How 250 Churches Are Successfully Reaching Millennials | Ep. #109

Pro Church Daily is the show where - in ten minutes or less - you’ll get your daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus, while navigating the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years.

May 14th, 2018

After doing several episodes on millennials, including a YouTube playlist mini course, Brady discusses a handful of churches that are ministering to this age bracket really well.

What’s In This Session?

  • Statistics on Millennials (0:58)
  • Barna Trends 2017 study (1:52)
  • Fortune’s 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials (2:19)
  • Elevation Church (2:32)
  • Fuller Youth Institute study (4:19)
  • Erwin McManus & Mosaic Church (5:15)

Show Notes & Resources Mentioned

The Full Transcript

Alex Mills: Well, hey there and welcome to Pro Church Daily. This is the show where in 10 minutes or less you’ll get a daily dose of tips and tactics to help your church share the message of Jesus while we navigate the biggest communication shift we’ve seen in the last 500 years. I’m your host, Alex Mills. I’m joined as always by the boss man, it’s Brady Shearer. Today, we’re talking about today how 250 churches are successfully reaching millennials.

Brady Shearer: We have done several episodes of Pro Church Daily, Alex, on millennials, this generation. We even have a full playlist on YouTube, a free mini course on millennials called the truth about church and millennials that you could go through. What I wanted to center this episode of Pro Church Daily on was talking about how churches are successfully reaching millennials. It’s often easy to paint a picture of how poorly churches are doing it, but we want to use the illustrations of churches that are doing it well so that we can perhaps glean insights on how to do the same. 

To do a little bit of overview, if you haven’t listened to any of the other episodes, to paint a picture of what we are working with, this is the negative part first, millennials are right now are the largest living generation in the American workforce. More than one in three American adults working is a millennial, so massive generation, largest in the workforce. By 2025 it’s estimated millennials will make up as much as 75% of the American workforce, which is quite insane to think about. 

Here’s where things get a little bit troubling. We’ve got this massive generation. They are colossal. Only two in 10 people in the US under the age of 30 consider attending church important, and this is an all-time low. This is the troubling place that our churches find ourselves in. We’ve got this massive generation that they consider attending church not that important. Now, there should be a distinction made between, they don’t consider spirituality unimportant, it’s this church attendance part. Let’s talk about some churches that are reaching millennials well.

In Barna Trends 2017 the Barna Group conducted a study of 250 churches who they deemed were successfully reaching millennials, and discovered that the commonality between all of these churches was that they were disproportionately prioritizing young people. This included their staffing, their worship services, it included how they reach their community. Amongst all that they did, these churches were prioritizing millennials with everything that they did. 

Another interesting thing, Fortune released their best places to work in America, and I think there were 100 different workplaces, and it was specifically best places for millennials to work in America. Only one church made the list, that was Elevation Church, Steven Furtick, Charlotte, North Carolina among other campuses. What’s interesting about Elevation is that out of their all staff, 165 of them are millennials at the time of this study, which made up 80% of their entire staffing. Eight out of every 10 people that work at Elevation are millennials. Elevation is only one example of a church who is reaching millennials well, but I think the takeaway here is simple. If you want to reach millennials, you need to prioritize millennials.

Alex Mills: Yeah, I think it’s interesting and I love how it was Barna that used the phrase that churches who are successfully reaching millennials are disproportionately prioritizing young people.

Brady Shearer: That’s the key.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and I feel like that’s almost a little counterintuitive in church. You know, we use these words like elders and deacons, and it’s almost like there’s a minimum age requirement for leadership in church, which is often outside the age range of a millennial. Churches who are really succeeding at reaching millennials are kind of just breaking those boxes apart and saying, “Actually young people are ready to lead in this environment, and when we give them the opportunity it’s translated into the kind of people and the age of people that actually are attending our church.” You see that in Elevation, that’s such a great example.

Brady Shearer: I do think it’s fair, though, to push back if you are an older individual, or even a millennial and say, “Why should we be disproportionally prioritizing a generation that does not want to come to church?” If we do that, what are we sacrificing? I mean sure, in an ideal world, it would be great to reach young people. What are we sacrificing? What about the people that actually do come, that actually do give? Why are we going to dis-prioritize them to prioritize these people that, basically have said, “We don’t even care about church.” There have been some very fascinating studies about this as well.

