about policy and culture, they are often swept under the rug. It is easier to ignore problems and not be accountable for them than it is to take responsibility for the problem itself and the subsequent changes. It is easier to repeat the mantra of “the church is perfect, but the people aren’t” than to acknowledge that the church really isn’t perfect either. We cannot choose the easy way in the name of reputation.

The church is an institution. It is living, breathing, and ever-changing. When we notice problems or when we recognize that we are not conducting ourselves with Christ-like love, we should adjust. Yet too often, church leaders brush aside these issues as mere blips or glitches in the system instead of addressing the issues head-on. All institutions are going to have flaws and the church is not immune to that. But I think often we regard the church as an institution as divinely inspired as the gospel itself. This view is flawed and discourages critical thinking and growth. The church can increase trust when these flaws are openly acknowledged and improved. The church as a whole can grow and progress when we stop ignoring its blemishes.

At the core, millennials just want inclusion, honesty, compassion, transparency, and a refocus on Christ and His Atonement. This does not require doctrinal revelation or changes, at least not yet. It merely requires awareness from both church leaders and members. And we’re gonna have to make some adjustments.

I love the gospel. It pains me when I feel like the church itself doesn’t reflect the gospel of love and compassion that I have come to understand and believe in. It is painful to feel like I don’t particularly belong sometimes and I fully recognize that there are many people who are afforded less space than I am. But I also know that I need to use the space I do have to make more room for others. It is going to take lots of work and more institutional power than I may ever have.

Those who have power must do a lot of the heavy lifting, and this is made possible when those individuals know what lifting they need to do. If church leaders want to retain millennial membership, the most important thing is to listen to what we have to say. And we’re not exactly quiet.

 

¹Note: my twitter followers along with other twitter users that responded may not be an accurate representation of millennial membership in the church overall, but I don’t think that makes their voices any less important.

²Though I try to explain these sections, I do not have personal experience with these issues. In these areas, we need to listen to and uplift voices of those directly affected.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and perspectives, Amber; I hope it sparks some good exchanges and ideas.

  2. I’m a proud millennial, and I think part of why the church is having a hard time retaining millennials is because there is a leadership problem in the church. The church is not leading on anything positive, and it is hard to see how the church offers much moral authority.

    I’d like to feel like the church really does both teach a higher plane and inspire living on that higher plane. I don’t feel like that – on issues of racism, sexism, hate, etc, I’m not sure the church doesn’t do more harm than good. There is too much focus on sexual mores, which is such a small part of what constitutes a good life.

    I recently listened to a talk given by President Hinkley right after he became the prophet and I was struck by how relevant it felt. He felt like a prophet to me – a leader, inspired, with moral authority. Thomas S. Monson never really did, and he had been fading for so long before his death that it felt like a bit of a vacuum. Russell M. Nelson definitely does not feel like a prophet of God. While the reasons millennials leaving are complex, I don’t think the absence of good leadership can be overlooked as a reason why the church hasn’t found a way to connect with the rising generation.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. As a millennial Mormon, I agree with all of these things.

  4. I am a millennial, although an older one, and I agree with Megan. President Hinckley was such a powerful force, he had some powerful talks about abuse and wasn’t afraid to lead. It feels like there has been no real leader since, just the loudest and most controversial speakers contradicting each other-and sometimes making statements that contradict their earlier statements. I used to call my children in to hear President Monson speak during conference, but kind of stopped.

    I remember 9/11 and really feeling the comfort of President Hinckley responding as a prophet and really feeling like he was wise and leading us.

    I am hoping President Nelson takes on the prophetic mantle and speaks to relevant issues of our day and casts the money-changers (sexual predators) out of our church. I am hoping that he becomes more a prophet for our time. Also hoping that since his wife is a career woman, and has no children gives him insight into why women need to be leaders and how much more we have to give than bearing children (I say as a mother of many).

    My mother (a baby boomer) once told me that people of her generation may struggle with Hinckley more because of the Salamander letters and Mark Hoffman affair, when I was being nostalgic about President Hinckley. This actually gives me hope that President Nelson fills the role of prophet better than he fit the role of apostle, that he has learned from past errors and can lead us into a new era.

    Millenials also want more transparency. Trust and faith in the institution of the church is something that needs to be earned and we want a say in how our church is run financially and doctrinally.

