Many churches are struggling to appeal to Millennials. Generally speaking, Millennials are those who are born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. As a Millennial, I have witnessed the church’s efforts to attract me, keep me engaged, and stay relevant to my generation. It is my goal here to speak to this struggle firsthand from my research and personal experiences.
Being the Target
Recently my wife, another Millennial, and I endured the long and uncomfortable journey of looking for another home church. During this more than six-month transition, we visited church after church from nearly every local denomination, hoping to find one that felt right for us.
One thing I noticed at many of the great establishments that we visited was that we were their “target audience.” We were the people they wanted in their church. We are young adults, we have a few kids, we have jobs, we are saved, and we are tithers and givers. Although we sensed that people wanted us to join their church (as demonstrated by subtle, not-so-subtle, and sometimes downright tacky antics) there were some things that did not appeal to us.
We are Millennials, not children. We are not easily fooled, and we can tell when something is not right. We want our home church to be authentic. Many churches make the mistake of trying to be so relevant that they forget to be authentic. It is almost offensive to walk into a church and find that everybody from the ushers to the pastor is trying to be hip in an effort to be relevant.
When there is more emphasis on image than on Christ, it’s more gravy than meat. Don’t hide what should give me substance with what should be a complement to the experience. I love gravy, but it’s the meat that satisfies my hunger. Using slang and wearing urban attire in the sanctuary does not make you relevant—it makes you look ridiculous when it is not authentic.
Being authentic not only attracts Millennials to the church, it provides a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell. As a leader, being anything less than authentic in your church in order to gain members is like asking God to bless a lie.
Seeking a Holy God
Some Millennials have a negative view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion, and I can testify that joining a religious or deeply traditional church does not interest me. Yet we are still thirsty for the presence of God. But when churches portray God as a buddy, you lose us. We have enough friends already. As a Christian Millennial, I want my church to exemplify a vision of a loving and holy God, and I want the delivery to be authentic. I don’t need a pastor who is “down.” I need a word from the Lord.
We are interested in real issues, we want real testimonies, and we want a real leader who teaches or preaches about a real and holy God. The slang won’t draw us. Salvation is what’s attractive. How can we get to Heaven? How can we live better lives, being pleasing to our Father as adults?
What’s Inside Matters
What the church has inside her sanctuary matters. I’m not talking about modern color combinations, but what is presented. If the church is not cared for, then that sends a message. How the seats/pews are set up matters. You should feel a genuine love for people and the space when you walk into a sanctuary on a Sunday morning.
It has been said that within three seconds of walking into a room, we decide whether or not we like it. Before the first usher smiles and greets us, before we take the third step into the sanctuary, before the first note is played we already know whether we like this place or not. If I’m not comfortable worshiping with you in your sanctuary, I won’t come back.
Millennials are looking for churches that can provide an authentic experience of God’s love, which allows us to freely praise and worship the God that we want to know more about in our own authentic way, without being judged or prostituted for the experience.
Through my research, I have found that the pattern among churches that are reaching young adults is that they tend to be more contemporary. They are engaged with culture and are aware of trends and teach people how to walk through life with spiritual eyes. This can be accomplished through transparent leadership.
Having been in the church all of my life, I have heard a lot of Bible stories and sermons. But I also want to hear how you, my pastor, made it through adversity. By being transparent, although it will make you vulnerable, you become relatable and approachable. Then we can honor you as our pastor, and your transparency becomes the testimony we pull from when we go through the trials of life and need a contemporary example of how to get out.
As a leader, make us feel safe. We want to be able to be vulnerable in worship, praise, ministry, fellowship and relationships. Church should be a safe place to worship, and the leaders should model biblical principles. If we come to our pastor for guidance, we should have the assurance that our pastor won’t spread what we shared to others.
Studies have shown that if you want to keep Millennials active in your church, encourage relationships. Create opportunities where godly friendships can form and flourish. It has been proven statistically that Millennials who have friends or mentors at church are more likely to stay involved at that church (visit tinyurl.com/BarnaMillennials to read a study by the Barna Group on this topic).
Another way churches can deepen their connection with Millennials is to teach a more potent theology of vocation or calling. Teach us how to make the connection between biblical principles and our interest, or the desires of our heart. What many Millennials are seeking might be classified as “vocational discipleship,” a way to help Millennials connect to Christianity with the unique work God has called them to.
Intimacy with God
Churches can help Millennials generate a lasting faith by facilitating a deeper sense of intimacy with God. For example, Millennials who remain active are more likely than those who stopped going to church to say they believe Jesus speaks to them personally in a way that is real and relevant (68% versus 25%). Additionally, “actives” are much more likely to believe that the Bible contains wisdom for living a meaningful life (65% versus 17%).
This means Millennials who retain a longer-lasting faith than their peers are more likely to find a sense of authority in the Word of God—both in the pages of the Bible as well as in their experience of intimacy with the God they follow.
Part of the Body
In conclusion, we want to feel like we are a part of the church body. If we are active in the church, we maintain a sense of belonging. We feel like vital members of the body of Christ. We want to be taken seriously and we want to participate in Sunday services as well as community outreach opportunities. We want to be challenged in ministry and service. If you feed us spiritually, we will grow. If you teach by example how to minister and win souls, we will go win souls! We will attract other Millennials and enjoy doing so. The spirit of reciprocity will reside. We will stay at the church and serve, and our children will be the manifestation of the seeds you sowed in us.
Yes, it can be challenging to reach Millennials, but don’t give up. Whether they know it or not, Millennials need a relationship with Jesus. We can’t let the communication barrier between generations stop an introduction to the Savior of the world who can ultimately change someone’s course to eternity for the better.