A Church That Attracts and Keeps Millennials

David Kinnaman with Barna Group published a book in 2011 entitled You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… And Rethinking Faith. The information is concerning. Barna found that 59% of those aged 18-29 that grew up in church are leaving. That number was even higher for Protestants (61%). Flavel Yeakley, a statistician with Churches of Christ, found that we are losing 55% of our youth after high school graduation which is close to the national average. To state the problem succinctly: There aren’t many Millennials in church to begin with, and we are losing about 60% of those who do attend church.

Some might think that asking what Millennials are looking for in a church is pointless. I can just hear someone saying it now: “Who cares what Millennials are looking for? This is the Lord’s Church, not theirs.” I would imagine that the church with this attitude probably doesn’t have many Millennials in it to begin with. I don’t believe the church will accidentally reach Millennials. If we do reach them, it will be because we are intentional about it.

I was recently asked to present at a conference for shepherds in Churches of Christ speaking from the perspective of young ministers. I conducted an informal survey of twenty-something ministers. About twenty responded. The common thread running through each response, “We are frustrated.” The other common thread through the majority of responses, “We don’t feel like we can talk to our elders and older members about our frustrations.” The problem is real. I think it’s past time for our churches to start talking about this. I don’t claim to have all the answers. Here are a few thoughts.

A Church that Attracts and Keeps Millennials Is:

  1.  Imaginative- The challenges of reaching Millennials will require imaginative church leaderships which are not afraid to think outside of the box. This might mean having to change some things that we’ve always done. One person has defined insanity as doing the same thing multiple times and expecting a different outcome. If we keep doing what we have done, we will keep losing them.
  2. Community– Millennials have the world at their fingertips. We have hundreds of “Friends” on Facebook and people “Follow” us on Twitter. Yet, despite our connectivity, we are more lonely than ever. One out of every three Millennials is growing up without a father at home. We crave real, human relationships. It’s possible that more good can be done through your living room than through a church program.
  3. Relevant- Millennials want churches that help connect the Scriptures with their lives. We actually want deep theology. We don’t want three-point, alliterated, topical sermons. We want the story of the Bible to be related to the story of our lives. We have some pretty big doubts and we are asking some really tough questions. Pat answers will not suffice.
  4. Dialogue– Don’t be afraid of us. We want elders and church leaders to not be suspicious of our motives. We love God too. We just want to sit down and talk with you. We want to hear your thoughts and also explain where we are coming from without fear of repercussion. Church leaderships should create a safe atmosphere where Millennials are free to question traditions, challenge the status quo, and express frustrations. I would love to see more forums in our churches for constructive inter-generational dialogue.
  5. Dynamic– One of the great myths about Millennials is that we want worship to be like rock concerts. Some mistakenly believe we want smoke, lights, and rock bands. Millennials want dynamic worship. A Capella worship can be dynamic. We want the worship to be intentional and well thought out. We want the songs to connect with the sermon. And song leaders, please stop announcing the song numbers. Just start the next song. We aren’t using the books anymore. We are attracted to churches that worship passionately. In addition to dynamic worship, we want dynamic engagement in the surrounding city and the world. The word dynamic means “energy or effective action”. We want to feed the hungry, serve the needy, end generational poverty, care for orphans, minister to prisoners, etc. Millennials will likely not find fulfillment in a church that isn’t dynamically missional.
  6. Authentic– The biggest perception of Christians by unchurched Millennials is that we are hypocritical. A church that reaches Millennials will be full of people that admit their brokenness and confess their sins and faults. It’s okay to not be perfect or have all the answers. They won’t feel comfortable at a church with an ivory veneer. We want to experience a real and raw Christian faith. We don’t want to pray rote prayers or see how quickly we can get through the Lord’s Supper. And, we don’t mind the worship service going over an hour if it’s authentic and we are experiencing God dynamically.

I ran this list by several friends in ministry. One responded, “We want real, substantive relationships that are reinforced by good theology, and play out in the real world.” I couldn’t agree more. Let’s start talking.

Do you have something else you would add to the list?

Advertisements

8 comments

  1. As a Millennial (23-years-old), I want to thank you for this article. I’m sharing it and begging people to seriously consider it. As a Millennial, I ask the question: “Carest thou not that we perish?!” Please, do not let this generation perish. We are not scary and we DO value the authority of Scripture, maybe even more than the generations before. But this article truly captures the heart of our hearts.

    1. All Millenials are insane and attention deficit of worship as the Bible presents it. They want to be “entertained” rather than “enlightened” and “widely read” rather than “wisely read!. Look at our public school systems,,, Students have no clue about the history of this country, the price that has been paid, and who paid the price for them to be in the positions they are presently occupying, Plus the fact “THEY DON’T EVEN CARE!” The same assessmet can be made about the Lord’s Church. Furthermore, “THEY DON’T CARE TO KNOW OR EVEN WANT TO KNOW!” And we wonder why there is so much violence and inappropriate behavior in our communities and learning institituions…

  2. Garrett, I’m not a millennial by a long stretch (I passed that about 30 years ago), but I still resonate with some of your suggestions. In fact, some of what bothers the 25 year old crowd today is what bothered them when my age group was 25 (there is that 30 year time frame again :). People were hungry for deeper Bible study, real connection, and some proactive action in the community in the name of Christ. I think one difference today is that the feelings are so much more intensified. Good article.

    1. Warren, thanks for reading the post. I think you are so right. I don’t think this is just an age thing. I think there are many who have been crying out for authentic, dynamic church life. I also agree with you that our generation has just intensified those cries. Unless there are Churches of Christ that offer these types of experiences, I’m afraid we will either leave the church altogether or head to another church. I don’t want to see people leave Churches of Christ, especially if we can help it. It’s definitely something to be praying about.

  3. I, also, am not a millennial, but I was once with the same questions as those of today. What really established me, with the aid & encouragement of many of our older ladies, was getting involved in the work of the church that was already in place. I never felt a part until I allowed myself to become a part. I always had the support of the congregation but did not fully appreciate it until I began to join in with activities like teaching Bible class, helping another needy member, sharing the gospel with a co-worker (with advice from fellow members as I had never done this before), etc. Sometimes, I believe, people feel left out because they don’t do what is needed to become a part. Certainly those of us who are older know how difficult it is to try to “fit in”. We probably do need to be more intentional about including our millennials in the work of the church & letting them know how their energy is appreciated.

  4. Garrett, very insightful post. Number Four is absolutely crucial, and it holds not only in church but in any industry wishing to keep a competitive edge by listening to the input of those “below.” A “safe atmosphere” to discuss and ask hard questions is largely absent in many churches, although I would speculate that most are entirely oblivious to this. This dooms a congregation to remain mired in one model of doing church that gradually leads to its irrelevance and demise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s