What millennials want from Sunday School

February 19, 2019

“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.”

by Rick Hughes  Sunday School and Small Groups  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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4 Comments

  1. Melissa Dove

    Churches need to also focus on singles over 30-50 years old instead of Only Married Couples with children!!

    Reply
    • Rick Hughes

      Hi Melissa,
      Thank you for reading and responding to this article. You are not the first to express this concern that a lot of ministries are geared toward married couples who have children. In order for churches to deliver ministries for their congregations, they have a tendency to develop programming around the majority of what they see within their congregations. But, you are correct that people are staying single longer, are divorced, widowed, or married with no children, so I think you will see ministries change going forward. Sadly, people who don’t fit into certain categories may feel marginalized. I have talked with some people on our Communications Team, and there is an article coming out in the next few months that will address the issue you have raised. If I may be of assistance to you or your church, please feel free to contact me.

      Reply
  2. Nicki

    Rick, I teach at a local community college and support everything you’ve said about millennials. I’ve had to change my teaching style and even “entertain” in the classrooms at times to keep millennials engaged. They aren’t focused on getting to the top like our Baby Booming generation. My granddaughter is a millennial and her college/career focus is on feeding the world. As our church populations have aged I believe we’ve turned to a more inward focus on caring for each other, but we’re not discipling the world like we’ve been commanded to do. We who are older, I’m over 70, have a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share with millennials, but we must be invested in their ways of doing things to share that wisdom and knowledge. I am a member of a declining church where most of the population is over 70. A friend told me today that her pastor has recently identified that 85% of their membership is over 80. I believe its time we joined our young people in reaching out and being community minded instead of internally focused. Even at our age we still have the command to spread God’s word; let’s join and support the millennials who have the energy and focus to help us continue to be disciples.

    Reply
    • Rick Hughes

      Hi Nicki,
      I totally agree with you. As churches, we should be on the mission of God, and it takes people of all generations to make disciples. I appreciate your thoughtful response. If I may be of assistance to your or your church, please feel free to contact me.

      Reply

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