Why We Left Church in College

Gen Y’s and church. It’s all the rage.


My mom called the other day and asked if I stopped attending church in college for any length of time and why. I did, as did my brother. (Two preacher’s kid, mind you.) And my husband. And a lot of my friends.

But I couldn’t really pinpoint the why.

Part of it was because we went to a Christian university that had chapel every single day and Bible classes most days. That’s a lot of textbook Jesus. By the time Sunday rolled around, honestly, we were tired of hearing about it all. It was another lecture in less comfortable seats.

But, regardless of what college they attended, most of my friends also stopped going for a while. Or stopped going and haven’t come back.

I polled my Gen Y crowd on Facebook to see what they thought about the question.

I didn’t set out to create another blog post on Millennials leaving church (take your pick from the 6 million or so that circulate regularly); I asked out of curiosity. But as I started reading the responses I decided they needed to be shared because their answers were gold. Great insight for those confused by my generation.

Here’s what they said.

Question: Did you quit going for any length of time during your college years? Why?


  • One friend also went to a Christian school said his religion class turned him off. He said, “I got to the point where I thought, ‘wait, what makes church/religion a greater/better/smarter than church b? They’re all rather similar.'”

Totally get this. Part of my “taking ownership of my faith” time in college was spent wrestling with these issues. From the conversations I had with a gay rights group to the super charismatic worship service I attended to hearing about the Holy Spirit {cue spooky music} being alive and well in post-Bible time lives…my beliefs were blown wide open, some never to return to their original state.  I wrestled with a lot of “Wait…we do huh? We believe what? Why?”

  • “I think for me I had to establish my relationship with Christ for myself.. outside of my family or church telling me what I should be believing.”

Yep. We question everything. Authority isn’t as authoritative as it was in generations past. We have to figure stuff out for ourselves, which can be really healthy, I think. But a church who doesn’t support us during this questioning or isn’t open to having tough or “politically incorrect” conversations…well, we’re out.

  • “I believe faith and spirituality is bigger than the walls churches, religions and people put around their ideals. … However too many right or wrongs, yes and nos. if spirituality really is that amazing shouldn’t it cross thoughts, beliefs and cultures.”

This is the ultimate Gen Y’s mindset. “You say right vs. wrong, I say…who are you to say something is right vs. wrong?” “Church is bigger than a building or a people group…church is feeding the hungry and clothing the poor.”

  • “I … found myself extremely frustrated with and eventually bitter toward church in general. It seemed like there was nothing for me and I was getting fed the same emotionally-based message I got in high school. I wanted something deeper.”

No more pizza parties with a side of Jesus, please.

  • “I didn’t find what I was looking for. The messages I was getting each Sunday morning were not challenging enough for me. They did not keep me WANTING to come back.”

We were raised in a build-it-like-you-want-it era. (see also: Build-a-Bear, Burger King’s “Have it Your Way”, personalizationmall.com’s ability to slap our name on ANYTHING) It’s no wonder we struggle with church when it doesn’t fit our needs. When we don’t find what we’re looking for. (Danger zone here: it’s not about us, even though we’ve been taught that forever.)

  • About trips to Africa: “They (Ghanaians) were the ones showing me who Jesus really is… even though I was the one on the mission trip. I wanted to know the Jesus they love, and I wasn’t finding him at ‘church’…”

Lukewarm. Hypocrisy. Lives that claim to be “different” that look a whole heckofalot like everyone else’s life.

  • “I quit going entirely. After Christian education for 15 years it all stopped speaking to me…”

Burned out by textbook Jesus. Been there.

  • “I felt so disillusioned with what I kept finding. I found a lot of unacceptance, alot of judgement, alot of “cliques” ….. it got old and it’s still old.”

Church is synonymous with relationships to our generation, I think. When we feel rejected by people…when we feel we can’t build relationships and connect with people…we’re gone.

Interesting, right?

These mindsets aren’t 100% right (I don’t fully agree with all), but they are 100% valid to the individual.

Jesus can work with any mindset on the spectrum, no doubt, but I also think it’s important for his church to be aware of and sensitive to where a good chunk of its members are coming from.

Take it or leave it, agree or disagree…but I hope this at least gives you insight, non Gen-Yers.

(also, fellow Millennials, post to come about why I came back and how I met Jesus inside the walls of a “mega church” {gasp}. this post hits a little bit of it. don’t you give up just yet.)

One thought on “Why We Left Church in College

  1. Justin

    Sarah –

    I’m glad you’re helping continue this conversation. While I never left church, I was pretty close to losing my faith at one point in college. Luckily, I had some good mentors who pushed me toward some authors that helped me realize that what is been taught, explicitly and implicitly, that I had some serious issues with was not the only way to think about things.

    Namely – these were my big issues:

    What does it mean for God to be in control? How does our understanding of God’s control of things make him complicit in evil? Why would we worship a god who based on our theology, is complicit in evil and just dismissing it with “gods was are not our ways”

    Why are our churches so driven by consumer culture, wealth accumulation, and an economic system that at the very least is morally neutral towards poverty when we worship a homeless guy who told us to give radically and stand up for the poor?

    Why are our churches so wedded to empire and military might when Jesus tells us to love our enemies?

    Why do we continue to insist on an understanding of biblical inerrancy that even the bible doesn’t claim about itself?


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