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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?