  5. What strikes me most in reading this is that there’s nothing new. Not in the sense that I’m looking for constant variety to be entertained, but in the sense that I’m looking for something to explain millenials and instead read the same things that I hear from my acquaintances of all ages. It makes me wonder whether the difference lies in things that keep older generations in?

    It occurs to me that what I hear elsewhere much more than in the OP is “loyalty to spouse,” “what would my parents think?,” “where I raise my kids,” “being an example to my siblings.” Whether or not those are good reasons, it does make me think that President Oaks is accurately observing something when he said that problems disappear when they marry. (I understand that to be an observation related to what people say. Not necessarily prescriptive. And not necessarily an observation of a deeper reality.)

  6. Chadwick says:

    As someone in the Gen Y category, I want all these things too! The difference is no one asked kids what they wanted 20 years ago.

    I’m in charge of sacrament meeting speakers, topics, and musical numbers in my ward right now. I have read here and in many other places the complaints about a lack of Christ in our meetings. I try to make every sacrament meeting more focused on Christ. I figured no one would notice; but they did! Hopefully since this is something at the local level, we can truly remedy this one.

  7. I am a millenial, and I don’t see the church’s stances on LGBTQ people or female leadership as cultural issues. They’re consistently taught and presented as doctrine, and it always kind of irks me when active progressive members gloss over that. Patriarchal leadership is an essential element of the church. Heterosexual marriage is the codified key to exaltation. You don’t get around those things by being nicer.

    I’ve always been treated well at church. I spent 10 years in YSA wards and I always felt included and important, and I was given a lot of leadership opportunities. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the church presents a worldview that not only clashes with the world I live in, but in some cases actually harms it.

  8. I’m a baby boomer, but I relate to absolutely everything in the OP. These are not just generational issues; some of us have been struggling with them for a very, very long time. Personally problematic for me is the issue of singleness–or “the affliction of singleness,” as Dallin Oaks referred to it in a conference talk a few years ago. I actually shrieked when I heard him say that. He lost me forever by basically characterizing my entire existence as an “affliction.” Try being a divorced, childless professional woman in the church. Six days a week my gender and family status are not the most salient things about me; on Sunday suddenly I’m “less than” in all sorts of ways, in part because of my gender, in part because of my marital status and lack of offspring, in part *because* I have a professional career. If we want to be a genuine force for good, we need somehow to stop being “The Church of Jesus Christ for Married People with Children.” Focusing on actual problems in the world rather than obsessing about sexuality and marital status would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s incredibly positive that these things are being expressed more openly; I pray that someone in Salt Lake will take note.

  9. Adele Williams says:

    omjs- I have to agree with everything you said. Good comments.

  10. Adele Williams says:

    In August 2017 Sister Carole M. Stephens said, “I don’t know if you are aware that we’ve reached a point in the Church now where more than half of our women are single,” Sister Stephens shared. “Women in Relief Society 18 years and older, just about 51 percent are single.” With 51 percent of the women single in this church I don’t get why they feel like an outsider. And I am single.

  11. Amber, thanks for taking the time to do this research and write this.

  12. Very thoughtful post. I enjoyed your qualitative research approach and value the insights you share.

    I think you will find your sentiments are found among all age generations and you may want to think about segmenting church members differently. I for one find generation segments to be too general and loose. I am Gen X and many of us feel the same way you do, and many from my generation who leave do so for similar reasons.

    Age has taught me one thing I will pass on to my Millennial friends whom I adore, love and envy: Don’t leave. You and those within your network who expressed important views can effect change at the local level of the church–but not if you leave. You have to stay and engage when the opportunity presents itself, and create opportunities to shape the dialogue in Sacrament meeting, Sunday school and in Priesthood and in Relief Society meetings. I have found this requires developing a delivery style that is sensitive yet honest and fact-based. You’ll be respected if you do even if your expressions are seen by traditionalists as being uncomfortably progressive. Persuasion takes work and forethought. Personally, I think it is much harder than choosing to walk away. I encourage you and others within your generation to see the church as belonging to you as much as it belongs to anyone, including general authorities.

    I will also add that institutional racism, sexism, and problems associated with the church’s definition of family is also a big concern with many Gen Xers as well and has been since we were young adults. These are not new problems. In my lifetime thus far I have seen good progress, however. Is the breadth and pace of change as much as I would like to see? Not always. But the progress has been undeniable and for the better. So, again, I encourage you and others like you to stay in the fight. Take ownership. Realize you can lay claim to the church and its future as much as anyone and work to help move the church–locally, generally, and culturally–into the future in which you envision.

