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Study indicates millennial numbers are falling

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Katie Lawrence and her grandparents, Thomas and Sherry Lawrence, all of Rochester, attend an Easter sunrise service at Quarry Hill Park. The event, conducted by The Congregational Church, United Church of Christ included bagpipes, song and prayer. Katie said she tries to attend church weekly with her grandmother.
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Remembering her past experiences with church left Kate Lawrence with no peace of mind.

The 19-year-old Rochester woman recently attended an Easter sunrise service with her family at Quarry Hill. While she now found herself at ease with a place to worship and to practice her faith, it wasn't always like this.

A 2011 study from Barna Group, a private research company, revealed three out of five young Christians who attended church frequently as children would either disconnect themselves from their faith after they turn 15 or take an extended period of leave from the church.

This didn't come as a surprise to Lawrence. She said there were some experiences that resulted in her family leaving the church.

At her old church in Buffalo, Minn., it was difficult coming to grips with the idea that her congregation wasn't welcoming toward her and her family. There were times when fellow members of the church made a point of avoiding them entirely. There were times when she and her brother were excluded and bullied in youth group.

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What was supposed to be a place of sanctuary turned into hell. She and her sibling were bullied at school, but didn't expect to find it at church. "I wished people would stop picking on my brother and me," Lawrence said, "because our whole life we were picked on in school and everywhere we went."

Since then, Lawrence has struggled with her faith. At times, it felt like her relationship with God was at an all-time high. At other times, she questioned whether it was worth holding on to her beliefs.

Even after her family stopped going to church regularly, they returned for important services such as Christmas and Easter. But, what cemented their desire to leave was the apparent lack of caring from the congregation.

"Honestly, the church never noticed we left," Lawrence said. "They never said a thing."

'A significant life change'

Although statistics indicate many young adults leave the church, it's actually nothing new, according to religious leaders. It's dependent on each individual church to do outreach and to change to fit the needs of a generation.

The Rev. Paul Brushaber, of Christ Community Church, said he sees the millennials gap as a "natural break." After growing up being taught to go to church by their parents, eventually, the decision is left up to them to continue practicing their faith or not.

"It does take a while to land," Brushaber said. "I find that some young families -- they tend to get more serious about their faith when they have children of their own. They ask 'What do we believe in? What do we want them to believe in?' Sometimes, it takes a life-changing event to maybe get them to come back."

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He also pointed out some churches fare better than others at attracting young adults.

"It's more church to church, and some do a good job reaching millennials," Brushaber said. "I think those are the churches that are relevant — have been more modernized in their styles. Some churches you won't see anyone under 40, much less 30."

'I love it'

Lawrence said it's been hard to find time to attend church while juggling her job as a receptionist, and the conflict that it creates. But she still attempts to try to go to services when she can. After moving to Rochester a year ago, Lawrence ended up going to her grandmother's church in town.

Soon, she fell in love with the congregation and the opportunity to worship in a place where she felt accepted.

"I love it," she shared. "The church I attend now is my home."

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