In a study conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute from 2012 to 2015, researchers began their work with similar questions as what I just said, is prioritizing young people worth it if they do not give? Can a church survive and thrive by prioritizing a group of individuals who don’t attend as much and don’t give as much, cannot give as much because they’re younger, as others? After spending more than 10,000 hours in research conducting 1,300 individual interviews with over 250 churches across 40 states, this is a separate 250 church study, they found a similar concept time and time again from churches successfully reaching young people.

Here’s where things get really interesting. The keyword was vitality. In other words, when a church is full of young people, when a church disproportionately prioritizes millennials and reaches them well, what’s amazing is there’s this trickle down effect, vitality. When a church is full of young people, the entire church is infused with energy and intensity. Or when McManus, the lead pastor of Mosaic, a church in LA, California, a widely respected speaker and author said this, “Healthy churches reach young people, and young people make churches healthier. If your church is reaching 20 year olds, your church will reach 60 year olds.” It’s as if you prioritize young people, everyone else wants to be a part of that church.

I saw this anecdotally in the church where I grew up in. When I was a teenager, we had this massive youth group, disproportionately larger than the actual church. The church was about 300, and at its peak our youth group was like, 75. You know, we’re like a third of the church almost. What was amazing was, you go to our Sunday services and the first three rows are filled with young people and they’re like, jumping and dancing around, so energetic. The church was so alive and exciting and vibrant. 

I remember going back three to five years later after our crop of youth group had kind of graduated, the youth pastor had gone into a different church, and I remember the Sunday service feeling completely foreign, not because the church was necessarily doing anything different, but there was maybe one-eighth of the young people that were there before, and it just was not nearly as exciting or alive. I think that just comes along with young blood, essentially.

Alex Mills: Yeah, and this is not to say that millennials or younger demographic is better than any other generation, but just to say that younger people carry that energy, that vitality like you said, and that’s contagious. You know, when your church is infused with a mass group of younger people, your older people who are valuable to the church and we love in the church, will feel younger and will get to be a part of things that they would have never had the privilege of enjoying if it wasn’t for those younger people. I love this philosophy of disproportionately prioritizing younger people.

Brady Shearer: In my own church in that time, it worked in the inverse as well, where it was so amazing that young people were prioritized in the Sunday service, we were in the worship band, we were in the front row. I remember our pastor would frequently call us out in the middle of service and be like, “This applies to you too, young people.” It wasn’t like he was preaching over our heads or not including us, and I was always so thrilled to be a part of a Sunday service where we had our own Friday service, which was fun all the young people, but Sunday was special as well because there were people that were older than me, people with kids, people who were in their older stages of life, grandparents. It was amazing, cross-generationally to see that.

This all should be said with this singular caveat. Just because the data suggests that this is true, and I think it is true, doesn’t mean that you have to actually respond to it. It just means that it’s helpful to know there are hundreds of churches, multiple studies with very well actually documented research saying if you want to reach millennials well, this is probably the most proven path to get there. You don’t have to do that. 

You can say, “You know what? I think financially it’s going to be better to not prioritize young people because we don’t think they’re going to attend, we don’t think they’re going to give, and we don’t believe that that’s the correct way to do it.” It’s contrary to the data that we have. Data is just, that’s all it is. There’s hundreds of examples, doesn’t mean it’s actually going to play out in your church. 

At the end of the day, the reason we present all this data is to give you this option. Here’s what we think is going to work and here’s what we think will not work. It’s your choice on whether you do this or not. Maybe you don’t want to reach millennials, and that’s okay. If you don’t prioritize them, the data would suggest that you’re not going to reach them appropriately.

Alex Mills: Yeah, this data is just going to help you as a church to make an informed decision, you know, in all areas of your ministry and based off your value system and your goals and your vision, where you’re heading as a church. We’re just laying out this data and saying, “Look, this is what the data says. This is how churches are doing this successfully, and now you can take that and make an informed decision for your own culture, your own context.” There you go.

Brady Shearer: That’ll do it for today’s episode of Pro Church Daily. We’ll see you next time.