Like it or not, the Millennial Generation is the future of God’s Church. The good news is that they are passionate, socially active, engaged, and ready to fight poverty, human trafficking, and social injustice.
The bad news is that they are not seeing the local church in America as a place for them to engage in these areas nor do they see the Church leading the way and bearing Fruit in being Christ-like.
‘We want more than a ‘lecture’ on Sunday and a group of people to sing songs and hold hands with. We want to be active and engaged in the world around us.’
For many years now, the local church has catered to the Baby Boomer population. Our methodology – the way we do worship, small groups, even the lighting and how our church buildings are set up – have largely been to please the Boomers. The reality, however, is that the Boomer population is aging and the church has already alienated many in Generation X.
In the past 15 years, some church leaders have finally realized they needed the younger generations but for the most part, the church tried reaching Millennial’s with the same methodology they used with Boomers or they hired consultants from marketing and advertising companies trying to “brand” Jesus with hip designs, sanctuaries that look like event centers, and tons of pre-packaged programs.
“Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media. Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, we see through this. This causes us to leave.’
Authenticity Not Hipster
Millennial’s are not interested in a “nice” Jesus with a permanent smile and open arms and they don’t want to hear more preaching with little follow through. They’ve grown up hearing about Jesus and actually appreciate good doctrine and theology. The problem is that they don’t see the local Church living and acting like Jesus.
Millennial’s see the church smiling and putting on a good show but not being transparent with its raw and real underbelly. Millennial’s want Jesus the man. Jesus the prophet. The Jesus that took up the cross of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized in the name of God. The Jesus that challenged the establishment and paid the ultimate price. They want leaders who talk less and act more. They want to see guys with tattoos and piercing welcomed with open arms. They want to hear about the churches struggles and frustrations. They want to know that other people in the church are battling depression, anxiety, and self-mutilation. They want the local church to stop building multi-million dollar campuses of comfort and exclusivity and start building homeless shelters, start working with drug addicts, and launching centers to start sending missionaries to work in our own backyards and inner cities.
speaking of church buildings…
Smaller, Classic and Peaceful
The Barna Group recently did a study on the types of structures Millennial’s prefer and even I was shocked at the results.
Millennial’s want medium-sized, sanctuary type environments but with modern features and real elements of nature. They prefer grass and water falls over painted murals and artificial cut outs. They prefer a cross with subtle lighting and even a little stained glass. They want the church to be an open place of connection and community during the week where you can meet someone for coffee, send a homeless person for a meal, or just come and have some quiet time of reflection.
‘I’d rather worship in a vintage, repurposed body shop with character and dust than in a spotless auditorium with a big stage and perfect rows of seats.’
Most church buildings today are places of action, not rest, and spaces to “do” rather than “be.” All our activities, of course, are designed to connect people with God and each other – which some Millennial’s hope for that, too—but many just want an opportunity to explore spiritual life on their own terms, free to decide for themselves when to stay on the edges of a church experience and when to fully enter in.
Think of Starbucks – you can get a cup of coffee, use the free wifi, read some free books, listen to music or talk with friends.
Clarity In Communications
Millennial’s will research you before ever coming to your Church. Your website. Your Facebook page. Your reviews. If any of this is outdated or reeks of advertising, strike one. If you don’t have pictures and videos of your church members, outreach projects and what your services look like, strike two. When they do come to visit, they may not want to talk to someone at first or be pursued or asked 20 questions by your greeters. They want clear signage on where to go and what’s happening. They look more at visual cues and the visual aspects of your church and services more than generations past.
They also don’t want to fill out your “visitor card” because they know you are just gathering data and trying to add them to the mailing list. The only piece of information a sizable majority of Millennial’s is comfortable sharing with a church is their first name (82%). Only half are willing to give their last names (53%). Just one-third are comfortable sharing their email address (33%). That means two out of three young-adult visitors do not want churches to have that information. (Barna)
Less Programs, More Organic Movements and Leadership
When Millennial’s decide to attend, they jump in with both feet. They don’t just want to show up and listen but they want to be active in the process. Whether this is worship, service projects, teaching, etc. They want an active role in their faith. Whereas the Boomer Generation prefers to come and hear a sermon or approach faith like an academic course while being told when, where and what to do – Millennial’s want to be lead to Jesus, equipped, and unleashed to multiply or serve within a matter of months rather than years. (Sounds like Paul and the Early Church to me?) Many Millennial’s feel the church is too rigid and program oriented – a few people deciding when and where everyone else can serve and lead. The Millennial’s want the church to be unapologetically a place of worship, learning, and experiencing community while also fostering, disciplining, and empowering new believers to organically lead and serve in Godly areas.
‘In generations like the Boomers, people attend church out of some moral obligation to do so. Millennials won’t have any of that. If it doesn’t provide meaning and value to them, they won’t participate. They’ll go and find something that does have meaning and value.”Shawn Williams
One of the biggest complaints in the business world of Millennial’s is their sense of entitlement. The Boomer Generation had to pay their dues, serve out of obedience, and hope that one day, after years of loyalty, they would be allowed a voice or seat at the table.
According to David Kinnaman, who has done extensive research on Millennial’s and the Church, Millennial’s are not interested in playing it safe and earning their place at the table at some future date; they want a seat there now. Their desire is to be taken seriously and to be given real responsibility fast is something churches should take note of—and be eager to fulfill.
Paul and Timothy sometimes only spent a few days with early church planters before commissioning them. This is why we have most of the New Testament today as the Early Church realized you need to mobilize people to action now and you can provide leadership/discipleship along the way. Sadly, I have not run into very many churches that follow Paul and Timothy’s discipleship model, most follow the “pay your dues and let us vet you for a few years” model.
Many young adults are struggling to find their identities and what they exist for. “What’s my purpose in life?” Millennial’s want this presented to them in intimate, person-to-person discipleship or small conversational groups versus large, informal one-way lectures. Millennial’s yearn to learn about the goodness of God and the goodness of being in community but they also want to talk about real issues – sexual purity, the LGBT community, why Christians tithe, how to love those who sin but not compromise Scripture. Millennial’s want Truth in doctrine, theology and teaching and Grace in methodology, community outreach, and social justice.
This is an area Baby Boomers could really shine and pass the torch to the next generations. Currently, Boomers hold all the financial, intellectual, professional and relational capital in our society and instead of hoarding it and hoping to take it with them, this is an opportunity for the Church to leverage its elders and equip the next generation to lead the Church.
However, effective ministry to Millennial’s means helping young believers discover their own mission in the world, not merely asking them to wait their turn or serve as underlings. The Boomers have the opportunity to mentor and train thousands of new pastors and church leaders or assist young leaders in launching new churches and ministries.
Rather than trying slick advertising and marketing schemes to entice Millennial’s to come to church where they’re being told to sit down, be quiet and listen, maybe the local church should start equipping and empowering the Millennial’s to be the front line leaders and community evangelists while mentoring and discipling them along the way?
This Sunday, take a look around your church and see how many 18-30 year olds are attending. Because if we don’t have Millennial’s, we won’t have a church in the future.
– Lance (who is not a Millennial)