Here's an article on CNN's Belief Blog about why young people need the church. Rachel Held Evans writes, "Like many millennials, I left church because I didn’t always see the compassion of Jesus there, and because my questions about faith and science, the Bible, homosexuality, and religious pluralism were met with shallow answers or hostility." But she's returned to church, and most of her reasons might resonate for believers, but probably not for anyone else.
Some of the most compelling reasons she lists boil down to community and healing-- "local churches provide basements where AA groups can meet, living rooms where tough conversations about racial reconciliation occur, casseroles for the sick and shelter for the homeless." Can't argue that too much; although caring for the sick and the needy is not something that must be done by churches, in our society it does tend to be left to the religious. And the ill and needy must be taken care of one way or another.
Other reasons she lists are not particularly compelling unless you believe. Confession and reminding yourself we're all sinners-- thanks, but I can do without the idea that without Jesus we're all doomed to a fiery hell. If there's one thing I regret about my time as a Lutheran, it's that I let my kids internalize this ugly, scary message. Evans writes, "The accountability that comes from participation in a local church gives young Christians the chance to speak openly about our struggles with materialism, greed, gossip, anger, consumerism and pride." Maybe, but this seems like something young people can manage to talk about on their own.
Leadership... well, mentors are all around us, and I rarely met anyone in church who was especially wise. Communion-- yeah, I can do without the ritualistic cannibalism, too. Confirmation and union with Christ similarly don't matter to me. These are things that my atheist self sees as silly, meaningless ritual, and I'm grateful to have left this all behind me.
Overall, this is more of an article about the "spiritual but not religious" young people who've left the church but who continue to believe than it is about nonbelievers. And left unexplained is why doubting young people might not be better off simply turning to atheism, and meeting their needs for community and helping others elsewhere.