  13. Rachel E O says:

    Related to Megan’s comment about leadership, one of the things that has energized and moved me most as a millennial Mormon in recent years is how the Church has stood up in defense of the rights and welfare and dignity of immigrants and refugees and encouraged its members to succor the “strangers in our land.” I would love to see the Church focusing more of its energy in leading actively on the great moral issues of our time, such as sex trafficking and sexual harassment, criminal justice reform, environmental conservation and climate change, arms control and international diplomacy, and income inequality. We have abundant doctrinal resources, many of them unique to our scripture and history and tradition, to motivate effort on all of these social issues, but we so rarely hear anything about them from church leaders.

    As Mormons we devote so much energy in our wards and families to becoming good-hearted and giving and self-sacrificing, and as a result I feel like we have this vast pool of latent love and energy that we could put to use in enacting Christ’s love in the broader world. Ideally we would do so regardless of the messaging we receive from top Church leaders, but I also know that all too often we as a people are slothful servants that fail to be anxiously engaged without proper encouragement over the pulpit. Which means that Church leaders themselves have great power to channel that vast pool of love and energy, and I pray often that they will channel it toward greater justice and peace.

  14. This is really interesting. On the same topic (why young Mormons leave and why they stay), Mormon scholar Jana Riess just shared some insights from a study she’s leading. Some of the results are not surprising, but others are almost unbelievable. https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2018/03/07/mormon-land-researcher-jana-riess-discusses-survey-that-reveals-why-lds-young-people-leave-why-they-stay-and-how-they-differ/

  15. Rachel E O says:

    [I’m sorry this comment ended up being so long… this topic just strikes so directly at the heart of my struggle… feel free to scroll past and be like tl;dr]

    Also, responding to something Christian said — I am a married millennial, with one child and hopes for another, and I actually feel like “where will I raise my kid” is one of the biggest *challenges* to my church membership, not one of the main reasons I stay. I worry about raising my child(ren) in the Church, because I don’t want them to internalize the sexism, homophobia, racism, and colonialism that is embedded in church structures and doctrine and culture. When I’m only thinking about myself, I justify staying and in fact feel morally obligated to stay (speaking to BigSky’s comment) in order to be an agent of compassion and love in my ward and an agent for change in the broader church culture and structure. But when I think about my children and what they may internalize in the Church and how long it took me to un-internalize those things and how so many of my friends only did so at the expense of great pain and bitterness toward the Church and how so many others I know and love never do un-internalize those things… I worry that it may be wrong to raise my kids in the church.

    Even now, when my child is still only a preschooler, I feel like so much of the religious teaching I do in the home is constantly butting up against those influences. Like tonight at dinnertime, we were talking about general conference tomorrow and how it is a really important day because we are going to sustain our new prophet and two new apostles. But then we felt we needed to make him conscious of the fact that it’s mostly going to be white men talking and that doesn’t mean it should be that way. And then we explained that in fact we hope and pray that it will change because we need more leaders from all sorts of places who look all sorts of ways and have all sorts of experiences. And maybe, just maybe, one of our new apostles tomorrow won’t be a white man. And maybe just maybe someday… someday… one of our new apostles will be a woman… or at least there will be just as many women speaking in general conference as men… maybe by the time you’re a grown-up… or your children are grown-ups… maybe…

    [Here I wrote like two more long paragraphs with additional examples of this from our nightly bedtime routine with scripture study and prayer, but it was like totally tl;dr, so I’m sparing you.]

    I know that all religious traditions are messy. The Christian heritage is messy. The New Testament has its problematic and patriarchal teachings and stories, not to mention the Old Testament. I can’t and shouldn’t shield my son from all of that messiness. And in some ways I am grateful that the messiness of our Mormon faith is leading us to have all of these conversations with our son, sensitizing him at a young age to the need to decide for himself what is right and wrong through prayer with our Heavenly Parents, through listening to the Holy Ghost, and through following the teachings of Jesus.

