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Show examines why millennials choose to be spiritual, not religious

By Sarah Whitman, Times Religion Columnist
Published: February 27, 2018 Updated: March 5, 2018 at 04:08 PM
There a fewer people in the pews at some churches and synagogues because a notable number of millennials and young adults, many who identify as spiritual but not religious, are moving away from organized religion. The topic will be featured on the March 8, 2018 episode of " All I'm Saying" with Ernest Hooper. | Times Files

More than 50 percent of millennials who grew up in the church have left.

Synagogues struggle to keep young singles in regular attendance. Nationwide religious leaders are asking the question, "What can we do to bring them back?"

I recently addressed this topic during a taping for Thatís All Iím Saying, the WEDU public affairs show hosted by Tampa Bay Times columnist and editor Ernest Hooper. Tampa Rabbi Jason Rosenberg, Southeastern University director of youth ministry Ben Gomez and Pasco-Hernando State College student Nathalie Calles. The show airs Thursday (March 8) at 8:30 p.m.

The disinterest in organized religion among young adults ó those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious ó grows nationally locally, according to several surveys. Throughout the Tampa Bay area, churches try different approaches, from concert-style worship services to back-to-basics ad campaigns.

As a religion reporter, let me say the churches still attracting young people are those willing to put church interests second to community outreach.

Churches with large outreach ministries, such as Crossover in North Tampa, Bay Life in Brandon, Hyde Park United Methodist and Relevant in South Tampa, attract millennials less with their music styles and more by offering a sense of neighborhood involvement. They host events inclusive to all people, not just members. They give more than they take.

Millennials, despite contradictory criticism, seek to make a positive impact. They want to serve the underprivileged, work to end homelessness and fight human trafficking. Yes, a coffee bar is nice, but these believers want to see faith in action.

Millennials abandoning religious institutions arenít necessarily turning away from God. Many love Jesus but dislike the old approach. They donít trust the preaching and tithing system. They crave authentic relationships with leaders and experiences outside church walls.

These days, anyone can watch a sermon online. People connect and form relationships outside of religious institutions. Political criticism casts religion in a bad light.

Going forward, to continue thriving, churches need to make hard decisions to break old habits.

Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]