It seems that everywhere we look in the pop Christian blogosphere, someone is talking about Millennials. The conversation is usually focused on what these Millennials want and how the local church can reach them.
For example, in a September article on their website, Barna Research Group offered new survey findings to produce “5 Ways to Connect with Millennials.” As a pastor of a church that reaches over 1,000 Millennials each Sunday, I personally believe the vast conversation focused on Millennials is a little overblown. It has become more of a content-generating selling point than actually helping us come any closer to reaching Millennials.
Two issues we’re facing
My suggestion is that we not make this generation so complicated. There are some simple truths we need to understand about the Church and Millennials, but once we know them, we should not overcomplicate how Millennials are reached and connected to the local Church.
There are two glaring issues the Church is facing with Millennials:
1. We need to keep those Millennials who are in the Church.
2. We need to reach the ones who are not.
Worldview is key to keeping Millennials
The Great Commission calls us to both of these important aspects of Christian mission: evangelism and discipleship. Figuring out how to answer this call for Millennials should not be any different, and I do not think we need yet another study, book, or conference. Starting with Sundays, the simple fact is that many churches have services and programs that people don’t want to attend, especially a generation with ever-decreasing loyalties. It isn’t worth people’s time or energy to come to a Sunday morning service that is, in their eyes, lame, cheesy and awkward. Millennials are also obsessed with an “experience,” and they aren’t getting that at most churches. While I’m not suggesting we create consumer cultures or even more “attractional” models, I am claiming we need to make Sundays worth the drive and time.
There is another reason why many churches are not able to keep Millennials in their gatherings, and it has everything to do with worldview. The Barna article states,
“Millennials need help learning how to apply their hearts and minds to today’s cultural realities. Millennials need guidance on engaging culture meaningfully, and from a distinctly Christian perspective.”
Barna concludes from research that Millennial Christians are more than twice as likely to say their church helped them learn “about how Christians can positively contribute to society” compared to those who drop out of church (46 percent versus 20 percent). The conclusion of that research is obviously important, but that is far from the biggest issue. As this generation grows increasingly progressive, we are seeing a decline in their confidence in the Scriptures, beginning with the exclusive belief that Jesus Christ alone is the way to salvation, along with other essential Biblical truths. The Church must teach convictional confidence in the Scriptures in order to keep Millennial Christians and help them develop a Biblical worldview.
So while many want to point to steps and essentials to recapture this generation, I’m not sure we ever had them in the first place. For many Millennials, views on faith and church were shaped by or inherited from their parents and grandparents. When you’ve been part of a church for years out of family obligation, image, or tradition, that shelf life will eventually expire. Keeping Millennials in the Church might begin with actually helping them move from a cultural faith of heritage to a convictional belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must create environments, reason from the Scriptures, and help this generation see why the local church matters.
Reaching Millennials requires non-Christian relationships
We must also understand the different challenges between keeping Millennials in the Church, and reaching those who have yet to come. Changing your service style and increasing confidence in the Scriptures can help you keep Millennials, but it won’t help you reach them.
- You have a band? So does the local bar in town.
- You serve coffee? So does the place they frequent with their Mac laptop and their friends.
- Your pastor wears jeans? You might think that’s cool. They don’t care.
- Your church uses Facebook? Okay, so do their grandmothers now.
The truth is that people of all generations come to church on the arm of a trusted friend. So why isn’t the Church reaching Millennials? I think the answer is actually simple, but rarely discussed. Christian Millennials largely do not have relationships with non-believers.
If one asked what the greatest hindrance to the Great Commission in America is today, likely answers would be militant secularism, religious liberty, rapidly vanishing Christian influence in the public square, and the rise of the “nones.” These would all qualify as urgent matters the Church is facing and must be addressing. However, I believe the biggest hindrance to the advancement of the Church, especially within this Millennial generation, is the bubble of the Christian subculture.
Dean Inserra is the founding and senior pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla. Dean is also a member of the ERLC Leadership Network Council.