    But I also know there are other religious institutional environments where he would be inculcated with much better values on so many of these matters. Over the decade of our marriage, my husband and I have attended numerous (probably dozens) of other Christian churches, as we made it our custom to do so whenever we traveled. And we have been so moved by the lived commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ that we have witnessed in some of those churches. It’s true that oftentimes the congregations of Christian churches we have attended are older without particularly robust youth programs. (This is not true of the evangelical churches we’ve attended, but those services haven’t spoken to our hearts and minds as powerfully.) But that is not always true, especially not in comparison to the relatively small Young Women and Young Men programs in the wards we have always lived in as adults (outside of the Mormon heartland). And our experience as Young Women/Young Men leaders in our wards have also taught us that small does not necessarily mean weak, as such programs can be more personalized and individualized with a much higher mentor-to-youth ratio. And in fact, our son has been almost universally welcomed and loved in all of these churches.

    And so now, in an effort to respond to the dual moral callings we feel to stay in the LDS Church for our people but leave it for our children, we are in the process of exploring ways that we can be involved in more than one religious community at once. And what we are feeling called to do at present is to engage in both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ. We’ll have to work out the details over the next several years, particularly since we are in a transient stage of life and don’t know where we’ll end up living. It may mean that in times when our children are in their most intense periods of socialization, we will spend more time in the Community of Christ, while I maintain a foot in the LDS Church through periodic local attendance and online engagement. It may mean that in times when we live in an area where the CoC does not have much of a youth program, we help craft one for our kid(s) through volunteering as youth leaders, through summer camps, through robust engagement in Scouting (I know there are a lot of Scouting haters here on BCC, but my husband and I love it ;). It may mean that we are primarily active in the LDS Church, but we just continue to have frequent conversations with our children about our beliefs, and why we love the CoC and try to join their services whenever we can. It may mean that we’ll split our time between both churches until our kids make their own decisions about which one they want to attend.

    So when I think of what the church could do to retain me as a millennial… the most urgent answer that comes is “teach your children well.” Change our structures and our policies and our approach to church history and our framing of scripture (and yes, some of our doctrines too…) so that the message they send to my son is that God loves everyone, whether they’re male or female, whether they’re LGBTQ or straight/cis, whatever their skin color or ethnicity, whether or not they’re American, whatever sins and mistakes they make, and most of all, whether or not they’re Mormon.

  16. Jacob H. says:

    “And we’re not exactly quiet.” — love it! And we engage a lot more with each other in online forums, so even folks who leave remain part of the conversation. Which should have an overall positive effect for the church.

    One thing I would note as a millennial — my loyalty to the church will not stop me from speaking my mind and following my heart over church culture. I have a 6 yr old kid and 2 more kids, and none of them will be baptized before they are 18 so long as the policy of lgbt exclusion stands. And folks will know why. Also in our household it is CTG — “Choose the Good”, instead of CTR. We also say “Follow Your Conscience” instead of “Follow the Prophet”. All this deprogramming that is already necessary for our young ones. *sigh*

  17. Millennials (and younger) are, very simply, judging the Church using the same principles that it teaches. When there’s racism, sexism, bigotry, intolerance, or abuse in any part of the church, we require that the institution respond and fulfill the measure of its creation. We also expect the institution to be just as repentant of past mistakes as it’s members.

  18. @Rachel E O, the trigger point for me stopping activity in the church was actually when we started talking about having kids. It brought into focus how many of my values conflict with church teachings. Especially when I thought about what would happen if I had an LGBTQ child, when I know how prevalent suicidal ideation is in young LGBTQ Mormons. (Which, again, I believe is a consequence of current doctrine about heterosexual marriage, so it’s a risk even in welcoming wards.)

    Re: staying and fighting for change…I guess when it comes down to it, I’d rather put my energy into an institution that’s already inclusive, especially since I don’t see a pathway to changing church doctrine from the local level.

  19. Rachel E O, I appreciate your comments very much; they resonate with me deeply. My oldest is a single millennial and my other children are in their teens. While not always easy, my wife and I have worked hard to raise them in a way that seeks to strengthen their faith, encourages them to engage the church, and also always to follow their inner, moral compass, even when it means disagreeing with the church. We talk often about all of the issues you raise. Why? Because these issues are not new and have been fermenting since at least the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. A third of my studies at BYU largely centered on philosophy and moral reasoning–issues you raise were all central topics of discussion. These issues are things my children have not discovered in adulthood because they have grown up talking about them, in age-appropriate ways. So I would say I think it can be done.

