“I just don’t fit in. I love the authentic worship and biblical preaching here, but there is nowhere to belong.”
These were the words of a millennial who attended my church. Have you ever heard something similar? As a pastor, do you wonder why your church has a difficult time connecting with millennials?
According to Barna research related to what millennials want when they visit church, “Getting outside the humdrum of their everyday lives to experience transcendence — in worship, in prayer, in teaching — is a key desire for many Millennials when it comes to church.”
This is one example from a large body of research on millennials and the church, so how can we bridge the gap? Rethinking Sunday School may be a simple first step. Typical Sunday School classes meet on Sunday morning, but openness to a different time, day or location may be a more viable option.
Here are some other characteristics of millennials to consider.
Millennials crave connection.
Millennials are looking for a regular place to connect in their otherwise busy lives, but showing up merely for the sake of showing up is not even in their vocabulary. They are seeking to join real people in authentic community. A class with an inward focus will not work.
Millennials love serving.
Millennials want to serve and make a difference in a messed up world. They are excited to partner with others who love their neighbors, community or city, and consider it a worthwhile commitment. Simply gathering in a room week after week will not work.
Service is one of Barna’s five reasons millennials stay connected to the church. “They’re not interested in earning their way to the top so much as they’re want to put their gifts and skills to work for the local church in the present — not future — tense,” the research says.
Millennials are looking for a regular place to connect in their otherwise busy lives, but showing up merely for the sake of showing up is not even in their vocabulary.
Millennials value authenticity.
Recently, a millennial told me he and his family left a church because the church was more interested in starting new groups than investing in people who could invest in others. It seemed very shallow to him.
Barna research also reports that the millennial generation is “a generation that prides itself on the ability to smell a fake at ten paces,” so “hypocrisy is a worrisome indictment.”
Millennials follow innovative leaders.
Millennials will follow excellent leaders, who are gospel-centered, loving and can understand culture, Scripture and where they intersect. Training a Bible teacher who can engage a variety of learning styles and gospel conversations rather than talking points will enhance their study of God’s Word and understanding of the gospel.
Millennials share what’s important.
Millennials live and work in a world of informational super highways. They learn from TED talks, podcasts and other online platforms. Therefore, millennials seek to learn deep concepts and apply the learning to not only their own lives but also those around them.
So where do you begin? Pray and learn.
Pray for God to provide relationships with millennials. Go to places in your community where millennials gather.
Learn the culture. We must understand their culture in order to love and disciple them well. Create a new format of teaching, caring and sharing that works with their culture. Barna’s The State of Discipleship is an insightful resource that describes the current cultural landscape and includes a chapter devoted to millennials.
Failure to focus on millennials will create the environment found in Judges 2:10: “And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.”