By definition, I am a Millennial. I was born in the 80’s, I can remember a world without cell phones, but I also wrote my first research paper on an early version of Microsoft Word. Over the last decade, I've heard more and more talk about how the Church needs to reach MY generation.
You see a lot of my generation just doesn’t want anything to do with church in general anymore. It’s so “boring” and very “political.” There has been so much hurt, rejection, and general lack of understanding of why so many “Millennials” just don’t see the church as relevant or important. How many times have we heard about the “scandals” and the “chisme” that destroys a community? Or how about the apathy to new ideas or concepts just because “we have always done things a certain way.” What about the criticism of how we dress? The music we listen to and enjoy? Or what about the way we engage each other thru texting, and social media? I mean, let’s be real. We see it all over. We get the dirty looks and the judgmental stare down when we walk into church. You might say, “Well you shouldn’t pay attention to those people or you go to church for God not man.” Well guess what? That is completely true BUT what about those who come with no faith background, are looking for truth, are looking for a community, and are looking for that something that they know they are missing. What about THEM? Isn’t that the whole reason why the church exists in the first place? Isn’t that what Christianity all about? To reach out into the world and not condemn it?
I think every Pastor faces a crossroads when having to deal with the generation gap and how to bring stability with those that just don’t get it. As a pastor, I’ve seen my congregation struggle with change. I’ve seen how dissention causes people to leave because they just can’t accept what God is doing because it just doesn’t fit their idea of church. The sheep that follow emotion over the spirit just cause it doesn’t make sense to them. It hurts when you see God trying to do a new thing with your flock and there are those that will not let the past Go and allow a new thing to flourish.
It seems all-too-often our churches are actually causing more damage than goodand the statistics are showing a staggering number of Millennials have taken note. According to a Barna Group study (and many others like it) church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history and most drastic among Millennials described as 22-35 year olds.
-Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
-59% percent of Millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
-35% of Millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
-Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
But I'm also a Millennial with over a decade of ministry experience under my belt. I've served as an Intern, Youth Pastor, Associate Pastor, Board Member, and Lead Pastor with a foot in both worlds, over time I’ve come to the six following conclusions what I believe to be the best ways the church can engage and reach Millennials today. There is still hope!
1. Share your church and/or denomination’s story often.
One of the major themes of the millennial generationis narrative. We seek to live meaningful lives and are drawn in by the most captivating stories. Donald Millerbecame a household name because of a book that simply told his story, and now he is helping countless others see the narrative elements of their own lives.
MILLENNIALS AREN’T LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT CHURCH; THEY'RE LOOKING FOR A CAPTIVATING STORY TO JOIN.
I have seen many churches distance themselves from their own rich history and tradition in an attempt to reach a younger generation, removing denominational indicators from their names and liturgical elements from their gatherings. This isn’t to say you should never change your worship style or seek improvement where possible, but rather that the story you are telling about and through your gatherings is far more important than the tempo or genre of your music.
If you’re Methodist, tell the story of John Wesley. If Lutheran, then Martin Luther; If Presbyterian, Calvin, etc. All of these people were passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you’re a non-denominational church, tell the story of how your church came to be and why. In doing so, you will invite people to see themselves as a part of that story and see themselves as having a stake in writing the next chapter for the church.
2. Create ministry opportunities (Lots of them!)
The narrative focus of Millennialshas led us away from a simplistic, formulaic understanding of the Gospel and to a holistic, incarnational Gospel. Millennials are seeking a bigger role to play in the Gospel story than merely sitting in the pews. We have heard countless sermons on all of the various parts of the body of Christ and the many spiritual gifts given to the people of God, and we long for a way for our talents and passions to be a part of the church.
ENGAGE MILLENNIALS BY GIVING THEM A ROLE TO PLAY AND OWNERSHIP OF SOME OF THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH.
This goes beyond setting up and tearing down chairs or handing out bulletins (though those are important things). How can you leverage the skills, passions, and experience of your congregation to serve the Kingdom? By creating ministry opportunities that can be as varied as the people in your church and will do a great deal to help Millennials find a long-term place in your community.
3. Find ways to connect relationally.
While a great preacher can make a big difference in your Sunday attendance, it will not be enough to keep Millennials around long-term (especially in an age where every great sermon from last week is available as a podcast at the touch of a button). In order to bring Millennials into the church and keep them around, you will need to find creative ways to build and facilitate meaningful relationships, making them feel like they are a part of the movement of your community.
This may mean investing time and energy in creating thriving small group opportunities where Millennials can easily get to know people and feel known. I’ve also seen this successfully done in churches that have many different outreach opportunities that allow newcomers to join in on service projects. This has a dual benefit of both helping them build relationships while also giving them an opportunity to use their gifts to build up the Kingdom. Either way, creating a place where established leaders in the community are available and approachable will mean the world to someone trying to figure out if they can belong to your particular tribe.
4. Invest in Children’s & Family Ministry.
One of the golden threads that runs through nearly every successful ministry, regardless of denomination or affiliation, is a high emphasis on Children’s Ministry. As Millennials are beginning their own families, they are looking for churches that take seriously the discipleship of children.
This isn’t just a matter of buying the most expensive curriculum you can afford, but rather means making this ministry a priority. How does the Children’s Ministry budgetcompare to the Youth or Outreach ministry budgets? How are you celebrating the victories of your Children’s Ministry in your Sunday gatherings? I’ve always believed that the success of our church will be determined by how well our children love God as adults.
MILLENNIALS ARE LOOKING FOR A COMMUNITY THAT WILL MINISTER TO BOTH THEM AND THEIR WHOLE FAMILY.
By communicating the importance of children in the Kingdom and investing time and resources into that ministry, you will make your church more attractive to those Millennials entering this stage of life.
5. Invest in your Social Media and Web presence.
At my previous church where I served as an Associate Pastor, we realized that there was a ton of people who didn’t live in our city who followed our church and in a very real way felt that they were a part of our church. We referred to this group as the “community beyond the community.” This group included people who once attended our services but moved away. It was through this community that we realized how important our Social Media and Web presence really was. God can work through your ministry in the lives of people you’ve never met. Your website and Social Media handles are no longer a place where people can find out the service times, but can be a place of real, tangible ministry. This is the reality of the church in the digital age.
As such, it is vital that you create a well crafted and engaging websiteand update your Social Media often. This goes beyond adding some fancy graphics to thinking intentionally about the people who will find their way there and providing them with intentional resources. It also means that your church needs to be present in some capacity by interacting with the community beyond the community when at all possible.
6. Share your passion.
This is the most important and powerful thing you can do to reach this demographic: share your passion. Regardless of your worship style, website, or service opportunities, nothing will turn Millennials away from your church more than a lack of passion.
While it’s easy to get weighed down by all of the stresses of ministry, it’s important to remember what motivates you and share that as often as you can. Are you excited to see the lost experience and trust in the Gospel? Proclaim it loudly! Do you get jazzed to see heaven break into present lives? Share where you’re already seeing it. Does your heart leap as God brings reconciliation and restoration to broken families? Let that come through in every message!
Passion, excitement, and joy are contagious. Share your vision, share your story, and do it with gusto. Millennials want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and your church could very well be that something.