    (I should also add I come from an environment outside of the Mormon belt and more of my closest friends are not Mormon than are–something that is so natural to me I don’t even think about it. My wife and I have purposefully selected schools for our children to attend so they are exposed to other faith traditions and nationalities. The world is a good place, and other faith traditions and theologies have much to offer. I can’t help but punctuate what you have said in that regard.)

    It is a challenge when you feel you have to come home from church, gather your kids and say, “We listened to a member of the high council today at church, and what he said here and here is simply wrong.” And then we talk about why the conventional wisdom the high councilman expressed endures and what we can do about it. We call it faithful questioning. Our most healthy, honest and bond-forming conversations as a family have resulted from talking openly, reverently and honestly about–to use another example–things like the gay marriage policy, and we always come around to talking about the core teaching of Jesus and how much clarity that provides. We talk about how you can oppose a policy, morally, and still work to sustain the prophet and maintain faith. We talk a lot about how to balance these kinds of conflicts where they exist. We also talk about all of the good the church has to offer, why we love the community despite its flaws, and how it makes us better despite many of these issues. And we talk a lot about action and personal responsibility, that in many ways the church is what we make of it on a local level, and that we have more influence on the institution then we may think if we stay fully committed to and engaged at the local level. In a way, it reminds us the “church” for us is a group of people in our neighborhood, in our community. It’s personal and not a cold, distant institution. It makes us feel more empowered to create a church that listens to and is more persuaded by well expressed and thoughtful moral reasoning. Because I think if we were to wait for the institution at the general level to get it all right, we will never be satisfied. In my experience, culture can be shaped locally, but only when we choose to be vulnerable enough to risk speaking out, and pair that courage with an effective and persuasive communication style. This pushes up and I have seen its effect at the general level. Our church, as we all know, is mostly top down, but there is more bottom up than we might think. At least that has been my observation when I had a couple of callings that gave me a deep field of view.

    I’m not sure if my thoughts have contributed to the theme you expressed or not, but feel we are not too far apart in our concerns. For what it’s worth, I would encourage you to choose to stay in, keep your children in, and then work forcefully to be heard and enact change.

  20. RockiesGma says:

    BigSky……oh my glory, your comment was most uplifting and constructive! I’m grateful.

  21. Trucker's Atlas says:

    The point you raise in footnote 1 deserves more attention if your other points are to be taken seriously. You write that the socially liberal voices you profile are hardly representative of their generation but that you “don’t think that makes their voices any less important.” Perhaps no less important to you and me and the BCC bubble, but I think Church leadership is aware of research like Quin Monson’s that shows millennial Mormons leaning increasingly conservative. I also think the head honchos are aware of the mass attrition that many American churches have suffered in recent decades as a result of liberalization–a point Joanna Brooks raised in a recent RadioWest appearance.

    My point is that I don’t think the Brethren, who spend the lion’s share of their sermons, statements, and advocacy maintaining boundries, hardly find the voices you highlight important. I think of the tweets you screenshot above and my mind is filled with other tweets, Facebook posts, and in-person commentary from my millennial peers expressing both veiled and outright disdain for their peers who advocate for more liberal changes in the Church.You know, those posts from your brother in-law after the November 2015 homophobia episode saying how much he trusts the brethren and how those who don’t need to get right with God. I have to believe the social media-obsessed Brethren are reading those posts as well, and thus they chug forward in their ways. You’re 110% right to desire the changes you advocate for in your OP, but I argue that you’re equally naive if you think those changes are on the horizon or that the millennials who will someday be top church leaders will bring them to pass.

  22. Trucker's Atlas says:

    And for those here stressing the underestimated power of local-level change, that’s fine so long as you’re willing to put up with the whiplash that comes from hearing a bishop at the ward house pulpit welcome gay members and then a General Authority do the opposite at the Conference Center pulpit, in the Ensign, at BYU-I devotions, etc.

  23. Umm… And they could make church shorter. I’m a Millennial. Nonstop work emails, extra hours to earn promotions, more traffic on the roads–I have less time and less FAMILY time than any generation before me.

    One hour church with optional second hour for Sunday School, youth and primary.

    Cut out HT and VT.

    And I’ll continue to dodge the heavy callings that would take me away from my family.

