Do you know what prevents most churches from reaching millennials? Take a moment to think about your answer. Do you have it? Okay, great. Keep it logged into your memory. You’ll need it soon.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many church leaders about reaching young people. When I’m asked this question, and give them my answer, they’re typically surprised. Why? Because they made a wrong assumption, which is the case among many church leaders.
There are many things churches do in the name of reaching young people that don’t matter one iota. There are things churches did in the past that worked well but fail miserably today. As a church leader, it’s important to know what millennials do and do not care about.
To find out what does and does not work in reaching millennials, the Fuller Youth Institute studied over 250 of the nation’s leading congregations from 2012 through 2015. Their work included more than 10,000 hours of research and 1,300 interviews from 40 states. The findings of their study were published in Growing Young, which I highly recommend. In this book, the authors share six essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church. What’s great about these six recommendations is that they are all based on the research they conducted. These methods are tried and true; not classroom theories.
During their research, the authors not only discovered what DOES work in reaching millennials, but they also unveiled what DOES NOT work.
Throughout this three-year study, the Fuller Youth Institute identified ten traits many churches think are essential to reaching young people, but in the end, they just don’t matter.
In this article, I want to walk you through seven traits that don’t influence how well you can reach millennials. If you want to discover the remaining three, then make sure you pick up a copy of Growing Young.
1. Your church’s size
The size of your church does not matter. There is no statistical relationship between the size of a church and its ability to reach millennials.
Many church leaders wrongly assume they need a megachurch to effectively reach young people, which isn’t the case at all. According to a survey conducted by the Barna Group, millennials prefer churches that are “not too big, not too small.” On the one hand, if they are a new visitor to your church, they would like to maintain a level of anonymity. Now, on the other hand, they prefer a church small enough that they can become a part of the church community.
So, you don’t need to force your church to become a megachurch or a small country parish to reach millennials. You need to be you when it comes to deciding the size of your church.
2. Your church’s location
If you think you need to move your church building to the city to reach millennials, then think again.
The study did find churches successfully reaching young people in booming metropolises, but it also discovered equally robust ministries in suburban and rural locations.
The location of your church doesn’t matter as much as the people living in your community. More and more millennials are moving to cities, so, we should expect to see churches in these areas reach millennials due to their concentration. But, again, millennials live in every type of setting. From cities, suburbs, to the countryside, your church has an opportunity to reach millennials with the gospel.
3. Your church’s age
Are you a church planter?
Do you pastor a church with a history reaching back more than 100 years?
Or, do you pastor a church whose age is somewhere in between a church plant and historical site?
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter how long your church has been in existence when it comes to reaching millennials. From the study, there was no significant correlation found between the age of a church and how well it did or did not reach young people.
4. Your church’s denominational affiliation
Often denominations get a bad rap in their ability to reach millennials. You see this belief work itself out when churches remove public signs with their denominational affiliation.
There may a time in the life of your church when you need to rebrand yourself to reflect your new identity best. But there’s no reason for you to throw out your denominational affiliation with the hope of reaching millennials.
Whether your church is affiliated with a mainline denomination, network, or something else, there’s no need for you to think your church’s affiliation will hinder your ability to reach young people. The study found plenty of churches from all denominations and traditions which were successfully connecting with the young people in their communities and leading them to Jesus.
5. Your church’s “cool” factor
Millennials want your church to be real. Your pastor and leadership do not need to wear ripped jeans, oversized tees, or to use words like, “savage,” “salty,” or “shade” in their sermons to connect with young people.
There is no statistical correlation between being cool and reaching millennials. This weekend, feel free to ditch your youthful attire if you’ve been dressing hip to connect with young people. Be comfortable with you who are. Millennials—and everyone else for that matter—will appreciate you for it.
6. Your church’s building
You do not need a large modern building equipped with the latest technological advances to reach millennials. In fact, the majority of churches studied who are successfully reaching young people gather in average, but not spectacular, facilities.
Your church’s building doesn’t matter. What is important is providing young people with the opportunity to experience community and form real relationships with the individual members of your church.
7. Your church’s budget
Your church doesn’t need a huge budget to reach young people. The Fuller Youth Institute found that a small budget does not equal a small impact. God will empower your church to reach individuals with the gospel regardless of your financial situation.
If you want to reach millennials, then you need the help of millennials.
The reason many churches do things millennials don’t care about is that they’re not listening to young people. As a church leader, talk to the millennials in your church and community about what’s important to them. If you haven’t done this, then you will learn important things about yourself and your church and what you can do differently to reach and retain young people.
What is one thing from this list you are tempted to believe? Share your thoughts in the comments below.