  24. Gen-X raising kids in Salt Lake. Every single week we come home from church and over dinner go through and correct the false doctrine taught over the pulpit. When I was in primary we covered any false doctrine taught there as well. I worry about what I am missing that I cannot correct for my kids now that I don’t hear the sharing time lessons. Hoping that what we DO cover and discuss sinks in more than the messages taught at church.

    Honestly it is exhausting. We have frequent discussions about how long we can keep doing this. Our callings keep us there each Sunday, out of obligation. I long to worship and come home from church spiritually filled. I feel like if the local level actually taught the doctrine of Christ rather than some perverted form we would be so much happier as a people.

  25. I think that people are applying their individual experiences and their reactions to certain individual things to the church as a whole. I think what people describe in the comments are unique and important perspectives but it doesn’t seem that the church as a whole is represented that way. My local leaders are fantastic and my stake is small but it doesn’t face the same challenges that people describe here. We are a Spanish stake compromised of Latino immigrants from mostly Mexico but other Latin American countries also. Our biggest issue is our parents not getting deported and what happens when families get separated or how a single mother raises her kids. For young Latino millenials in the church I think inclusion is a big issue that we want to see and our local leaders encourage us alot to be politically active. So yeah church history isn’t discussed too much because it isn’t our history. I mean we don’t relate to white folks. Don’t get me wrong people know what Joseph Smith did but it isn’t a big focus in our community. LGBT issues are a big deal because Latino culture can be traditionally conservative. We relate through the teachings of Christ and his restored gospel and keeping those things relevant in our lives is a focus I see in my singles ward. Some people just don’t wanna do anything and expect the church to help them out so I think these challenges are unique to our ward and it’s definitely tough to invite people you love to return to church but choose not to.

  26. Rachel E O says:

    BigSky, your comments are very powerful and outline a helpful roadmap of how to raise children in the church that are morally and ethically aware independent thinkers committed to the fundamentals of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do agree with you that we probably underestimate the power of bottom-up influences in the Church, and that we can make a big impact at a local level. I have seen that in my wards and experiences as well. I also love your emphasis on taking action and personal responsibility — I think our hierarchical Church structure often leads us to fixate too much on the central Church leadership, which all too often makes us — especially liberal Mormons — feel like objects being acted upon. When actually we are subjects made to act, and we should not allow the central Church leadership (or the image of it we have in our minds) to take away our agency to stand up for what’s right and to love everyone in our lived experience with the church, which is primarily at a local level.

    I do think so much of this depends upon place. So far we have usually lived in wonderful wards (outside of the Mormon belt) where the roadmap you outline would be totally possible to follow, and not even excessively exhausting. And I think it would also be possible in my parents’ ward, even though it is like Mormon belt ground zero. But in my husband’s parents’ ward? Of course we could still do it, but I think it would be much more demoralizing and exhausting, and we’d likely feel ostracized and alone much of the time. Which doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. In fact, it may be even more morally urgent in such wards. But still, as we are currently in a ward more along the lines of my in-laws’ ward, I empathize with EJ that sometimes I long to worship and come home from church spiritually filled rather than drained.

  27. Rachel E O says:

    Also, @Trucker’s Atlas, while I think what you say in your first comment probably has a lot of truth to it, I would hope that the church leadership would be cognizant of the way their conservatism has produced the trends they see, and at great cost. First, doubtless part of why millennial Mormons lean more conservative as a population is because more liberal Mormons have selected out and no longer identify as Mormon. Moreover, doubtless one of the reasons why the data “shows millennial Mormons leaning increasingly conservative” in some ways is because the church has for so long, and especially over the past 10 years re: LGBTQ issues, fostered a siege mentality among its members. Through constant, relentless messaging (at General Conference especially, but also all up and down the line in most congregations), it has shamed and coerced its members into hewing to a conservative line. The only way it has really been possible as a Mormon to remain moderate or liberal on some of these issues is to dramatically alter your understanding of prophetic authority vis-a-vis what is generally taught (IMO what is needed), or to stop listening entirely.

    Also, I doubt that the church leadership is homogenous on this point. Yes, some probably implicitly or explicitly embrace what my husband calls a Cuba strategy — i.e. rather than reform to try and make the liberals and the nonconformists happy, just let them flee, as that actually just makes rebellion and internal strife less likely and allows the institution to maintain its status quo policies. But I believe that many of them (Elder Uchtdorf, Elder Ballard, Elder Holland come most immediately to mind) actually want to make the church more welcoming for all people, recognize that the Church’s strong conservative stands on some controversial social issues and its reliance on shame and fear to coerce conformity are pushing many away, and feel heartsick to see the exodus of millennials and others.

  28. tangent, sorry–Pat, 2 hour church would be great. But I think I’ve noticed a big gender divide: men hate priesthood mtg, women hate Sunday school. I wonder how we can address this.

  29. Trucker’s Atlas wrote:

    I think Church leadership is aware of research like Quin Monson’s that shows millennial Mormons leaning increasingly conservative.

    This is absolutely on point–though, as usual, the story is complicated. Monson’s (and others’) research isn’t detailed enough, so far as I have seen, to clearly explain which is the chicken and which is the egg here. Have all the relevant factors–the church’s conservatism on matters of same-sex marriage, the expanded importance of (tightly vetted) CES and (tightly correlated) seminary instruction, partisan tribalism in general, etc.–actually successfully socialized American Mormons of millennial age to be generally more conservative than their peers? Or are all such measurements only looking at the relative political and social dispositions of those American millennials who continue to self-identify as Mormon? That is, has the median millennial Mormon become more conservative because American Mormon millennials are actually, on a whole, more conservative, or because relatively more of the American Mormon millennials who have liberal or heterodox opinions have stopped coming to church, no longer identify as Mormon, and either way simply never answered the questionnaires, thus affecting the outcome? Of course, there is every reason to believe that Amber’s (like Jana Riess’s) surveys suffer from an identical, if reverse, problem. None of which is to stay that these point of view are any less valid than the one’s recorded by Monson; they definitely are not. But obviously, if we want to imagine ourselves in the shoes of general authorities making decisions for the church as a whole, such contextual qualifications are necessary.

  30. And…I see that Rachel has already made my point, quite succinctly. Kudos, Rachel!

  31. Rachel, speaking absolutely without authority, nor any inside knowledge, nor with much invested either way, my suspicion is that the “Cuba strategy” contingent is far more prevalent and influential among the COB crowd than their opposite numbers (remember, Bednar is only in his 60s–he’s got decades yet to go!), and hence I suspect that retrenchment will be the name of the game all while my children grow to adulthood. But that’s just my guess; who knows what will actually happen?

  32. One of the biggest indicators of whether this would actually work is looking at CoC millennial retention.

    There was a very good comment someone put on a similar BCC thread years ago, will try and find it.

  33. I am older so not a millennial but the reasons I stopped going to church and going to another church were varied-I don’t know what order they crept up on me and wonder if some weren’t there would I have kept going and tried for longer to see if I could make it work….but here are some of the reasons in no particular order and some reasons have been around a lot longer than others:
    I was not liking Sunday’s-in fact I dreaded Sundays
    So often as someone referred to earlier there was barely a mention of Christ in the 3 hour block
    I didn’t feel the Bishop knew what to do or say when I spoke to him on more than 1 occasion of how I was feeling and insisted I had a calling so I got put in nursery for 2 hours which definitely didn’t help
    I realised I was becoming angry and bitter and that is not good or like me….
    I no longer had a testimony of the church
    My faith and belief in Christ was slowly being chipped away as I did not find church nurtured this part of faith
    As a woman I felt my opinion was not listened too at times when I was RS president a few years ago
    A few other things…

    Thinking about it it was exhausting and draining struggling with things – coming to terms with being single took years and then all this other stuff.

    On a more positive note I told one of the Bishopric of my decision to stop attending and he was supportive. I retain friendships in the church and am happier and feel so much better. I now look forward to Sunday’s, the church I go to has a 1 hour service on Sundays which is a Christ focussed and I am regaining my testimony of Christ and the atonement.

    I don’t know what the answer is to retain members/millennials as I think the problem is wider than the church with many contemporaries not believing in the need for organised religion. No easy answers.

  34. I think the ministries of Elders Gong and Soares and their wives is a potential positive step. (Older millennial speaking here.) I don’t know either man well. But I’m appreciative of what their calling signals. The Gongs are a mixed-race couple, and I think that too sends a welcome signal. I do know Susan Gong. She is an amazing, open, thoughtful, devout human being with a beautiful testimony of the Savior. (Her Mandarin is also flawless!) I looked up to her in grad school; I aspired to be like her. Making women like Sister Gong more visible is definitely a good thing for me and my daughters. Good for all of us. I’m grateful this morning.

  35. For me, so long as the church doesn’t toss the scriptures about learning from the best books, and doesn’t make belief in young earth creationism a requirement for membership, I’m staying.

  36. Rachel E O says:

    Russell, yeah, maybe that’s true. But I derive a little bit of comfort from the fact that President Ballard is now acting president of the Quorum of 12: “My heartfelt plea is that we will encourage, accept, understand, and love those who are struggling with their faith. We must never neglect any of our brothers and sisters. We are all at different places on the path, and we need to minister to one another accordingly. Just as we should open our arms in a spirit of welcoming new converts, so too should we embrace and support those who have questions and are faltering in their faith” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, October 2016 General Conference, “To Whom Shall We Go?”).

    Also, at least the predicted probability of Elder Holland (and to a lesser extent Elder Uchtdorf) being Church president (see Ziff’s chart over on Zelophehad’s Daughters) at some point in the next decade or two is decently high.

  37. Jenny Harrison says:

    I feel that if you have to correct what your child is hearing at church, then it is time to go. How do you continue to support an organization that doesn’t have the same values as you? You wouldn’t go to a doctor you thought was incompetent or use a plumber who did inferior work, so why put up with it in the most important aspect of you life?? Just go. Believe me you will never be happier and it gives you a chance to really get to know your God and finally have that born again moment that we are all looking for. Good Luck.

  38. “I feel that if you have to correct what your child is hearing at church, then it is time to go.”

    That can be a valid reason for leaving depending on the family. My experience has been that no organization I’ve ever been involved in (and I’m a tad older at GenX) has been without problems. For me, participating in organizations of people comes with the expectation that the organization will have strengths and weaknesses. Then the time to leave becomes when the weakness out way the strengths.

  39. retired old woman says:

    I am a baby boomer, so way out of the demographic being discussed here, but my thoughts resonate a great deal with Rachel E O’s when she said: “one of the things that has energized and moved me most as a millennial Mormon in recent years is how the Church has stood up in defense of the rights and welfare and dignity of immigrants and refugees and encouraged its members to succor the ‘strangers in our land.’ I would love to see the Church focusing more of its energy in leading actively on the great moral issues of our time, such as sex trafficking and sexual harassment, criminal justice reform, environmental conservation and climate change, arms control and international diplomacy, and income inequality. We have abundant doctrinal resources, many of them unique to our scripture and history and tradition, to motivate effort on all of these social issues, but we so rarely hear anything about them from church leaders.”
    In fact, on some of these issues, we see members of the Church actively and loudly hindering or voting for people who hinder efforts to improve the status of refugees, immigrants, criminals (especially those who murder with assault weapons), the environment, arms control, and income inequality. Why does the Church leadership not take these issues more seriously and encourage the members to take them seriously? I realize Church leaders have to be gracious to everyone who visits Salt Lake City, but watching them kissing up to Donald Trump (the greatest enemy of refugees, immigrants, the environment, arms control, the poor, sexual morality, etc.) just about killed me.

  40. Yep. If you want to retain Millennials, the best thing you can do is distance yourself from Trump as much as possible. Sending MoTab to sing for him was a bad call. Even worse? The feeling many Millennials get when they are surrounded by unrepentant Trump voters at church who continually bring up politics.

  41. Married Millennial says:

    I, too, appreciate these responses. I will add as a married millennial, that I have become more comfortable with the idea of leaving the church after becoming married and being able to discuss it with my husband and counsel with him on what is best for the two of us.

    I also appreciate when we recognize that things like sexism, homophobia, racism, elitism, etc. are not just cultural, they are thoroughly engrained in our doctrine and policies. What constantly pushes me to want to leave the church is how explicit the temple ceremonies are that women do not have the same access to God in the eternities as women. The temple ceremonies are supposed to be our highest form of worship, the temple a place where we can feel closest to heaven. The fact that most members either 1) actually believe women have an inferior place in the eternities or 2) are ignoring some clear wording in the temple because it’s not important is very troubling to me. The fact that the church pretends to not have sexist policies and doctrines adds insult to injury.

  42. Jonathan Livingston says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this.